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Eliza Pottie (1837–1907)

by Judith Godden

This article was published:

Eliza Pottie (1837-1907), evangelist, pacifist and reformer, was born on 14 December 1837 at Belfast, Ireland, second child and eldest daughter of William Bell Allen, soap and candle manufacturer, and his wife Ruth, née Johnston, late Sayers, a devout Quaker. William came to Sydney in 1841 and the family followed in 1844. Eliza married John Pottie, veterinary surgeon, on 13 March 1862 at Woollahra Congregational Church. They had ten children between 1863 and 1882, four dying in infancy.

By the 1880s Eliza Pottie was an active executive member of at least seventeen organizations supporting her Quaker, evangelical Christian beliefs and commitment to social reform for women and children. She and her husband were both officeholders of the Sydney City Mission and she supported her brother Alfred Allen's efforts to reduce working hours for female shop assistants. Initially she joined committees supporting children's orphanages but later she supported cottage homes by having children from such institutions holiday in her home. A founding member of the Young Women's Christian Association in Sydney in 1880—having attempted to establish such a body in the late 1870s—she supported refuges for destitute women and sat on the first committee of the Sydney Female Mission Home. She helped to set up the Ladies' Sanitary Association (president 1892-1901) to educate women about public hygiene.

Pottie's causes were those of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union. She joined its Sydney branch in December 1882, was vice-president from 1883 and head of its peace and arbitration department until her death, her Quaker pacifism unequivocal. She was a vocal supporter of votes for women, in 1890 becoming president of the W.C.T.U.-sponsored (Women's) Franchise League. After five months she resigned and the league dissolved because of opposition to the temperance link. In 1891 she became a founding council-member of the Womanhood Suffrage League but soon resigned over criticism of the institution of marriage by fellow member Eliza, wife of Julian Rossi Ashton. Pottie represented the W.C.T.U. at the meeting that created the National Council of Women in 1896.

Having regularly visited aged, destitute women in the government asylums, first at Hyde Park, later at Newington, in 1886 she was appointed to the ladies' committee of the Asylums Inquiry Board. Pottie's blunt and impassioned evidence about the brutal ill treatment and neglect of Newington inmates was reflected in the majority report and led to improved management. During the 1890s depression, she helped to organize the Quaker Relief Committee and in 1896 was treasurer of Dr Emily Ryder's Fund for Indian child wives.

As an individual, Pottie evangelized and distributed charitable relief to women and children, regularly visiting women in institutions and the La Perouse Aboriginal settlement. She published her poems in the press and contributed letters to the newspapers on social issues, in 1884 sparking controversy by writing to the Brisbane Courier objecting to the harsh treatment of suspected prostitutes under the Queensland Contagious Diseases Act. She used the 1888 centenary of settlement to call for prison reform, urging that the anniversary be celebrated by an amnesty for deserving prisoners and a prohibition on manacles.

Photographs showed a stern-faced woman who 'always adhered to the style of dress worn by the Quakers'. Pottie was a capable public speaker and frequently participated in deputations to politicians. A passionate and energetic worker in the public sphere for women's causes, she was also remembered by her grandchildren as a loving matriarch. She died on 14 November 1907 in her home at Manly and was buried in Waverley cemetery. Her husband, two daughters and three sons survived her.

Select Bibliography

  • Golden Records: Pathfinders of Woman’s Christian Temperance Union of N.S.W. (Syd, 1926)
  • C. Stevenson, With Unhurried Pace (Syd, 1973)
  • Cottage Home for Destitute Children (New South Wales), Annual Report, 1884
  • WCTU (New South Wales), Annual Report, 1894-95
  • Sydney City Mission, Annual Report, 1908
  • J. Godden, ‘Eliza Pottie’ in H. Radi (ed), 200 Australian Women (Syd, 1988), p 35
  • Brisbane Courier, 26 July 1884, pp 4 & 5, 15 Aug 1884, p 6
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 3 Dec 1887, p 6, 18 Nov 1907, p 6
  • Daily Telegraph (Sydney), 13 June 1891, p 10
  • Sydney City Mission Herald, 1 Jan 1898, 1 Jan 1908, 1 Sept 1908, 2 Nov 1914
  • J. Godden, Philanthropy and the Women’s Sphere (Ph.D. thesis, Macquarie University, 1983)
  • private information.

Citation details

Judith Godden, 'Pottie, Eliza (1837–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 17 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (Melbourne University Press), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Allen, Eliza

14 December, 1837
Belfast, Antrim, Ireland


14 November, 1907 (aged 69)
Manly, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.