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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 69

Samuel Duncan Parnell, The Founder of the "Eight Hours System"

Samuel Duncan Parnell,

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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.

The Presentation to Mr. Parnell

took place on the trolly conveying the fishermen's tableau, and was made a the request of a large number of people by Mr. H. W. Potter. As Mr. Parnell was introduced to the assemblage by Mr. F. C. Millar, Chairman of the Demonstration Day Committee, he was greeted with prolonged and ringing cheers Mr. Potter, in making the presentation, was frequently applauded. He said:—

Ladies and Gentlemen,—At the request of a large number of friends of the Eight-hour Movement, I have now to perform a most pleasing as well as [unclear: ones] the most important events of the day, that is, to present to Mr. Samuel Duncan Parnell, the father of the Eight-hour System, with an illuminated address Before making the presentation, however, I feel I must utter a few words to Mr. Parnell, expressing to him the obligations he has bestowed upon the workers not only of this colony, but of the whole civilized world. Mr. Parnell as most of you are no doubt aware, arrived in this colony some 50 years age and has resided continuously in our midst ever since, a credit to the country and a citizen that Wellington may feel proud to own. He had left a land in which the labourers' condition might fitly be summed up in the words, "long hours and small pay," but on his arrival he determined to inaugurate a beta state of things; his large heartedness and foresight enabled him to anticipate by years in the land of his adoption the labour reforms of the Old World. By this one reform he has earned the gratitude not only of the workers of to-day but of future generations. He has erected for himself a monument which will ever stand in the affections of the labouring classes of the colony—a monuments infinitely more enduring than any that could have been erected by the hands labour. The workers of this colony are indebted to Mr. Parnell for a degree of leisure unknown to the workers of the Old World. Thanks to Mr. Parnell, the workers here have more time for self-culture, more time for recreation, and more time for rest. These, ladies and gentlemen, are physical as well as intellectual advantages which cannot be over-estimated—advantages which, if fully utilized, should build up in New Zealand a labour class superior to any the world has yet seen—and it must be borne in mind that the wealth oh country is largely determined by the physical and moral strength of its producers. Owing to Mr. Parnell's noble efforts the New Zealand workman has both physical and intellectual advantages previously unknown. The improvement in the condition of the worker must eventually reflect itself a the lasting and substantial progress of the colony, a progress which, in a large measure will be attributable to the wisdom and forethought of our esteemed fellow-citizen, Mr. S. D. Parnell. It is now my pleasing duty, Mr. Parnell, to hand to you, in the name of the subscribers and the working classes of Wellington, this handsomely illuminated address, which, with your permission. I will read.

The address was as follows:—

"Wellington, New Zealand,

" To Samuel Duncan Parnell, Esq.

"We, the labouring class of Wellington, on behalf of ourselves and fellow workers in other parts of New Zealand, esteem it a great privilege to have you living in our midst, and being present with us on this occasion. We recognised in you a gentleman who, by God's providence and having a heartfelt sympathy for your fellow-men, was, at the early settlement of the colony (in the year 1840), instrumental in initiating the system of eight hours constituting a day page 7 work. By so doing, you are truly entitled to be designated the father of the eight hours movement, a boon now beginning to be appreciated in all civilized parts of the known world, but in none more so than the community in which we live. This being the first annual celebration in New Zealand commemorating the union of labour for the purpose of ultimately securing, by the help of God, and fair, lawful, and energetic means, a more equal distribution of wealth, and consequent enjoyment by the world by bonâ fide producers, we believe this to be a most fitting opportunity to present you with this address as a mark of our appreciation of your noble efforts, and the success which ere long will be duly recognised, and appreciated, as one of the greatest boons conferred upon the labouring classes.

"We trust that, although now in the winter of your life, you may yet be spared to witness the fruitful bearing of that great tree of philanthropy planted by you for our benefit, and that in the near future an united effort will be made to secure and establish a more lasting tribute to your respected memory.

"Signed on behalf of the Wellington section of the labouring classes by John Plimmer, D. P. Fisher, C. F. Worth, W. McGill, E. Player, and H. W. Potter."

Mr. Potter handed the address to Mr. Parnell amidst prolonged cheering, and concluded—In begging your acceptance of this token of our esteem, I would ask you to remember that its mere intrinsic value is immeasurably outweighed in the gratitude towards you, which shall live as long as the memory of the benefits you have conferred upon us shall last. I have much pleasure in handing you the address, and may you live long to look at it. (Cheers.)

Mr. W. McGill replied on behalf of Mr. Parnell, who was deeply moved, as follows:—Mr. Parnell not feeling equal to the task of replying to your kind words, Mr. Potter has asked me to read his reply, as follows:—"Mr. Potter, Gentlemen, and Fellow Townsmen,—I thank you for the address you have presented me with this day. I feel happy to-day because the seed sown so many years ago is bearing such abundant fruit—(cheers)—and the chord struck at Petone fifty years ago is vibrating round the world, and I hope I shall live to see eight hours a day as a day's work universally acknowledged and become the law of every nation of the world. (Cheers.) It is the outcome of my early convictions on entering on the battle of life. I was convinced that the working hours were too long, and the time for recreation too short. (Cheers.) I spoke to my shopmates in London about the long hours we had to work, but; they saw no hope of getting things altered, but on coming out to this colony I determined to do what I could to alter things, and on the first opportunity I got I made a stand for eight hours a day, with the result as you know. Again I thank you for the recognition you have shown me of the part I took to benefit my fellow-men."

