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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69


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Samuel duncan parnell, the founder of the "Sight Hours System," and whose portrait adorns the title page of this pamphlet, was born in London on the 19th February, 1810. Having completed his apprenticeship, that of a carpenter and joiner, and while working in a large joinery establishment in Theobald's Road, London, in 1834, he was imbued with the idea that the hours of labour then wrought were far too long. "Why," he reasoned, "should men work such long hours as they do, and why is it that there cannot be a fair disposal of the hours of a day, so as to give a man a little of the daylight to attend to the many duties he must naturally have to do for himself and those dependent on him? Why should men legislate for us to work all these hours?" While these thoughts occupied the mind of Mr. Parnell, the Reform Bill of Lord John Russell, was agitating the minds of his fellow-workmen, and long discussions on that subject were constantly recurring among his shopmates (some 32 in number), most of whom were "red-hot Radicals." Every morning, after they had been attending meetings on the previous evenings, long and of times heated arguments ensued on the various important bearings of this momentous question. He, too, like the rest, had considered very deeply the subjects of this great reform that was proposed, but somehow he could not bring himself to enter so fully into them as his mates. His thoughts were concentrated on bringing about a reform in the hours of labour and improving the condition of his fellow-men. The time and opportunity for carrying out his project was yet inopportune. In the midst of all this trouble and agitation over the Reform Bill, the first Trades Union the world ever saw was inaugurated. It was started by the carpenters and joiners of London, and of course in a very short time assumed very large dimensions, embracing the shop in which he was working with the rest. Every man in the shop joined but him. He was asked, pressed, and threatened, but it was of no avail; he persistently refused. As a reason, he urged: "If you are really in earnest to better your condition, first get the hours of labour shortened, by banding together and getting a regular daily system for all trades. Do that, and I am with you heart and soul." Well, they would not listen to him at all on this, his reform, it appearing, presumably, to them too absurd. "What," they asked, "is the use, Parnell, of your talking such nonsense. We have always had to work these long hours, and it will be always so. Supposing we were of your way of thinking, who would listen to such a request? It won't do, Parnell." "[unclear: We'll]" said he, "I can't join your Union, then, unless you agree that the shortening the hours of labour shall be part and parcel of your programme." This was not agreed to, and as a natural consequence Mr. page 3 Parnell did not join the Union, but left the shop and started business on his own account, at No. 7, Euston Grove, and 36, George Street, Foley Place, London.

On the 27th of April, 1839, the colonization of New Zealand was announced to the British public, a company having been formed in London for the purpose of forming settlements in New Zealand. The reports of a new field for labour at once fired the busy mind of Mr. Parnell. Here, he thought, is the opportunity of accomplishing in a new land that which appears impossible here (namely, the shortening of the hours of labour). With this idea firmly fixed in his mind, he determined to proceed at the earliest opportunity to New Zealand. Being of a careful and saving disposition, he had by dint of perseverance managed to acquire a little capital; and after an interview with the Manager of the New Zealand Company, he became one of the first purchasers of the right to select land in the new colony; and after having paid the sum of £126 for an intermediate passage for his wife and himself, he was allowed the privilege of selecting 100 acres of country land and one town acre. This, the initiatory part of the business completed, he shipped on board the "Duke of Roxburgh," sailing from London on the 17th September, 1839; landing on Petone Beach, Wellington, on the 7th February, 1840.

From this period it will perhaps be more acceptable to republish an account of the events leading up to the initiation of the Eight Hours system, as taken from Mr. Parnell's own lips by a member of the staff of the Evening Press, and subsequently published by that journal. He says:—

