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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand


page 20

Seven hundred years before the white man came to it the Maoris were in possession of New Zealand, but for all those years they knew nothing of the curse of alcoholic liquor. The white man and the whisky bottle came to New Zealand together. It is true that the white man brought other things as well. He brought the Bible. He brought Christianity. He brought the skill required to develop the hidden treasures of nature. He brought the settled institution of civil government. But when he brought alcoholic liquor he turned loose upon the country a force of evil that has done more than anything else to counteract whatever benefits have been introduced, and to leave a foul stain on the history of European settlement. The white man came to New Zealand to find in possession a virile native race, only too deeply dyed with the worst vices of barbarism. But until he came there was one vice the New Zealander knew nothing of—the vice of drunkenness. A child of nature, he was content to quench his thirst in the flowing stream, with his splendid strength unimpaired by the use of any kind of fermented liquor. When the pakeha, the white stranger from over the seas, first offered him such liquor, the smell and taste of it led him to describe it by an unflattering name, ‘Waipiro’—‘rotten water.’ Well would it have been for him and for his race if that first foul taste had led him to seal his lips against it for ever. But ‘rotten’ as that ‘water’ was and is, it has page 21 the fatal quality of creating an appetite for itself that only too frequently becomes insatiable. Lacking the power of restraint found among more civilized races, the introduction of alcoholic liquor among the Maoris has led to the writing of the blackest and most shameful chapter in the history of New Zealand. The most damning indictment of the liquor trade in this country is found in the wholesale destruction it has wrought among its aboriginal inhabitants. There were at least one hundred thousand of them in the country when the white man first appeared. They have been reduced since then to less than half that number, and among the causes that have contributed to this frightful holocaust, alcoholic liquor has played the most prominent part.

How It Came. The first direct shipping contact with New Zealand was made by whaling and sealing ships from Australia, and in the cargo list of such ships the rum puncheon would invariably find a place. It was unfortunate that the first outsiders to settle in New Zealand were mostly the left-overs or runaways from such vessels, also escaped convicts from Australia. The example set by such unworthy specimens of the white race was in many ways demoralizing, not least so in connexion with the use of alcoholic liquor. All too early the natives acquired a taste for the liquor which they first contemptuously described as ‘rotten water,’ and orgies of drunkenness and debauchery took place that stamped certain parts of the country with disgrace. The Bay of Islands became the rendezvous of the South Seas whaling fleet, more than one hundred ships being sometimes found anchored there during the season. No more beautiful scenery of its kind can be found anywhere than at the Bay of Islands, page 22 but by reason of the excesses of drinking and licentiousness indulged in by European sailors and natives, its name long stank with infamy as ‘the Alsatia of the South Pacific.’

The First Temperance Society. With the arrival of the Rev. Samuel Marsden from Sydney, at the Bay of Islands in 1814, to commence the Church of England Mission, followed by the arrival of the Rev. Samuel Leigh, also from Sydney, at Whangaroa in 1822, to open the Wesleyan Methodist Mission, there arose the hope of uplift for the race whose original plight of moral degradation had been rendered all the more deplorable by the vices that had been introduced by Europeans. As the Total Abstinence Movement in England, started by the ‘Seven Men of Preston,’ only began in 1832, it was only natural that the views of the early missionaries on alcoholic liquor were coloured by the notion that was then general in all classes of society, that its use in moderation was not only permissible, but actually beneficial and necessary. But the ravages of drunkenness among the Maoris whom they sought to convert to Christianity compelled some of them at least to face the fact that some drastic steps were necessary to stop the plague. At the Waiapu Diocesan Synod, held in September, 1911, Mr. H. Hill, Inspector of Schools, stated that ‘the first thing to be printed in English in New Zealand was a summons to a Temperance Meeting in the Bay of Islands in 1834.’ The first printing press in New Zealand was set up at the Church of England Mission Station at Paihia, Bay of Islands, and it was from this press that the summons went forth to what probably was the first Temperance Meeting.

In the Bibliography of New Zealand Literature, page 23 compiled by Dr. Hocken, of Dunedin, it is stated that the first book printed in the Colony appeared in 1836. It was an eight-page pamphlet recording the formation of the New Zealand Temperance Society. It is difficult to decide whether or not this is the same printed publication referred to by Mr. H. Hill at the Waiapu Synod, although there is a difference of two years in the dates.

