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Some Interesting Occurrences in Early Auckland: City and Provinces

Chapter 17 — Politics

Chapter 17

As we are mainly concerned with Auckland City it may be well to record here that the first Municipal election in Auckland City was held on 22nd February 1854. It excited little interest, but seven members were returned. Two of these resigned, and my grandfather, George Vaile, was appointed to one of the vacancies. The first meeting of the Council took place in the old Mechanics' Institute. The first Mayor was Mr. Archibald Clark, and the first Town Clerk Mr. P. A. Phillips.

Later on the general elections became much livelier than they are now. My first experience was when Mr. J. Aitken Connell, a cousin by marriage, stood for Eden against Mr. Mitchelson. His first meeting was in St. Sepulchre' Hall. I attended, I must confess, out of a sense of tribal duty. Mr. Connell started by proposing for chairman a well–known citizen who was supposed to have declared that “Five bob a day was enough for any working man”. There was marked opposition. Mr. Connell said “If you don't like my chairman choose your own”. There was no response. Mr. Connell then said “Well, I appoint John Douglas (then my father' business partner). Douglas sat in the chair, but hadn't any idea of what to do. He had a big bald head of a ruddy colour, a red face and a red beard. He beamed and smiled upon the audience until a voice exclaimed “Hullo old full–moon, wake up”. This caused hearty laughter, and things got started. Mr. Connell gave a good speech for an hour or so, and then got off the track. Among other foolish remarks he spoke of the old lady he loved, and said, “You may think me a fool but a few days ago I wanted a ride on the North Shore and took my faithful old mare to the ferry steamer. Do you think the hands could ship her? Not they; but I gave her a slap on the off rump and she went straight aboard.” This caused a deal of uproar, and Mr. Connell advanced to the front of the platform, shook his fist at the audience, and yelled “You can all go to hell, damn you”. The next day in the Herald, right over the leader, was a six–inch advertisement apologising for this awful language and announcing that he would address the electors in the Opera House on the following Monday. The house was crowded. Mr. Connell had got the complete speech he had intended to deliver at St. page 40 Sepulchre' printed, and a copy placed in every seat so that the audience might profitably employ their time in perusal. What the audience did, however, was to roll the speeches up into balls, and when Mr. Connell appeared he was pelted and smothered. Then someone in the dress circle found that the druggeting covers of the seats were rolled up and put underneath. He threw one end of a roll onto the platform. Men there seized it, and a tug of war ensued. Others followed this example, and the utmost confusion ensued, when some genius turned off the gas and the rule was sauve qui pent. The electors failed to return Mr. Connell to Parliament.

Then in the time when “King Dick” (Mr. Seddon) and “The Wizard of Finance” (Sir Joseph Ward, Bart.) ruled the roost, the latter held a meeting in the Choral Hall. About three rows from the front sat Billy Richardson, the great prohibitionist. Like an idiot, Ward attacked him. Up jumped Billy, mounted the platform, and started to address the electors. The Chairman, Mr. Nerheeny also Chairman of the Auckland branch of the Liberallabour federation) ordered the police to remove him. This was done amid general confusion, and the audience refused to listen to anyone — Mr. Nerheeny, Sir Joseph Ward, Sir Arthur Myers were tried, and then Mr. Wm. Coleman, who advanced to the front of the platform bowing to and beaming on the people and “washing” his hands, when there was a shout of “Good old Billy”, and Mr. Coleman was as pleased as a dog with two or three tails. But “Good old Billy” was Mr. Richardson, who had borrowed a ladder and was clambering in through a window at the back of the orchestral stalls. He got through and hung onto the window sill. Soon he had to let go and came down crash–oh. Apparently unhurt he descended onto the platform and resumed his address. Again the chairman had the police remove him. Billy then got a soap box and started an address outside the hall. The entire audience came out to hear him, and the “Wizard of Finance” had only the wooden benches to benefit by his words of wisdom.

To retrieve this disaster Mr. Seddon himself came up and used the drill hall for the first time for political purposes. The place was well picketed with police and plain–clothes men, but Billy rushed the steps and had his foot on the platform when Sir Edwin Mitchelson, then Mayor, left the chair and put Billy down. The audience turned hostile, but King Dick stood there like a great bull and shouted three thousand people down, and got some sort of a hearing. The upshot was that Billy put a sum– page 41 mons onto Sir Edwin for assault, and a subpoena onto Mr. Seddon as a witness. All Auckland was agog to witness King Dick being cross–examined by Billy Richardson, and planning how to get into the court even if it cost a pound or thirty shillings a head. However, Mr. Seddon contrived to get the matter fixed up, and the people were disappointed.

On a subsequent occasion, when the poll for prohibition or continuation of the liquor traffic was taken at the same time as that for M.H.R.' (now called M.P.'), a leading society lady was canvassing against prohibition when a washer–lady approached to record her vote. Society tackled the washerwoman, who said, “Why should I vote for the trade?” Society answered “Why, its our bread and butter you know”. The washer then, with her arms akimbo, fronted Society and demanded, “Wot' the matter with yer takin in washin?” This hideous suggestion knocked Society speechless for quite a while.