We would have been the first ship here had it not been that we had to put in at Plymouth to get one of our masts repaired; it had been sprung soon after sailing. There was a large number of passengers, our ship taking the 'intermediates,' as the others were full of the cabin passengers. Among our passengers was Mr. Robert Hunter, sen., who was coming out to the colony as agent to the well-known firm of shipowners, Messrs. Willis & Co. He was accompanied by his wife and a large family, the eldest of which were two sons, George and Robert. Mr. Hunter and I struck up an acquaintance and became very intimate. He seemed to take an interest in me, and asked me if I was going to follow my trade when I landed. I replied that that, of course, depended on circumstances, but added, that if I did I should only be too glad to do all his work for him. Well, to make a long story short, we arrived and dropped anchor, as I stated, on the 7th February, after a voyage of 144 days. We all got ashore in due time, and I located myself on the banks of the Hutt River, at a spot between the present township of Petone and the Lower Hutt. There was a Maori chief at a pah close by who seemed to have taken quite a fancy to me. He was a fine fellow; he used to come every morning to see how I was getting along. He called me a "rangatira" (headman, or gentleman), and he showed me the marks of the deposit from former floods on the trunks of the trees in the bush, and warned me against the height of floods. Profiting by this simple and ingenious native's experience, I built my house, which was one I had brought out in sections, having made it in my workshop in London, upon piles 20 inches high. It was lucky indeed that I did so, for I had barely had it up a week before a heavy flood came down the river, and the water rose until it just washed the under-side of the floor, but we were quite dry inside. Mr. Hunter in the meantime had settled further down, towards the Koro-koro Pah, and nearer the sea beach than I did. When the houses were up, he came to me and said he wanted a store built, as he expected a quantity of stores out by the next vessels, and he asked me if I could build it for him.

"I will do my best," I answered, "but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter: that on the job the hours shall only be eight for the day."

Mr. Hunter could not dream of such a thing; it was ridiculous, preposterous, &c., &c.

"There are," I replied, "twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start to-morrow morning at eight o'clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all."

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"You know, Mr. Parnell," replied Mr. Hunter, "that in London the bell rang at six o'clock, and if a man was not there ready to turn to, he lost a quarter of a day."

I said, "Mr. Hunter, we're not in London, and if you don't agree to these terms I can't help you. I have plenty to do for myself, so I must wish yon good-morning." And I turned to go home.

I had not got many paces when he called me back, and said that he supposed he must agree to it, as he wanted the building up, and he hoped that I would get along with it as best I could. And so you see, the first strike for eight hours a day the world has ever seen was settled on the spot.

About the wage, Mr. Hunter would not give more than 5s per day, and he asked me what I would do for workmen.

I answered that I did not know exactly; there were only two men that I knew of, as there were not many about, and all that there were were busy setting up their own abodes. I went to see the two men I knew of, and asked them if they wanted a job. One of them was called "Old Palfry," and the other's name was "Bill Taylor." I said, "It is to put up a store for Mr. Hunter, and the wages are to be 5s a day." They answered, "Oh, he be d—d, we won't work for that." The fact of the matter was that they did not want to work at all.

I said to the men, "You had better go and see Mr. Hunter yourselves, and if you see him, don't forget that I have already agreed that the time is to be eight hours per day."

The men acknowledged that that part of the bargain was first-rate, but they said they would not work for 5s per day.

I told them again to be sure and not forget that I had bargained for eight hours per day, work to begin at 8 o'clock.

They, however, never went near Mr. Hunter at all, simply because, I suppose, that they didn't want to work.

There were only three other carpenters here then. One was building a boat, and the other two were sawing timber to build a house for Mr. Moles worth. I told them what the time I had bargained for was, but they had plenty of work with Mr. Molesworth, and would not leave their present employment.

I saw Mr. Hunter the next morning, and told him I could not get any men.

He said I must get on with the building myself, and he would see what he could do in the way of getting men himself.

I had been able to get one or two labouring men, but I was the only carpenter on the ground. In speaking to Mr. Hunter about the work generally, I had mentioned to him that perhaps I would not be able to get to work by 8 o'clock sharp every morning, as I had such a long way to come; but I assured him that whatever time I lost in that way I would make up. Mr. Hunter said that would be all right; but it happened that a very few mornings after that I was unavoidably a few minutes late, and on arrival at the building I met Mr. Hunter, who was looking very angry. I said, "Good morning" to him, but he made no answer, and I was going on, when he said, "This won't do, Mr. Parnell."

I said, "I told you, Mr. Hunter, that perhaps I might be a little late some-times, but I would always make it up."

He said, "It is not that; you are setting a bad example to the men."

I answered, "Well, Mr. Hunter, if you think so I shall not do any more for you at the store; I have done a great deal more for you than I have for myself." With that, I turned away and went to the store and got my tools.