In the New Zealand Methodist of November 22, 1890, an interesting account is given by Mrs. W. Gittos, of the founding of what she calls the ‘First Teetotal Society in New Zealand.’ The year was 1842, and the place was Mangungu, on the Hokianga River. It was at the Wesleyan Methodist Mission Station, with which the Rev. John Hobbs, the father of Mrs. Gittos, was at that time connected. The missionaries had been greatly troubled by the prevalence of drinking and drunkenness among the natives, resulting in a serious loss of life by drowning in the river. It was Mrs. William White, the wife of one of the missionaries, who was moved to propose to attempt a remedy for the evil by forming a teetotal society. She herself had taken the pledge in England at the hands of Father Mathew, and it was from the medal he gave her that she wrote in a copy-book Father Mathew's pledge—‘We agree to abstain from all intoxicating liquors except for medicinal purposes and for religious ordinances.’ The first teetotal meeting was preceded by the first tea-meeting in New Zealand, which was held in a raupo workshop with a carpenter's bench as the table. A public meeting was held in the church, the chair being taken by Dr. Day, an Irish Methodist, who had recently come to settle in New Zealand. Stirring addresses were given by members of the page 24 mission staff—the Revs. John Warren, George Stannard, William Woon, and John Hobbs. Mrs. White then produced her copy-book, and the pledge was signed by all the ministers named, also the ministers' wives and the ministers' children, among the latter being Mrs. Gittos herself. Some laymen also signed, among whom was Mr. C. O. Davis, who afterwards became a well-known native interpreter, and who, to the end of his days, did his utmost to win the Maori people from the curse of drink. Mrs. William White, who started the pledge-signing at Mangungu, removed afterwards to Auckland, where she lived to a good old age, and always as a pattern of good works.

The First Local Veto Experiment. Mangungu was also the scene of the first Local Veto experiment in New Zealand. Not only had drink played awful havoc among the natives—the settlers in too many cases had given way to drunkenness. The following extract from Brett's Early History of New Zealand, pp. 371–2, is worth quoting:

‘The trade in spirits having attained large proportions on the river banks of the Hokianga, a public meeting was called at Mangungu on September 21, 1835, for the purpose of prohibiting the importation and sale of ardent spirits on the river Hokianga, Lieutenant McDonnell in the chair, when the following resolutions were passed unanimously—


That the British residents and natives do from this day (21/9/1835) agree that the importation and sale of ardent spirits be abolished.


That Captain Young and Mr. Oakes, with Moetara, a native chief, be appointed to board and examine all vessels entering the Hokianga page 25 River, and to make their commanders acquainted with the native law against the importation of ardent spirits, which will be subject to seizure if attempted to be landed, as also the boat in which such ardent spirits shall be found.


That the creditable determination of Mr. Maning, afterwards Judge Maning, and Captain Clendon, to follow the example set by Captain McDonnell, the additional British Resident, in starting all the spirits of his establishment previously to this meeting, be publicly recorded.


That Thomas Mitchell, George Stephenson, John Jackson, and Robert Hunt be appointed a committee to decide on all matters connected with this meeting.


That in order to the more effectual crushing of this infamous traffic, it is also agreed that if it can be satisfactorily proved that any person imports or sells ardent spirits after this date, a fine of fifty pounds shall be levied on the vendor or purchaser, namely twenty-five pounds each….’

About five hundred of the natives were present at the meeting and a few of the colonists. In accordance with the fourth resolution a deputation proceeded to a vessel shipping timber for Australia, and, making known the decision of the meeting, the delivery of the grog on board was demanded. The master, finding there was no alternative, reluctantly complied, making the observation, ‘Matters have come to a pretty pass now that we are compelled to go on our voyage without our supply of grog.’ The captain, however, ordered the puncheon of rum to be hoisted on deck; it was taken by the natives to the gangway, the bung drawn, the sailors' coveted page 26 treasure emptied into the sea, and the cask handed back to the captain, who remarked, ‘I have no more spirits on board.’

Unfortunately, this spasm of heroic virtue was only of brief duration, for the narrator proceeds to say, ‘The resolutions were, however, not likely to be kept. Some of the settlers renewed their excesses openly, and some of them went so far as to visit the Mission Chapel at Mangungu and dance around it, holding bottles of rum in their hands.’

Prohibition in Kaipara. A much more successful attempt at local Prohibition was made some years later in the Otamatea portion of the Kaipara district. The Methodist Missionary in charge of that district was the Rev. W. Gittos, a son-in-law of the Rev. John Hobbs. Mr. Gittos possessed qualities that commended him very favourably to the mind of the natives. He had a good grip of their language, he was well skilled in handicraft, he was daring and courageous, uniting a kind heart and a strong will, and devoting himself unselfishly to all the varied interests of his charge, temporal as well as spiritual. So completely did he have their confidence that they trusted him with the management of all their affairs, and accepted implicitly any restrictions he saw fit to lay upon them. He hated the liquor trade with a passion which knew no bounds most of all because of the fearful mischief it had wrought among the people whom he loved. So the decree went forth from the benevolent despot who ruled Kaipara from the Mission Home at Otamatea that no intoxicating liquor of any kind was to be brought into the district. As the only mode of conveyance at that time from Auckland to that part of the Kaipara was by water, it was comparatively easy to check the imports. page 27 From henceforth, no mention was made of alcoholic liquor in the manifests of any of the vessels that sailed up towards Otamatea. On one occasion, however, strangely enough, among the goods landed from a vessel at Otamatea, close to the missionary's house, was a keg of whisky. It bore no address, and in answer to the missionary's inquiry as to who claimed it, no applicant was bold enough to make an appearance. Mr. Gittos then made it the occasion of an object lesson which the large number of assembled natives would never forget. Rolling it close to the water's edge, he smashed in the end of the keg with an axe, leaving the whisky to flow into the river. Before long, the natives gazed with astonishment on the ridiculous antics of fishes that were actually drunk. The moral was driven home still more forcibly when afterwards they saw the river banks strewn with the dead bodies of these fishes that had been killed by whisky.

