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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

(2) A Period of Progress

(2) A Period of Progress


The1908 Campaign was probably the most successful held up to that date. Never before had there been such an army of volunteer workers. There were thousands of them. Young and old, rich and poor, who with faith in God and in the ultimate victory of the cause, threw themselves into the struggle. Each Prohibition League was responsible for the fight within its own electorate. It employed its own agents and paid for the services of visiting page 98 lecturers. Of the visitors, none was more popular than the Rev. R. B. S. Hammond, from Australia. He has great gifts as a platform speaker and crowds flocked to hear him. He has repeatedly visited the Dominion and has always been welcomed by large audiences. No speakers could command greater crowds than the New Zealand leaders, the Revs. F. W. Isitt, L. M. Isitt, Mr. T. E. Taylor, and Mr. A. S. Adams (now Mr. Justice Adams). Public meetings were popular and were largely attended. Opposition was frequent and this gave interest to the meeting. Many open air meetings were held and often the police were present to secure a hearing for the speakers. Children's demonstrations and processions were effective methods of appealing to the people. Ministers devoted their time and energies to the movement. Special mention should be made of the Rev. Thos. Fee, president of the Methodist Conference, who, during his presidential year, travelled the length of the Dominion and rendered splendid service. Young men and young women rallied to the cause. In Dunedin University students arranged and carried out great gatherings. In Auckland a ‘Band of Business Men’ fought the trade on the basis of the economics and ethics of No-License.

A greater use was made of the press than in past campaigns. A combine on the part of many proprietors of the daily press prevented the making known of facts concerning the liquor trade except on the payment for such matter at advertisement rates. The ‘Trade’ has a long purse, but the generosity of the prohibitionists made it possible to carry on a successful newspaper campaign. The publication in Auckland of the Home Journal under the editorship of the Rev. L. M. Isitt was a great help in the page 99 fight. It was well got up and contained much general matter of an interesting nature besides temperance facts. It was for two years posted monthly to 35,000 homes, and largely contributed to the increase of the vote in the North of New Zealand. Much up to date literature was also circulated which doubtless influenced the people.

In harmony with the Alliance Constitution and Custom, test questions were again submitted to candidates for Parliament.

The results of the poll were most cheering. The consecration of time, talent, and money was bringing its rewards. The tide was with the movement. The outlook was inspiring beyond expression and the leaders were hopeful that victory was drawing near. From 1894 when No-License was carried in Clutha, six electorates had been won for No-License, but in the 1908 campaign victory was secured in six electorates, twice the number gained at any previous poll. These were Bruce, Masterton, Eden, Ohinemuri, Wellington South and Wellington Suburbs. This brought the number of No-License electorates up to twelve out of the seventy-six in the Dominion. The total number of licensed bars closed was 107. Only fifteen electorates had majorities for liquor, while sixty had majorities for No-License, but the votes were not effective because they did not reach the required three-fifths. Fifteen electorates secured a fifty-five per cent. majority. The No-License vote had increased from 198,768 in 1905 to 221,471 in 1908, while the liquor vote had only increased by 5,256. The Dominion majority for No-License was 33,331. A feature of the poll was the great increase of the vote in the four cities. In Auckland, for instance, Reduction was carried and a temperance committee page 100 could have closed fourteen bars, but an unsympathetic bench refused only five licenses. By comparison, it was easy to see that the No-License movement was making progress. In 1893 there were 1,719 publican and accommodation licenses, but on July 1, 1909, there were 1,257, a reduction of 462, being more than one-fourth of the whole number.

The question of securing a Dominion vote by bare majority had been discussed at the previous No-License convention, and the 1908 Alliance Conference unanimously passed the following resolution, ‘The time has arrived when an opportunity should be given for voting on the question of Colonial Option.’ Public sentiment was favourable to No-License. Electoral majorities were recorded in its favour, but there was a desire by many to vote on the larger question. Such persons declared that No-License had been an educational force preparing the way for the Dominion issue and that if the people were given power to vote on Colonial Option they would sweep the traffic away. An Alliance deputation requested the Premier, Sir Joseph Ward, to include the bare majority on both Colonial and Local Option in his next Licensing Bill.


