Jessie Rooke

Jessie Spinks Rooke (1845-l906), Christian temperance reformer, was born at Emu, in north-western Tasmania, daughter of Sophia (born Francis) and John Spinks, shepherd with the Van Diemen's Land Company. She moved to the mainland and married Charles Rooke, medical practitioner.

While resident in Sydney she became involved in the British Women's Bible and Prayer Union, emerging as one of its principal leaders. Much later she joined the Marrickville Woman's Christian Temperance Union. During the 1890s depression, the Rookes moved to Burnie, Tasmania, where, despite poor health, Jessie began her meteoric rise in the WCTU. She re-formed the moribund Burnie Union, becoming president in 1894, and progressed through the correspondence, press work and plan of work and resolutions committees to the position of Tasmanian president in 1898 and Australasian president in 1903. In that year the Tasmanian franchise was extended to women.

Mrs Rooke was convinced of the importance of women's suffrage as a prerequisite for temperance and social reform. She was instrumental in the establishment and development of the Tasmanian Women's Suffrage League, which aimed to inform women about their right to vote in federal elections, to educate women 'on the question of voting' and how their vote might be 'a power for good'. She had great faith in education and information as tools for gaining popular support for WCTU causes.

She combined physical frailty with a great strength of will and determination. Obituaries refer to her talent for settling conflicts and differences of opinion. She had the knack of making her sisters appreciate the importance of her work 'in aiding the advancement of righteousness', as well as having them 'comply' with her 'suggestions'. Competent, articulate, intelligent and confident, she transformed herself from the daughter of a shepherd earning 30 pounds a year into a 'well-born Scotch woman' with a 'refinement of grace of manner'.

Mrs Blair, who was pushed out of the Tasmanian presidency in favour of Mrs Rooke, described her as 'alert to seize every opportunity and enter every open door'. All her achievements were restricted by her belief that 'woman was destined by God to be the help meet of man'; improving women and their place in society was only to make them better able to fulfil their natural role as wives and mothers. She believed in the innate purity and maternal destiny of women.

She died on 4 January l906 survived by her sons and three grandchildren. No personal papers survive. It is rumoured they were burnt by her husband shortly after her death.

Sonya Thompson