Mr. Millar—"Now, boys, three rousing cheers for Mr. Parnell!" This was responded to with great enthusiasm.

Messrs. Millar, Fisher, Worth, and W. W. Collins then addressed those assembled, and cheers were given for Mr. Winter (who was introduced to them), the Committee, Mr. Potter, Mr. E. Gell (a member of the Wellington Carpenters' Union of 1843), Mr. Fisher, and more for Mr. Parnell, and the playing of "See the Conquering Hero Comes," by the band, terminated this portion of the proceedings.

The Committee who had carried out the necessary arrangements in connection with the address, did not now lay down their arms, but instead went to work to formulate some scheme for a more lasting commemoration of the Eight Hours System, and several meetings were held by them discussing the matter, which, as it grew older and took a more and more tangible and substantial shape, was on all sides receiving a willing and growing support. At a meeting of the Committee, held on 12th November, 1890, the dire news was announced that the "grand old man" had been suddenly struck down with a serious illness. This illness eventually mastered the remaining vitality in the aged form, and on the 17th of December, 1890, Mr. Samuel Duncan Parnell, the founder and champion of the Eight Hours System, the admired and reverenced of men, was page 8 by the inscrutable ways of Providence, snatched from his earthly career just at the moment of his triumph. During his illness, lasting over five weeks, the workingmen of Wellington anxiously kept their eyes upon the humble cottage in Cambridge Terrace, where lay the dying man, whom they regarded and recognised as the originator of their much-prized Eight Hours System, and it is no figure of speech to say that the news of his death was received with bated breath by all, and cast a deep gloom over all classes of the community of not only Wellington, but the whole of the Colony of New Zealand. Then came the last sad duties of the living to the dead. A public meeting was held under the presidency of the Mayor of Wellington (A. W. Brown, Esq.), when it was unanimously decided that the "grand old man" should be accorded a public funeral At the meeting in question, the Mayor, in speaking of the life of Mr. Parody sketched in a few words his own career—how he had himself risen to the proud position of the Chief Magistrate of the city; how he had been benefited by the Eight Hours System of labour, and gave an assurance of his warmest sympathy with that movement. He spoke in the most feeling terms of their departed co-worker. Besides this expression of sympathy, the public of Wellington also showed their regret, and from the date of the death of Mr. Parnell to the home he was laid in his last narrow resting place, bunting was displayed at half-mag in all the principal thoroughfares. The funeral was held on the 20th December, and was as well an enthusiastic as it was a mournful event in Wellington. Long before the hour of starting for the cemetery, notwithstanding the fast that rain was falling heavily, an immense concourse of people collected near the late residence of Mr. Parnell, and as the cortege moved off and wended its way towards God's Acre, it numbered quite three thousand people, and was headed by the Garrison Band playing the Dead March in Saul. The body was borne along the full length of the way by relays of workingmen, who were glad, indeed, to do this last act as a tribute of the profound respect they hid had for the old man. At last the sad duty was over, and after a most impressive Socialistic ceremony, performed by Mr. John Chantrey Harris, the body was consigned to the grave, and the mournful assemblage turned away to again meet the world and resume their every-day avocations.

In Memoriam.

[Samuel Duncan Parnell, founder of the Eight Hours' Labour Movement, died at Wellington (N.Z.), where he had lived for 50 years, on December 17. 1890. aged 80.]

A king of men has passed away—
Not from a palace great,
But from a simple cottage home,
Devoid of pomp and state—
An uncrowned king, a Grand Old Man,
Who loved the people well,
The author of the Eight Hours Plan
Of Campaign—our Parnell!

His Home Rule was to rule the time
For us to work—and rest;
To give fair play in every clime
To all with toil oppressed,
To all the victims of the greed
Of those who buy and sell
The starving workers in their need—
True king was our Parnell!

No stain has ever soiled his name,
No Royal vice had he;
His reign was pure and free from blame
Of kingly tyranny;
The grinding power of Usury
From labour to repel,
And free the workers from its grasp—
Strove all his life, Parnell!

He worked with head—with heart and hand
From early youth to age,
And in a new unfettered land
He taught this precept sage.
"Eight hours for work, eight hours for play
And eight for sleep excel."
This was the charter for each day
Of our wise king, Parnell!

He lived a life of noble toil.
With health and leisure crowned;
Nor fawned he e'er for Fortune's smile
Nor feared her when she frowned;
Against devouring Mammon Greed
He taught us to rebel,
"Eight hours each day for work" decreed—
The worker's king, Parnell!

He resteth from his labours now;
At four score years and one
His happy spirit passed away
To realms beyond the sun;
His name, for ages, will remind
True men of one who well
Deserved the love of all his kind—
New Zealand's own Parnell!

Alexander Stuart.

Printed at the Evening Post Office, Willis Street, Wellington, N.Z,