A splendid spirit of optimism pervaded the Annual Meeting which was held in Christchurch in 1909. Cheered by the success of the recent campaign, the leaders reaffirmed their demand (1) that the three-fifths handicap be removed and the No-License question be settled on the bare majority. In speaking on the matter, Mr. Wesley Spragg said he ‘could not see why Bishop Julius, Mr. L. M. Isitt, and himself should be equal in voting on No- page 101 License only to two ragamuffins out in the street.’ (2) Dominion Option. The suggestion was made that the Local Option votes in each electorate should be added together and so form a Dominion vote. In this manner the Local Option vote would have been retained and also used to count as a Dominion vote. This would have been a helpful arrangement. (3) A resolution was passed, calling upon the Government to abolish liquor canteens in volunteer camps and instances were given of their growing menace to young men. (4) Because of the loose and unsatisfactory manner in which polls had been conducted the Government was requested to appoint only men of character and trustworthiness to the position of returning officer and that scrutineers should be more fully recognized. (5) It was decided to commence a pledge-signing campaign and electorates were urged to build up local funds in preparation for the next fight.

The Alliance Constitution was amended so that the two bodies known as the Dominion Convention and the New Zealand Alliance Annual Conference should become one. For a number of years they had worked and met separately. According to the new constitution the Annual Meeting should be composed of a number of ex-officio members, two delegates from each Provincial Council, and two for each Licensing District. This meant that future Annual Meetings were largely attended.

In this Convention there was a most impressive scene when the Rev. F. W. Isitt, who had been general secretary for about twelve years, felt compelled to resign owing to failing health. He had been abundant in labours. In the year 1899, before the motor-car was scarcely in use, and the North Island Main Trunk line was not completed, he page 102 travelled 7,000 miles, traversing the colony between Auckland and Invercargill, spoke in 125 townships, interviewed many opponents, and, while travelling, edited the Prohibitionist, and arranged for the preparation and circulation of literature. By his tact, judgement, gentleness and Christian courtesy, he had done much to unite the party and make it effective. There was a wonderful outburst of regard and sympathy for him, and he was made general organizer. The Rev. John Dawson was appointed general secretary.

During the campaign, each League had conducted the fight within its own borders and this had given the Alliance comparatively little financial responsibility. Its income had been £1,461, and there was a balance in hand of £63 for the year.

During the session of Parliament following this Convention, the Government introduced a Defence Bill which contained provision for compulsory military training and for canteens for the sale of alcoholic liquors in the encampments. Believing that many young men would suffer physical, mental, and moral deterioration if such canteens were allowed in the camps, the prohibitionists and thousands of other persons raised the cry that there must either be no alcoholic liquors sold in the canteens or no Defence Act. The opposition was successful and so for twenty years it has been illegal to sell liquor in the camps and officers and men are prohibited from taking liquor therein. No one can tell how much harm has been hindered by such a decision, especially during the period of the Great War.

Great meetings were held throughout the Dominion and demands were made for the Bare Majority. As an outcome of this enthusiasm Mr. page 103 George Laurenson introduced a Bill into the House covering the demands of the No-License party. The Government was impressed and requested the prohibitionists to state what modifications they would agree to. The leaders were consulted and the Executive sat frequently to consider the various points of agreement. The Trade, through the Attorney General, agreed to the compact as expressed in a Parliamentary Bill.

The Compact

The Bill embodying the Compact provided that the poll should continue to be taken in each electorate and No-License should be carried if fifty-five per cent. of the valid votes were for that issue, and that the votes throughout the Dominion should be added and Prohibition carried for the Dominion on the same majority. Local No-License was to be given effect to in about eighteen months from the time of the poll. Should Prohibition for the Dominion be carried, any electorate which did not vote the required fifty-five per cent. majority should enjoy Prohibition about four and a half years from the date of the poll. Dominion Prohibition was to be in operation not less than three years before another poll would be taken and then for another four years before licenses could again operate. The sale, manufacture, or importation of liquor, except for medical, industrial and sacramental purposes, was to be prohibited. The Reduction issue was to be eliminated, beer depots, the locker system, and bottle licenses were to be abolished. A special Dominion Convention was called and it asked that there be two ballot papers instead of one. To this the Trade objected.

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Historic Debate

The Dominion No-License Convention of 1910 was held in St. John's Schoolroom, Wellington, on June 22 to 25, and is remembered because of the great historic debate which was continued for almost three days. The Dunedin Council had sent a motion ‘That the Bill as drafted embodying the arrangement made be placed upon the Statute Book.’ Mr. A. R. Atkinson moved an amendment which stated, ‘That in the opinion of the Convention a method of voting under which electors would have to vote for two widely different things at the same time would compel a large number to vote for something which they did not approve or to abstain from voting. That the result of this coercion, confusion and disfranchisement would be to introduce a speculative element into the process which might work irreparable harm to the cause. That in any event the method in question would be inconsistent with a free and intelligent expression of the popular will, and is therefore unworthy of the support of a party which has insisted from the first upon a clear issue and a straight vote.’