While I was working on Mr. Hunter's store, and previous, of course, to my disagreement with him, the ship "Adelaide" arrived from Home. It was on the 7th March, 1840. Among her passengers was Mr. St. Hill, who was after, wards Resident Magistrate here, and when he came ashore he came up to the building and spoke to Mr. Hunter. I heard Mr. Hunter telling him about the eight hours business that Parnell had started here."

Mr. St. Hill came round to me and said, "Mr. Hunter tells me you came from London."

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I said, "Yes, I came from London."

He said, "You must have heard of me? I was an architect there."

I said, "I could not recollect him at all."

He said then that he had learnt from Mr. Hunter that I had introduced an eight hours system of labour here.

I said, "Yes, that's correct, and don't you think eight hours is long enough for anyone to work?"

He said, "There is Captain Daniells that has come out in the "Adelaide," he will be a large employer of labour, and he will put a stop to this eight hours racket."

"I said," You are too late, you can't put a stop to it now; the men have been working at it some little time now, and they won't give it up."

They tried for some time afterwards to break up the eight hours rule, but it was of no avail, as I with ease enlisted the sympathy and help of every workman that landed from the other ships that followed, and the system gradually became an accomplished fact. The ships that followed the "Adelaide" were the "Bengal Merchant," March, 1840; "Coromandel," 29th August, 1840; "Olympus," 13th April, 1841 (Dr. Featherston arrived in this vessel); "Arab," 15th October, 1841; "Gertrude," November, 1841; "Mandarine," December, 1841; and others. The system of working eight hours a day, and starting work at 8 o'clock in the morning, was accepted by all the men in these ships. It was only set on foot just in the very nick of time.

It may be interesting to know that the first strike of labour that ever I occurred in New Zealand was a very few years after the time when the incidents I have been relating took place. It was in connection with the making of the present road along the harbour, leading from the town when it was shifted to its present position, to the Hutt Valley. The men would only work eight hours a day, and because they were ordered to work more they threw down their tools. The concession was ceded, and work was resumed."

During the year 1848, immediately after the settlement of Otago by the New Zealand Company, the men engaged by them, presumably hearing of the hours worked by the men in the same employ in Port Nicholson, petitioned Mr. William Fox (now Sir William), who was the Company's superintendent, to raise the wages from 3s and limit the hours to eight per day.

Mr. Fox, evidently labouring under an illusion, or speaking in ignorance, is alleged to have replied that the men in Port Nicholson wrought longer hours, and only received 2s 6d per day.

This, it will have been seen from a preceding paragraph, was not in accordance with facts, as at no period since 1840 were the men in Port Nicholson receiving a less sum than 3s 6d per day of eight hours, and that only for a short time.

As during the strike of the men engaged on the Hutt Road (years previous to 1848, the year of the settlement of Otago), they were conceded not only the eight hours, but an advance of wages from 3s 6d to os per day.

The men of Otago were eventually successful in their demands, and thus the result of the seed sown on Petone Beach in 1840 was now again bearing fruit, and ever since eight hours has been recognised as a day's work in Otago.

As may be well supposed, aspirants to the title of founder of the "Eight Hours System" have been as numerous as "Colonels in the American Army," but not one has yet been able to honourably usurp Mr. Parnell's claims to this great reform, that is now vibrating from the four corners of the civilized world.

The people of Wellington having had the fact of Mr. Parnell's great work so forcibly brought before them—the Trades Demonstration, which was held for the first time in New Zealand on the 28th October, 1890, was in Wellington made an Eight Hours Demonstration. This was in many ways a most fitting I opportunity for such an exhibition of public appreciation of universally be-stowed benefits, as it was the fiftieth anniversary of the starting of the great movement on Petone Beach. While the various trades bodies of the Empire City were agitating their minds in preparation for the inaugural celebration of the one great Labour Day, Mr. C. F. Worth, an old, respected resident of Wel- page 6 lington, himself at one time an operative in the building trade, and a co-worker—in spirit, at all events—and an admirer of Mr. Parnell, bethought himself that now would be a fitting time to take some steps whereby, in the presence of the assembled hundreds of workingmen, something should be done to commemorate the great life-work of their aged townsman, and to this end he a once devoted himself. There came to his side immediately many other of well-known settlers of Wellington, and as a result the under-written address was presented to Mr. Parnell, in the open air, on Newtown Park, on the 28th October, 1890.