How did we forget her? Emily Cumming Harris (1837-1925) was a vibrant writer of poems, letters and diaries whose career as a botanical artist included nineteenth and twentieth century works. Her art is known to museum curators and art historians, but her writing has received little attention. The discovery of poems and letters written in 1860-61 during the siege of New Plymouth by Te Atiawa and Waikato is our incentive for undertaking a search for traces of Harris’s life and writing. From her emigrant childhood in Taranaki, to her wartime experience working for a wealthy family who took her with them when they evacuated to Hobart in 1861, Emily Harris’s story provides insights into a past that speaks to our decolonising but often forgetful present. We propose to investigate Harris’s formative years in Taranaki and the Australian years (1861-65) when she continued to write poetry and received her first art training. The retrospective nature of her 1885-91 diaries makes them a crucial source of information for both areas of enquiry. Our project contributes to research for a publication that will position Emily Harris as a resonant figure in contemporary discussions of gender, creativity and memory-making.

Photo of Emily C Harris in the side bar is courtesy of Dunedin Public Libraries/Kā Kete Wānaka o Ōtepoti. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND