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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

The King Country

The King Country

The year 1884 is noted for the beginning of a famous struggle to shut the liquor trade out of a native district in the North Island, known as the King Country. By Section 25 of the Licensing Act, 1881, it was provided that the Governor may page 51 proclaim an area of native land in which no liquor license shall be granted, if the owners of the land apply that that shall be done. In 1884 the owners of the Rohe Potae, better known as the King Country, as represented by the leading chiefs, headed by Wahanui, did so apply, and the Proclamation was issued, and signed on the 3rd of December, 1884. (See New Zealand Gazette, 1884, vol. ii. p. 1,685.) The Governor was Lord Glasgow, and the Premier was Mr., now Sir Robert Stout. The action taken by the chiefs in securing the Proclamation was inspired by what they had seen of the terrible results of the sale of liquor among the natives under the then existing conditions. It was known that the Government was planning to construct a section of the Main Trunk Railway through the district, which meant practically the opening of the land for European settlement. It was also known that European settlement elsewhere had been accompanied by the opening of licensed houses for the sale of alcoholic liquor. In view of such a prospect, the feeling of the leading chiefs was expressed by Wahanui when he appeared before the House of Representatives in support of a petition which nearly all the chiefs had signed, and when he said:

‘Another request I have to make is that the sale of spirits within our district shall be stopped absolutely. I do not want this great evil brought upon our people. I hope this House will be strong in preventing this evil coming upon us and upon our people.’ (Hansard, vol. 50, app. p. 556.)

The famous fighting chief, Rewi, the hero of the last brave stand of the Maoris at the assault by the British troops on the Orakau pah, March 30, 1864, sent from his deathbed a telegram to the Governor, Lord Glasgow, as follows: page 52 ‘O Governor, long may you live! This is my first request that you prevent strong drink from being allowed to come within the Rohe Potae. This my first request will be my last.’

Premier Stout, speaking at the cutting of the first sod of the railway, said, ‘It was a feature of the arrangement that no liquor was to be sold if the territory was opened for the railway.’

There can be no doubt about the validity of the Proclamation and the guarantees to which the Government committed itself when the proclamation was issued. Barring the granting of a wholesale license by a magistrate at Waitara many years ago, which had to be cancelled by special Act of Parliament, the Government has so far kept its word in refusing to grant a liquor license for the King Country. But when it comes to the question of enforcing the law against illegal sales the record is not praiseworthy. Sly-grog selling has been practised on a very large scale and with the most injurious results. It is a grave scandal that the railway, permission for the opening of which was only granted on condition that no liquor should be admitted into the King Country, has been used for the transport of liquor which it was known was to be handled by sly-grog sellers. Various technicalities have been urged by the Government in defence of its action in this respect, but there can be no doubt whatever that the quantity of liquor illegally disposed of in the King Country would have been considerably diminished if a more resolute and persistent stand had been taken by the Government in refusing to be the tool of liquor merchants in Auckland and elsewhere in facilitating the sale of intoxicants among the natives whom it stands pledged to protect. The difficulties of the page 53 situation have been increased by the considerable number of Europeans who have settled in the district. The claim has been set up and vigorously pressed in Parliament and elsewhere that conditions in the King Country have so greatly changed since 1884, when the Proclamation was issued, that the law with regard to the sale of liquor should be altered, so as to bring it into harmony with the law in other parts of the country. There might be some force in the claim but for the consideration that no Europeans have gone to settle in the King Country without knowing beforehand that the sale of liquor in that district was prohibited. The claim is further weakened by the consideration that the original demand for the protection of the King Country natives from the evils of alcoholic indulgence still holds good, and that experience in native districts elsewhere shows that so far from licensed houses lessening such evils, they are all the more intensified. These rival struggles—the demand on the one hand for the more strict enforcement of Prohibition in the King Country and the demand, on the other hand, for the opening up of the King Country for the licensed liquor trade— will, it is hoped, before long, find a common solution when the objective of the New Zealand Alliance is gained, and the blight of the liquor traffic will be everywhere abolished.

The New Zealand Alliance. The year 1886 saw the birth of the New Zealand Alliance for the abolition of the liquor traffic by the direct vote of the people. It was called for by the growth of sentiment and conviction concerning the need of a more drastic method of dealing with the liquor evil than any hitherto in operation. A vast amount of good had been done by such organizations as page 54 Total Abstinence Societies, Bands of Hope, Good Templar Lodges, Rechabite Tents, and the Order of the Sons and Daughters of Temperance in spreading education concerning the injury caused by the use of alcoholic liquor and winning thousands of people to sign the total abstinence pledge. But it became more and more apparent that much of the good thus done was nullified, and the further spread of temperance principles was hindered by the temptations to the use of liquor that were presented in licensed public-houses. It was, therefore, resolved to copy the example that had been set in England by the formation of an Alliance for the purpose of securing, first of all, such an alteration of the law as would furnish the people with the power, by direct vote, to determine whether the liquor traffic should or should not exist, and then, when such power was secured, to induce the people to use their power of voting to bring the liquor traffic to an end. A succinct account of the formation of the Alliance was furnished by the late Mr. Robert French to the New Zealand Alliance Handbook of 1914, and is hereby transferred to these pages:

‘Some members of the United Kingdom Alliance emigrated to New Zealand, settling in the early sixties, and formed the Drury Auxiliary of the U.K.A. In 1862 their number was reinforced by the arrival of the Nonconformist settlers, a number of them being members of the parent society. The Maori War hindered the growth of the society; when peace was re-established the propaganda flourished. On September 10, 1869, a branch was formed in Auckland, soon to develop into a “Provincial Committee.’”

