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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

The Churches and Temperance

The Churches and Temperance

Methodist. Among the earliest missionaries in New Zealand were some who soon awoke to the mischief wrought among the natives by alcoholic liquor, and, by personal example and plain-spoken precept, sought to win them to sobriety. Reference has already been made to the establishment of a Temperance Society by the Church of England Missionaries at Paihia, Bay of Islands, in 1834, and another by the Rev. John Hobbs at the Wesleyan Mission station at Hokianga in 1842. Attention has also been called to the regime of absolute Prohibition set up some years later by the Rev. W. Gittos in the Kaipara. These and others were instances of individual effort in connexion with the temperance movement in all the Churches, but many years had to elapse before any of the Churches, as such, took united action in antagonism to the liquor traffic. The Wesleyan Methodist Church was as early in mobilizing for direct attack as any, but it only reached that position by slow and cautious steps. Up to the formation of the first New Zealand Conference in 1874, it is hard to say whether or not a majority of the ministers were total abstainers. At that first Conference, which was held in Christchurch, and which was composed of ministers only, under the heading ‘Intemperance,’ the following resolution was adopted:

‘That, being impressed by the terrible moral and social evils resulting from the prevalence of intemperance, the Conference expresses it page 39 sympathy with all efforts conducted in a Christian spirit, having in view the lessening of this public vice.’

‘Lessening,’ be it observed, not abolishing.

Four years later, in 1878, it would seem as if a big stride forward had been taken. Under the heading ‘Temperance,’ more than three pages of the Minutes of Conference are taken up in recommending that Temperance Societies and Bands of Hope should be established in all circuits, and in setting forth the rules and regulations by which such societies should be controlled. Well would it have been for the Methodist Church itself and for the cause of sobriety in New Zealand if those Conference resolutions of fifty years ago had been, in the main, faithfully and persistently carried out. There is, however, in the light of later days, a fly in the ointment even in connexion with these resolutions. In defining ‘Membership’ we read as follows:

‘All persons who shall sign and observe either of the following declarations shall be regarded as members:—

Abstaining Members—
I hereby agree to abstain from all intoxicating liquors as beverages, and will endeavour to promote the objects of this society.

Non-Abstaining Members—
I hereby agree to exert myself for the suppression of intemperance, and will endeavour to promote the objects of the society.’

That non-abstaining membership was the Achilles' page 40 heel which weakened the stand of the Wesleyan Methodist Church against the liquor trade.

Further developments will be found recorded in the section dealing with the Methodist Church, appearing on p. 164.

Presbyterian. In the Presbyterian Church no name is more worthy of honour and respect in relation to temperance work than that of the Rev. W. J. Comrie. He began early and he still keeps at it with untiring diligence, notwithstanding that the shadows of evening begin to lengthen. Some notable workers will be found mentioned in the section dealing with the Presbyterian Church, on p. 168.

As in the case of the Methodist Conference, it took many years for the anti-liquor sentiment so to develop itself in the Presbyterian Church as to lead to a pronouncement in its favour by the General Assembly. It is interesting to find on record the fact that at the Presbyterian General Assembly, held in Dunedin in December, 1877, a Committee was appointed ‘to take steps to support any good piece of legislation towards the suppression of the drinking customs of the people, and decided to draw the attention of people to the evil use of wine at funerals, baptisms, &c.’ But when once it did swing into line, that pronouncement became more and more marked and definite until, in the completeness of its committal to the most extreme form of antagonism to the liquor trade it has hardly been excelled by any Church Court in Christendom.