Representative leaders of great intellectual ability and debating skill were found on each side. There was eloquence, wit, satire, sarcasm, self-control, sincerity, forbearance, Christian charity, laughter, applause and protest. Often there was tense feeling and many prayed to God for guidance. The result was awaited with great anxiety. When the vote was taken there were sixty for the amendment and seventy-six against. As opinion was closely divided, a Committee was set up which in its report demanded a special vote on Dominion page 105 Prohibition on the day of the general election, and that the question be submitted to the electors on a separate paper of distinctive colour, to be kept and counted separately. At the close of the debate one side saw its bright hopes buried and deep regrets remained at what might have been, and later events increased their regrets. On the other side there was the satisfaction of having successfully opposed the principle of ‘an elector being called upon to vote in favour of the thing he did not want in order to get what he did want.’ It was one of the great hours in the history of the movement, and there was deep thankfulness that the party remained united at the close.

During the following session of Parliament the Government introduced a Bill which reduced the three-fifths majority to fifty-five per cent. but contained the cumulative proposals of the compact to which the prohibitionists objected. The Members of the House refused to reduce the majority. When the Bill was passed it contained the three-fifths majority and provided for two ballot papers, one for Local Option and the other for Dominion Prohibition. There were also many excellent features included. For instance, section 46 provided for the right of Maoris to prohibit themselves from having liquor sold to them. A simple majority of Maori votes made the sale of liquor to Maoris illegal in the area over which the Maori Council presided, taking the vote. Using this power in 1911 the Maoris of Horotua voted by a substantial majority against liquor. For a number of years the No-License party had been advocating the right of the Maoris to thus protect themselves. The No-License party had strongly opposed women being employed as barmaids, and page 106 the new Act stated that no woman in future could become a barmaid, and only those could continue who had been in actual employ for three months in the previous twelve months on November 21, 1910, and who registered themselves before June 1, 1911. It was also made illegal to sell or supply liquor on licensed premises to persons under twenty-one years of age. The Act also put an end to bottle licenses.

A conference was held during the year between the Hon. Mahuta and representative chiefs of the Waikato and Rohe Potae, and several representatives of the No-License party. The representatives of the Maoris expressed strong opposition to liquor being allowed to enter the King Country.

Temperance reformers throughout the Dominion had long been clamouring for definite and regular instruction in the public schools on the effects of alcohol upon the human system. Largely as the result of the courageous action of the Hon. Geo. Fowlds, Minister of Education, the Education Department gave the subject a definite place upon the school syllabus, and sent copies of Temperance Wall Sheets for use to all State Schools in the Dominion.


A Literature Campaign

The 1911 Campaign was marked by an output of literature which has never been equalled for quality and quantity during any other Prohibition fight in the Dominion. The defenders of the reform excelled with their pens.

Professor Salmond published a pamphlet of sixty-eight pages, entitled Prohibition a Blunder. His book showed how weak was the cause he was page 107 defending, but his name and position gave weight to his words and the liquor advocates made all possible use of his production. His pamphlet was of benefit because of the replies it brought forth. Mr. A. S. Adams wrote his famous reply of one hundred pages, Professor Salmond's Blunder, Prohibition an Effective Social Reform. The production is a classic among New Zealand Prohibition literature. The same may be said of Mr. A. R. Atkinson's The Drink Traffic a Blunder, A Reply to Professor Salmond (100 pages). Mr. Atkinson wrote with zest and thoroughness and the two books have supplied matter and arguments in favour of Prohibition which have been most helpful to workers. Mr. J. Harris visited the No-License areas and afterwards wrote a striking pamphlet, Is No-License a Success? Another able reply to Professor Salmond was written by ‘A Presbyterian Minister.’ Two other pamphlets by Mr. A. R. Atkinson on the revenue question supplied helpful matter which removed the fears of timid souls. New Zealand Doctors on Alcohol, produced by Drs. Orchard and Whetter, was a valuable collection of scientific argument against the beverage use of alcohol. Mr. G. Dash produced a most helpful New Zealand Alliance Handbook, Rev. A. Doull wrote a pamphlet on Political Action against the Three Fifths, and Mr. J. McCombs followed with What the Three Fifths Means. These productions were of considerable educational value. Mr. H. Curran was an evangelist among the Plymouth Brethren, and his pamphlet, Should Christians Vote Against the Liquor Traffic, was read by a section of the community not easy to reach. Separate books were also published, dealing with several No-License districts. The Alliance, as the result largely of page 108 the labours of Mr. R. G. Denton, produced twenty-seven handbills which were very effective. Through the generosity of Mr. J. M. Leigh there was a free distribution of leaflets. The Home Journal was again published monthly, and 360,000 copies were circulated, chiefly by post. Special campaign papers were circulated in provinces and electorates, arousing local interest. The papers of the Churches took up the fight with enthusiasm and issued special editions. The pamphlets published by the liquor side contained 150 pages, but those issued in favour of Prohibition make a volume of 360 pages. The Prohibition writers made an able and brilliant defence of their principles.