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In February, 1886, a Conference was held in Wellington, when the New Zealand Alliance was formed. The first president was Sir W. Fox, M.A., K.C.M.G. Among the vice-presidents were the Premier of New Zealand, Sir Robert Stout, K.C.M.G., also Major Atkinson, M.H.R., who subsequently occupied the position of Premier. The objects of the society were set out to be: The abolition and prohibition of the liquor traffic in New Zealand by the direct vote of the people.

To obtain from Parliament such legislation as will give to the people absolute power over the liquor traffic.

To secure the return to Parliament of such candidates, irrespective of party, as will support these objects.

To educate the people to the exercise to their fullest extent such powers of Prohibition as the law at present allows, and to demand the completion of these powers as aforesaid.

To promote all these objects by public meetings, lectures, the circulation of literature, and the organization of all persons favourable to such objects.

For the first six years of its existence, Auckland was the home of the Alliance. Wellington, being more central, in 1892 it became the headquarters of the Alliance, and has so continued ever since. The first general secretary of the Alliance was Mr. H. Field, while Mr. T. W. Glover was engaged as organizing agent, travelling through the country lecturing on the liquor problem, forming auxiliaries in every district where volunteer workers could be secured, and enrolling members.

The New Zealand Alliance accepted as its plat- page 56 form the following declaration of principles that was adopted by the United Kingdom Alliance at its formation in Manchester in 1853:


That it is neither right nor politic for the State to afford legal protection to any traffic or system that tends to increase crime or waste the national resources, to corrupt the social habits, to destroy the health and lives of the people.


That the traffic in intoxicating liquors, as common beverages, is inimical to the true interests of individuals, and destructive to the order and welfare of society, and ought therefore to be prohibited.


That the history and results of all past legislation in regard to the liquor traffic abundantly prove that it is impossible satisfactorily to limit a system that is essentially mischievous in its tendencies.


That no consideration of private gain or public revenue can justify the upholding of a system so utterly wrong in principle, suicidal in policy and disastrous in results as the traffic in intoxicating liquors.


That the legislative prohibition of the liquor traffic is perfectly compatible with national liberty and with all the claims of justice and legitimate commerce.


That the legislative suppression of the liquor traffic would be highly conducive to the development of a progressive civilization.


That, rising above class, sectarian or party considerations, all good citizens should combine to procure an enactment prohibiting the sale of page 57 intoxicating beverages, as affording most efficient aid in removing the appalling evil of intemperance.’

The following is from a broadsheet published in 1886, setting forth the formation of the Alliance and its policy:


This Alliance has been instituted for the suppression and prohibition of the liquor traffic. It seeks to unite in this effort those who are not abstainers as well as those who are, there being many who, though they themselves are moderate drinkers of alcoholic liquors, deplore the waste and misery caused by the legalized sale.


The immediate aim of the Alliance is to secure for the people the legal direct power to veto the liquor traffic.


This Alliance believes that when the people possess this power, with sufficient facility for its exercise, they will free the Colony from the heaviest burden that is laid upon its financial resources, and from the principal cause of its disease, destitution and crime.


To attain this result the members of the Alliance are expected to use all the influence they possess to secure the election to Parliament, and to all other positions of power, of such candidates as are favourable to the principles of the Alliance. The acceptance of these principles, with an annual subscription of not less than 2s. 6d., constitutes membership. The Executive will account annually in its report for the revenue derived from this and other sources, and for the disbursement thereof.’

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The Alliance has no test of membership. It invites the aid and co-operation of all good citizens, whether abstainers or not. It has but one object —the removal of the liquor traffic by a law, enacted by Parliament, and enforced by public opinion, armed with executive power.

The first Executive of the New Zealand Alliance was—President, Sir William Fox, K.C.M.G. Messrs. J. Elkin, F. E. Ewington, H. J. Le Bailey, R. Neal, J. Waymouth, G. Winstone, E. Withey, D. Goldie, J. Newman and Rev. A. Reid were members of the Executive as vice-presidents resident in Auckland. During the first year of its existence 2,000 subscribers became members of the Alliance.

It is interesting to note that Mr. H. Field, the first general secretary of the Alliance, has been spared to see more than forty years of its useful activities, through the whole of which, even when not officially connected with it, his gifts and influence have been devoted to the great philanthropic object at which it aims. The same retrospect of the growth and development of an outstanding humanitarian movement in which from the beginning he has actively shared, is enjoyed by the Right Hon. Sir Robert Stout, one of its first Vice-Presidents. The principles on which that Movement is based commend themselves increasingly to the common sense and moral judgement of people whose views are not obscured by prejudice or vested interests, and unless a universal bankruptcy of reason and humane interests should supervene, it is not a desperate hazard to predict that all the New Zealand Alliance stands for will become an accomplished fact.

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For truth is truth as God is God,
And truth the day must win;
To doubt would be disloyalty,
To falter would be sin.

The Parent Society. Mr. R. French wrote in the Vanguard of February 1, 1913:

‘A visit from the Drury Auxiliary of the United Kingdom Alliance was paid to Auckland in 1869 by Dr. Rayner and Mr. Morgan of Pukekohe, who met the Auckland friends. Mr. J. Coupland presided. It was decided to call a public meeting and Messrs. J. Coupland, J. Carr, and J. Brame were appointed a committee for arrangements. The meeting was held in the Auckland Y.M.C.A. on September 10, 1869. Dr. Philson was chairman. Twenty-three persons became members of the Alliance Auxiliary, and Mr. J. Coupland was elected the first treasurer, and Mr. J. Brame, secretary. It was decided to place the Alliance question before candidates for the Provincial Election. In 1873 the Alliance Auxiliary ceased to meet, as nearly all the members had joined the Good Templars. In 1877 the Alliance was re-formed and continued until the New Zealand Alliance was formed, into which it was merged.’