Emma Burgess was the sister of woolspinner Alfred Burgess of Broookfield and farmer Thomas Burgess of Wigston Grange and wife of Edward Shipley Ellis of the Newarke, Chairman of the Midland Railway 1849-58. The Burgess and Ellis families were Quakers and part of an extensive network of industrial and agrarian businesspeople.

Emma’s brother Alfred was a wool merchant, sometime woolspinner and hosier, J.P. and Leicester town councillor and Mayor (in 1864). He had a lifelong interest in education and was the first treasurer of the Mechanics Institute, secretary of the management committee of the Mill Street British Schools from 1832 and a member of the first Leicester School Board. He also served on the Country Committee of Ackworth School, a Quaker school near Pontefract, West Yorkshire whose motto is Non sibi sed omnibus (Not for oneself but for all).

Emma’s eldest son John Edward Ellis was Liberal MP for Rushcliffe, Notts (Kenneth Clarke’s old constituency) from 1885 until his death in 1910.