Diggers strike out prohibition

Centenary of New Zealand’s first prohibition referendum.

Centenary of New Zealand’s first prohibition referendum.

A Gisborne man indicates his displeasure at this hoarding telling voters to ‘Strike out the top line’ which supports (alcohol) continuance. This photograph is from 1894 and relates to New Zealand’s first triennial local liquor poll when only Clutha went ‘dry’. ‘Strike out the top line’ or ‘Strike out the bottom line’ was a constant theme promoted by prohibition and continuance campaigners in the run-up to the national referendum of April 10, 1919.
Picture courtesy of W.F. Crawford Collection, Tairawhiti Museum
A cartoon published in Auckland’s Observer reflects how the votes of 40,000 World War 1 soldiers overturned the referendum night majority for prohibition in April 1919. Nearly 32,000 of the veterans cast their ballot for continuance.
Image courtesy of paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/TO19190503.2.8.2

April 10 is the centenary of New Zealand’s first prohibition referendum. Wynsley Wrigley looks at the closely-fought campaign. Fighting for God, Empire and Country must have been thirsty work as it was WW1 veterans who turned out to be the deciding factor 100 years ago on Wednesday . . .

Strike out the top line.

Strike out the bottom line.

Those two expressions appeared often in The Poverty Bay Herald and Gisborne Times articles and advertisements as the respective campaigners for prohibition and continuance advised the public on how to cast their vote in the national referendum of April 10, 1919.

Both sides were well-funded with the liquor industry behind continuance while the Efficiency League, consisting of prohibition-supporting businessmen, allowed prohibitionists to be funded like never before.

Prohibition campaigners got sufficient bang for their buck in Gisborne for the electorate to go “dry’’ by 3700 votes to 3650 — a paper-thin majority of 50.

On referendum night, a fine but cold night, a large crowd formed outside The Poverty Bay Herald to watch national results being displayed on hoardings with the figures being posted “within seconds of their arrival from the Telegraph Office”.

The public waited for results with “remarkable expedition,” according to the newspaper.

The referendum crowd was not the largest crowd seen in Gisborne, but it was still big enough to fill the street.

The people kept constantly changing as observers left but they were replaced by others.

“Numbers swelled when the picture houses emptied.”

The first local result came from Tahunga which voted 14 to 10 in favour of prohibition.

After a 15-minute wait, results started to come in steadily.

”The remarkable closeness of the voting occasioned much suspense and accounted for little demonstration,” reported The Poverty Bay Herald.

The paper reported on the progress of national voting in the following day’s edition.

Continuance Prohibition
9pm 36,827 35, 928
10pm 108,800 110,420
11pm 189,558 200,658
Midnight 220,495 231,689

The Herald reported Dunedin and Auckland had given prohibition an increasing lead and supporters in Gladstone Road “gave vent to their intense satisfaction with glee”.

Many went home that Thursday night believing New Zealanders had voted for the country to go dry.

The Poverty Bay Herald’s editorial on April 11 proved to be correct when it stated it “would be premature to declare that the no licence majority at present shown is sufficient to counter-balance any probable majority recorded by the soldiers, sailors and absentee voters in favour of continuance.’’

The uncounted votes of 40,000 soldiers were, days later, to overturn the prohibition lead of 13,000 votes to a final result of 264,189 votes for continuance to 253,827 for prohibition.

Of those soldiers, who were based in Britain, France, Egypt, aboard ships, or in camps or hospitals in New Zealand, 31,981 voted for continuance and just 7723 for prohibition.

According to The Poverty Bay Herald analysis of result, the Auckland province with the sole exception of the Waitomo electorate voted for a dry New Zealand.

Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay were even and the West Coast of the North Island was “distinctly dry”.

Wellington voted “emphatically against the abolition of liquor”.

Canterbury was divided and Otago-Southland, with the exception of Wallace and Wakatipu, was “consistently dry”.

West Coast was . . . West Coast.

‘‘As usual it displayed a desire to keep its social conditions in keeping with its climate.”

The day before the referendum The Poverty Bay Herald wrote “we shall not venture our own opinion on this matter”.

Regardless of the result, the Herald wished for the country “not to automatically return to the conditions of free drink and to the deadlock between trade interests and the fanaticism, which frustrated the reform of the public house”.

Numerous public meetings, hosted by both sides, had been held in the electorate before the referendum.

The day before polling day, Rev. F.A. Bennett and Dr Wi Repa held a meeting organised by the No Licence League at the Opera House.

During the same week, Captain Broughton of the Pioneer Battalion, immediately upon his arrival back from Europe, joined the prohibition campaign.

He told other returned Maori servicemen that the honour of the Maori race was in their hands.

