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Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand

(6) The Methodist Church

(6) The Methodist Church

Fifty years ago there were individual ministers and laymen of the Methodist Church who dreamed of a day when the liquor traffic should no longer be found in the land. But they were generally regarded as being more visionary than practical by those who rather prided themselves on their ‘moderation,’ and had little sympathy with ‘extremists.’

At a time, happily now many years distant, when there were four branches of the Methodist Church in New Zealand, the Wesleyan, the Primitive, the United Free and the Bible Christian, they stood shoulder to shoulder in the cause of temperance. The Primitive Methodist especially, which was next in priority of settlement to the Wesleyan, produced from its ranks some of the most prominent temperance workers. It is to the credit of that Church that its pioneer missionary, the Rev. Robert Ward, who arrived in New Zealand in 1844, was himself a total abstainer, and all through his life was deeply interested in the temperance movement. The same may be said of his two sons, the Rev. Charles Ward page 165 and the Rev. Josiah Ward, and indeed of all the ministers of the Primitive Methodist Church. Not only did they pass resolutions at their conferences denouncing the drink evil, and pledging themselves to aid every effort to abolish the liquor trade; they were among the most active in their endeavours to reach the desired end.

Mention has already been made of Mr. David Goldie, the most prominent Primitive Methodist layman, who was among the earliest of the pioneers of temperance work in Auckland, and who never slacked his hand up to the day of his death. Outstanding, too, in the same honourable connexion are the names of Mr. C. M. Luke of Wellington, Mr. C. E. Bellringer, M.P., of New Plymouth, Mr. H. Holland, M.P., of Christchurch, Mr. W. King of Dunedin, and Mr. G. Froggatt of Invercargill.

In the United Free Church the Rev. Slamuel Macfarlane was a valiant in the cause by speech and pen, and the Revs. H. B. Redstone, R. Taylor, E. O. Perry, A. Peters, J. W. Worboys, and C. Penney, could always be found well forward in the fighting line. Auckland supplied sturdy lay supporters in James Coupland, Samuel Parker, A. J. Booth, H. D. Major and R. T. Wheeler, and Christchurch Messrs. J. Hanan and W. Flesher.

The outstanding name in connexion with the Bible Christian Methodist Church is that of the Rev. John Orchard. His advocacy of anything was always of the robust and the vigorous type, and he found ample scope for his zeal in attacking in the most practical way the evils of intemperance. He brought out from England a young minister named the Rev. William Ready, who had strong personal reasons for attacking the liquor traffic, and for the forty years of his life in this country, Mr. Ready page 166 did attack it with a wealth of gripping argument, of fiery eloquence and of ringing appeal that won for him a place in the front rank among the leaders in the crusade. The Rev. John Crewes is also worthy of mention among the valiants. Mr. Edward Reed, the lay pioneer of the Church in New Zealand, like all the laymen and all the ministers in the Church, was ardent in the cause of temperance reform.

The earliest official reference I can find to the Prohibition cause is in a resolution adopted by the Australasian General Conference in 1876, and endorsed by the New Zealand Conference in response to a deputation which waited upon it the following year. In it the Conference stated that it regarded intemperance as amongst the most serious moral and social evil and urged the Methodist people to discountenance the customs which fostered this vice, and to promote all legislative measures which aimed at the restraint or extinction of the liquor traffic. There was nothing revolutionary in this pronouncement, but it was safeguarded in such a way as to deal gently with those who were afraid of temperance having too large a place in the work of the Church.

A new impetus had been given to temperance work by the Licensing Act passed in 1881. This provided for the election of committees by the ratepayers of local areas, and these had large discretionary powers which enabled them to cancel licenses which they considered unnecessary. It was the election of a ‘Prohibition’ Licensing Committee for the Borough of Sydenham which brought L. M. Isitt and T. E. Taylor to the front as Prohibition advocates. In 1893 L. M. Isitt sought permission to be released from ordinary Church page 167 Work, in order to devote himself to the promotion of the temperance work in New Zealand. The Conference acceded to his request, and in doing so, expressed its sympathy with the work which was to occupy him during the year. Thus began Mr. Isitt's long and effective career of temperance advocacy, not only in New Zealand, but also in Great Britain and the United States of America.

As indicative of a growing determination to carry on its war against the liquor trade, a subsequent Conference urged the members and adherents of the Church to vote for its abolition, gave as its reasons that the ‘traffic stands condemned as the most corrupting, destructive and God-dishonouring factor in our social system. It is one of the chief foes to the best interests of the Church, the home and the individual. It has everywhere proved itself defiant of control, and there is no system under which men can be licensed to sell intoxicating liquors as beverages without being also licensed to make the purchasers drunk.’

But the Methodist Church was not content with passing resolutions. The ministers and members of the Church were encouraged to take an active part in every kind of propaganda work. The Revs. F. W. Isitt and J. Dawson have left permanent marks on the work of the New Zealand Alliance, of which they were at different periods the general secretaries. By their sweet reasonableness, their persuasive eloquence and their self-sacrificing toil, they made a splendid contribution to the cause of Prohibition in New Zealand. Revs. W. J. Williams and J. Cocker, by their work as editors of The Vanguard, have educated and stimulated multitudes in their devotion to the work of Prohibition. Others have edited local ‘Campaign’ papers, others page 168 have undertaken the duties of organizing secretaries in their districts prior to the polls, while both ministers and laymen have taken a very prominent part in propaganda work of every kind. Space forbids the mention of names of the men and women who have given freely of their energy and their substance in promoting the interests of the Prohibition movement.