The Albertland Settlers. Too often, as we have seen in the case of Hokianga, the drink evil among the Maoris was aggravated by the bad example set them by European settlers. Mr. Gittos, however, was favoured in his attempt to ward off the liquor curse from the Kaipara natives by the proximity of settlers of a totally different type. In the history of the Temperance Movement in New Zealand, a place of honour may well be given to what were known as the Albertland settlers. Albertland is the name of a district in the North of Auckland, adjacent to Kaipara. It was chosen as the place of settlement by the members of what was called the English Nonconformist Association. While not figuring so largely in the public eye as the Presbyterian settlement in Otago, or the Church page 28 of England settlement in Canterbury, this Northern Nonconformist settlement has contributed in no small degree to some of the best elements in the moral and social development of New Zealand. Albertland was by no means the best favoured part of the country to be chosen for settlement, and the original settlers had a back-aching and heartbreaking experience that might well have driven them to despair. But among them were men and women of intelligent conviction and sturdy moral purpose in relation to social reform. Their devotion to high ideals has favourably influenced the whole Dominion even to this day. Many of them, before leaving England, were members of the United Kingdom Alliance. A local auxiliary of the United Kingdom Alliance was established at Port Albert in June, 1869. The official board was as follows:

President, Rev. W. Worker. Vice-presidents, J. Turner and J. Ryan, J.P. Secretary, G. T. Hartnell. Treasurer, George Plummer. Committee , H. Marcroft, T. A. Gubb, J. Shepherd, H. W. Neal, R. Nicholson.

An auxiliary was also established at Drury, of which Dr. Rayner was the secretary. Action was taken by these auxiliaries in promoting a petition to the Auckland Provincial Council, and also to the General Assembly in favour of a Permissive Bill on the lines of that laid down in England by the United Kingdom Alliance. The records show that they had much the same disappointment with politicians that has been common since that day. Promises made on the hustings were not always fulfilled when it came to a vote in Parliament. The Permissive Bill was introduced into the Auckland Provincial Council by Mr. John Shepherd, of Port page 29 Albert, in 1864. It was finally passed by that same council on January 26, 1871, and was the first Bill of the kind to be adopted by any legislature in the British Dominions. It had a less fortunate fate when it was dealt with by the General Assembly.

In addition to these attempts to secure legislation affecting the whole of New Zealand they were active in promoting sentiment favourable to temperance locally. A Band of Hope was started at Port Albert in 1873, one permanent result of which is seen in the fact that it has not been found possible to establish a licensed public-house within twenty miles of the settlement.

Besides those already named, there were others who gave distinction to the Albertlanders as stalwarts in the cause of temperance. Among them were John Brame, Charles Hill, John Shepherd, Solomon Hercus and the Rev. Samuel Edger, B.A. The last-named was for many years the minister of an Independent Church in Auckland. He was a man of marked ability, both in speech and writing, and anticipated the most advanced positions of to-day in dealing with the liquor traffic. His intelligent zeal in the anti-liquor movement has been inherited by his daughters, Mrs. Judson and Mrs. W. Evans, M.A., both of whom, the latter especially , have for many years rendered distinguished service in connexion with the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

A River of Death. Nearly every river in New Zealand has a sad record of drowning accidents from various causes, but the Northern Wairoa overshadows all others in the number of deaths by drowning through drink. For many years, before the bush was cleared and proper roads were made, the river was the main highway of traffic through page 30 the district, and boating was the chief means of transport. Through those years the principal industries of the district were bush-felling and sawmilling, to which was added the shipping on the river that took the timber away. When licensed houses were planted in a district in which lumbermen, saw-millers, and sailors formed a considerable proportion of the population, it is not surprising that, having to make their homeward journeys by boat, the river swallowed up many brave fellows who had been overcome by liquor. From many homes thus made desolate and from others threatened by the same peril, it is on record that a number of widows, mothers, and wives waited upon the principal owner of these public houses to ask him to remove the cause of so much sorrow and loss. But business interests rose superior to humanitarian considerations, and the Northern Wairoa was left still to roll on as the river of death.

At a Convention held at Helensville on October 3, 1905, there was shown a Petition, thirty feet long, bearing the signatures of 877 residents in the Kaipara district in 1877, presented to the Lincensing Bench, asking its members to refuse all applications for license. There was a refusal, but it was that of the prayer of those 877 petitioners. Auckland has been favoured beyond all other cities in New Zealand in the matter of handsome and costly endowments. It is greatly to be regretted that so much of the wealth that made the most conspicuous of these benefactions possible should have been drawn from a source associated with some of the saddest tragedies in human experience.