An advertisement in The Gisborne Times described meetings at Ormond, Waerenga a Hika, Puha and Whatututu as “just a plain, straight-out man-to-man talk”.

Advertisements from long-standing Gisborne liquor retailer D.J. Barry, some taking up a full page, expressed resentment at the “wicked slur” and ‘‘silly innuendo’’ from prohibitionists making claims about doped and adulterated alcohol.

The advertisement challenged the New Zealand Alliance (for Suppression and Abolition of the Liquor Traffic) to take their claim to court.

Advertisements and “submitted articles” argued alcohol was needed to counter influenza, or alternatively, that doctors could prescribe alcohol for that purpose, and that bars would be closed if the epidemic returned.

Another issue was that the Government had accepted the liquor industry would need to be compensated if prohibition became the law of the land.

Full page ads in favour of continuance quoted Prime Minister William Massey as saying taxation would have to increase if prohibition was passed, and claimed the cost of lost customs revenue, rates, licencing fees, in addition to compensation and government loans would cost the country 16,000,000 pounds.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union national president later said prohibition was defeated by soldiers and those “opposed to compensation for fear of taxation”.

The Gisborne branch of WCTU under president Harriet Goffe played their role in the prohibition campaign, said Gisborne researcher-historian Jean Johnston.

WCTU members campaigned, held meetings, hosted speakers and helped to gain 242,000 votes nationwide in a petition successfully seeking a national referendum on prohibition, which would be decided by majority vote only.

The first national referendum held in 1911 enjoyed a 55.8 percent vote for prohibition, but the Government had previously stipulated a 60 percent majority was required to change the law.

In a 1914 national referendum, support for prohibition dropped to 49 percent.

Newspaper adds from the NZ Alliance in 1919 said prohibition had to win in 1919 because the cause had “never had a fair chance in the past because it had to fight the three-fifths handicap”.

A second 1919 referendum was held on general election day, December 17, with prohibition coming within 1600 votes of victory.

Prohibition won 49.7 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent in April.

But there was a third option on the ballot in December 1919, state control, which prohibition supporters believed was added to make victory for their cause more difficult.

Returning soldiers have often been credited with killing off prohibition as a significant force in New Zealand.

But later triennial local liquor polls (which also included state control) continued to return strong support for prohibition in the following decade, although not as strong as with the two national referenda of 1919.

The liquor polls returned support for prohibition of 48.6 percent in 1922, 47.3 percent in 1925 and 40.2 percent in 1928.

But the movement faded as a force in the 1930s with the Depression, past memories of colonial era alcohol abuse fading and the associated problems of American prohibition leading to repeal of the 18th amendment (prohibition) in 1933.

Today many New Zealanders would not believe how strong the prohibition movement was a century ago and how close the country came to going dry.

April 10 is the centenary of New Zealand’s first prohibition referendum. Wynsley Wrigley looks at the closely-fought campaign. Fighting for God, Empire and Country must have been thirsty work as it was WW1 veterans who turned out to be the deciding factor 100 years ago on Wednesday . . .

Strike out the top line.

Strike out the bottom line.

Those two expressions appeared often in The Poverty Bay Herald and Gisborne Times articles and advertisements as the respective campaigners for prohibition and continuance advised the public on how to cast their vote in the national referendum of April 10, 1919.

Both sides were well-funded with the liquor industry behind continuance while the Efficiency League, consisting of prohibition-supporting businessmen, allowed prohibitionists to be funded like never before.

Prohibition campaigners got sufficient bang for their buck in Gisborne for the electorate to go “dry’’ by 3700 votes to 3650 — a paper-thin majority of 50.

On referendum night, a fine but cold night, a large crowd formed outside The Poverty Bay Herald to watch national results being displayed on hoardings with the figures being posted “within seconds of their arrival from the Telegraph Office”.

The public waited for results with “remarkable expedition,” according to the newspaper.

The referendum crowd was not the largest crowd seen in Gisborne, but it was still big enough to fill the street.

The people kept constantly changing as observers left but they were replaced by others.

“Numbers swelled when the picture houses emptied.”

The first local result came from Tahunga which voted 14 to 10 in favour of prohibition.

After a 15-minute wait, results started to come in steadily.

”The remarkable closeness of the voting occasioned much suspense and accounted for little demonstration,” reported The Poverty Bay Herald.

The paper reported on the progress of national voting in the following day’s edition.

Continuance Prohibition
9pm 36,827 35, 928
10pm 108,800 110,420
11pm 189,558 200,658
Midnight 220,495 231,689

The Herald reported Dunedin and Auckland had given prohibition an increasing lead and supporters in Gladstone Road “gave vent to their intense satisfaction with glee”.

Many went home that Thursday night believing New Zealanders had voted for the country to go dry.