Much platform work was done by visiting and Dominion speakers and the public meetings were largely attended. A striking feature was the fine work of the Young Men's and Young Women's National Prohibition Guilds. Some of these Guilds had a large membership. The Christchurch Young Women's Guild had a membership of six hundred, and the Young Men's Guild numbered three hundred. The members of these Guilds helped at open air meetings at which thousands attended. They secured pledges from persons to vote for Prohibition and No-License, assisted at large public meetings, acted as canvassers, raised money, and were advertising agents. These bands of young men and women, full of enthusiasm, gave additional life to the movement. The founding of these Young Men's Guilds was almost the last work accomplished by Mr. T. E. Taylor. The W.C.T.U. commenced a Women's Crusade which was a great stimulus. This noble army of women, led by Mrs. H. H. Driver, Mrs. Lee Cowie, Miss Anderson Hughes and Mrs. Barton (Glasgow), created an page 109 effective fighting army. Included in their good work was a series of great children's demonstrations which were successfully carried out in many places.

The vote taken in 1911 was a double one and the issue to some voters was confusing. The National Vote was more popular than the one for No-License. 234,656 votes were recorded in favour of electoral No-License, but 237,025 were given against it. Many more cast their votes for Prohibition, the figures being: For National Prohibition 259,943, against 205,661, the majority for National Prohibition being 54,282. In sixty-seven out of seventy-six electorates there were majorities for Prohibition, and in thirteen of them there was more than a three-fifths vote in its favour.

The figures showed that the Dominion Prohibition vote had appealed to the people and it seemed probable that victory would be secured at the next poll, especially as there was a possibility of the undemocratic three-fifths handicap being removed. No one could foresee that before another poll was taken the Dominion would be engaged in the great World War and that the attitude of many persons towards moral reform movements would be changed. The war spirit is not helpful to religion or those reforms which have for their object the moral uplift of the people.

The year 1911 was successful financially. The Leagues previous to and during the fight raised £20,000. There was also a large amount of voluntary service. The income of the Alliance was £600 in excess of the expenditure.

At this election the rolls were in a deplorable condition. There were many adults who were not entitled to have their names on the electoral rolls, page 110 such as aliens, occupants of gaols, asylums, and persons who had too recently settled in the Dominion. There were those persons who could not take steps to have their names placed upon the roll because they were temporarily absent from the Dominion, and others again were too indifferent to enrol. Added to these were persons who had religious scruples against enrolling. Yet, though the registered number of adults in the Dominion was 585,000, the number upon the rolls was 590,042, or 5,000 more names were upon the voters' roll than there were adults in the country. Probably the rolls had been worse. Mr. R. French, in the columns of the Auckland Star in 1899, stated that at the 1896 election there were 12,000 more men's names on the rolls than there were men in the colony. The prohibitionists have learnt by experience the importance of having a clean roll.


At the 1912 Annual Convention which was held in Wellington, the Rev. J. Cocker introduced the subject of ‘Political Organization.’ A long and vigorous discussion ensued, after which the following resolution was carried unanimously and with great enthusiasm:

‘That No-License Leagues be requested to take steps to secure at least 1,000 voters in each electorate to pledge themselves, regardless of party, not to vote for any Parliamentary candidate who will not pledge himself to support a measure to reduce the three-fifths majority required to carry No-License and Dominion Prohibition.’

This Democratic Vote Campaign which was based upon the principle contained in the above page 111 resolution was conducted with vigour and enthusiasm. The report to the 1913 Convention stated that the president, Mr. Wesley Spragg, and the secretary, the Rev. John Dawson, had held meetings in fifty electorates and at a number of them Dr. H. D. Bedford had also been a speaker. The campaign proved a helpful method for securing justice at the ballot box. Mr. J. McCombs wrote a pamphlet on Justice Demanded. Miss Henderson and co-workers issued The Reformer, which had a monthly circulation of 30,000. In the cities, workers had tables in the streets and persons thus had opportunities of signing the pledge in connexion with the Democratic Vote Campaign. At the 1913 Annual Convention, which was held in Christchurch, the decision of the 1912 Convention was re-affirmed with unanimity and enthusiasm, and it was determined to continue the fight for the removal of the three-fifths handicap.