The Church of England. While not so prominent in its attack on the liquor trade as the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches, the Church of England page 41 can claim the credit of making some valuable contributions to the working forces in the temperance movement. Identified with it at various stages during the period now under review, that is prior to 1886, have been Bishop Stuart of Waiapu, Bishop Mules, Nelson, Archdeacon Williams of Te Aute, Canon Webb of Gisborne, Archdeacon Chatterton now of Rotorua, the Rev. H. J. M. Watson of Christchurch, Dean Howell of Napier, Canon Haselden of Onehunga, Archdeacon Dudley of Auckland, Rev. P. S. Smallfield, Auckland, Rev. T. J. Wills of Ormondville. That last name calls up the memory of one of the most intensely devoted workers in the anti-liquor movement that New Zealand had known. Owing mainly to his unflagging energy the Waiapu Anglican Synod became noted for the thoroughness of its researches into every phase of the temperance movement in all parts of the world, the reports of which proved a valuable means of educating the general public. Mr. Wills came into conflict with Bishop Nevill of Dunedin, who controverted some of the positions which the Vicar of Ormondville had taken up. His reply to the Bishop, entitled Bishop Nevill's Mistakes, was not lacking in spice or cogency, for where the liquor question was concerned, Mr. Wills was a fighter of no mean calibre. His ardour in the duties he undertook, unfortunately, led to a breakdown of health, and his sun went down while it was yet noon. Such men have not lived in vain. The seed they sowed has borne good fruit as evidenced by later developments in their Church and country.

Other Churches. In the years when New Zealand was in the early stages of its growth as a colony, such churches as the Congregational, the page 42 Baptist, and the Church of Christ, were not so solidified in corporate organization as they have since become, so that pronouncements on the temperance question from such a gathering as an annual assembly or conference could hardly be expected. But the value of such pronouncements by any representative assembly depends largely upon the extent to which its individual members accept the responsibility of endeavouring to give effect to them. In the matter of personal service the record of the three Churches named comes not one whit behind the record of either the Methodist, Presbyterian, or Anglican Church. The Nonconformist Albertland settlers, previously referred to, were mostly Congregationalists and Baptists, whose successors are among the keenest in the movement to-day. Among Congregational ministers in the front line may be named the Rev. S. Edger, B.A., of Auckland, the Rev. Dr. West, of Wellington, the Rev. Dr. Roseby, of Dunedin, the Rev. H. J. Miller, of Napier, and the Rev. W. A. Evans, of Wellington.

The Baptist Church has always put up a fine record in the crusade against intemperance. Ministers and laymen everywhere could be counted among the ‘reliables’ whenever it came to a skirmish with the common foe. The names occur of the Rev. Charles Dallaston, the Rev. J. Williams, the Rev. T. Spurgeon, the Rev. J. T. Hinton, and the Rev. R. S. Gray.

It would be difficult to say how much the temperance movement in this country owes to the Adams family in Dunedin, whose connexion with it dates back nearly sixty years. Mr. A. Hoby, of Wellington, represents another long standing connexion, also the Kirk family, one of whose page 43 daughters, the late gifted Mrs. A. R. Atkinson, rendered splendid service to the cause as president of the W.C.T.U.

The Church of Christ, first introduced into Dunedin by Pastor Matthew W. Green, has always taken a firm stand on the temperance question. Several of its ministers have been trained in America, and the experience they have gained there has been used effectively in advocating Prohibition for New Zealand.

The Seventh Day Adventists are out-and-out in advocating the banishment of all intoxicating liquors. They make a strong point of advocating as a religious duty the maintenance of physical as well as spiritual health, and so the sale and use of alcoholic liquor, as the foe of both, lies under an unsparing condemnation.

The Salvation Army, which ‘opened fire’ in New Zealand in 1882, has never done otherwise anywhere than maintain a strongly antagonistic attitude to the liquor trade. It is the only religious body that insists on total abstinence as a condition of membership. In its social work it discovers such a frightful amount of moral and physical wreckage caused by drink that it is supplied with a never failing incentive to do its utmost to get rid of it. Hence it is out to support all that can be done by moral suasion and legislative action to free the country from one of its greatest curses. The Salvation Army uniform has always been conspicuous when the ranks have closed for a definite struggle with the licensed liquor trade.