Kate Sheppard was born Catherine Wilson Malcolm on 10 March 1848[a] in Liverpool, England, to Scottish parents Jemima Crawford Souter and Andrew Wilson Malcolm. Her father, born in Scotland in 1819, was described in various documents as either a lawyer, banker, brewer's clerk or legal clerk; he married Souter in the Inner Hebrides on 14 July 1842. Catherine was named after her paternal grandmother, also Catherine Wilson Malcolm, but preferred to spell her name "Katherine" or to abbreviate it to "Kate". She had an elder sister Marie, born in Scotland, and three younger siblings – Frank, born in Birmingham, and Isabella and Robert, both born in London; evidently the family moved often during that period. Details of the children's education are unknown, though Kate's later writings demonstrate an extensive knowledge of science and law, indicating a strong education. She was known for her broad knowledge and intellectual ability. Her father loved music and ensured that the family had good musical training.
Kate's father died in 1862, while in his early forties, but left his widow with sufficient means to provide for the family. After her father's death, Kate lived with her uncle, a minister of the Free Church of Scotland at Nairn; he, more than anyone else, instilled in her the values of Christian socialism. During this time, the rest of the family stayed with relatives in Dublin, where Kate later joined them.
George Beath, the future husband of Kate's sister Marie, emigrated to Melbourne in 1863, and later moved to Christchurch. After Marie joined him there, they were married in 1867, and their first child was born the following year. Marie's accounts of Christchurch motivated Jemima to move her family to New Zealand, as she was seeking better prospects for her sons' employment and wanted to see her granddaughter. They sailed on the Matoaka from Gravesend on 12 November 1868, arriving in Lyttelton Harbour on 8 February 1869.
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