The Poverty Bay Herald’s editorial on April 11 proved to be correct when it stated it “would be premature to declare that the no licence majority at present shown is sufficient to counter-balance any probable majority recorded by the soldiers, sailors and absentee voters in favour of continuance.’’

The uncounted votes of 40,000 soldiers were, days later, to overturn the prohibition lead of 13,000 votes to a final result of 264,189 votes for continuance to 253,827 for prohibition.

Of those soldiers, who were based in Britain, France, Egypt, aboard ships, or in camps or hospitals in New Zealand, 31,981 voted for continuance and just 7723 for prohibition.

According to The Poverty Bay Herald analysis of result, the Auckland province with the sole exception of the Waitomo electorate voted for a dry New Zealand.

Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay were even and the West Coast of the North Island was “distinctly dry”.

Wellington voted “emphatically against the abolition of liquor”.

Canterbury was divided and Otago-Southland, with the exception of Wallace and Wakatipu, was “consistently dry”.

West Coast was . . . West Coast.

‘‘As usual it displayed a desire to keep its social conditions in keeping with its climate.”

The day before the referendum The Poverty Bay Herald wrote “we shall not venture our own opinion on this matter”.

Regardless of the result, the Herald wished for the country “not to automatically return to the conditions of free drink and to the deadlock between trade interests and the fanaticism, which frustrated the reform of the public house”.

Numerous public meetings, hosted by both sides, had been held in the electorate before the referendum.

The day before polling day, Rev. F.A. Bennett and Dr Wi Repa held a meeting organised by the No Licence League at the Opera House.

During the same week, Captain Broughton of the Pioneer Battalion, immediately upon his arrival back from Europe, joined the prohibition campaign.

He told other returned Maori servicemen that the honour of the Maori race was in their hands.

An advertisement in The Gisborne Times described meetings at Ormond, Waerenga a Hika, Puha and Whatututu as “just a plain, straight-out man-to-man talk”.

Advertisements from long-standing Gisborne liquor retailer D.J. Barry, some taking up a full page, expressed resentment at the “wicked slur” and ‘‘silly innuendo’’ from prohibitionists making claims about doped and adulterated alcohol.

The advertisement challenged the New Zealand Alliance (for Suppression and Abolition of the Liquor Traffic) to take their claim to court.

Advertisements and “submitted articles” argued alcohol was needed to counter influenza, or alternatively, that doctors could prescribe alcohol for that purpose, and that bars would be closed if the epidemic returned.

Another issue was that the Government had accepted the liquor industry would need to be compensated if prohibition became the law of the land.

Full page ads in favour of continuance quoted Prime Minister William Massey as saying taxation would have to increase if prohibition was passed, and claimed the cost of lost customs revenue, rates, licencing fees, in addition to compensation and government loans would cost the country 16,000,000 pounds.

The Women’s Christian Temperance Union national president later said prohibition was defeated by soldiers and those “opposed to compensation for fear of taxation”.

The Gisborne branch of WCTU under president Harriet Goffe played their role in the prohibition campaign, said Gisborne researcher-historian Jean Johnston.

WCTU members campaigned, held meetings, hosted speakers and helped to gain 242,000 votes nationwide in a petition successfully seeking a national referendum on prohibition, which would be decided by majority vote only.

The first national referendum held in 1911 enjoyed a 55.8 percent vote for prohibition, but the Government had previously stipulated a 60 percent majority was required to change the law.

In a 1914 national referendum, support for prohibition dropped to 49 percent.

Newspaper adds from the NZ Alliance in 1919 said prohibition had to win in 1919 because the cause had “never had a fair chance in the past because it had to fight the three-fifths handicap”.

A second 1919 referendum was held on general election day, December 17, with prohibition coming within 1600 votes of victory.

Prohibition won 49.7 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent in April.

But there was a third option on the ballot in December 1919, state control, which prohibition supporters believed was added to make victory for their cause more difficult.

Returning soldiers have often been credited with killing off prohibition as a significant force in New Zealand.

But later triennial local liquor polls (which also included state control) continued to return strong support for prohibition in the following decade, although not as strong as with the two national referenda of 1919.

The liquor polls returned support for prohibition of 48.6 percent in 1922, 47.3 percent in 1925 and 40.2 percent in 1928.

But the movement faded as a force in the 1930s with the Depression, past memories of colonial era alcohol abuse fading and the associated problems of American prohibition leading to repeal of the 18th amendment (prohibition) in 1933.

Today many New Zealanders would not believe how strong the prohibition movement was a century ago and how close the country came to going dry.

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Lloyd Gretton, Auckland - 3 months ago
Between the 1911 and the 1935 elections, prohibition received more publicity and controversy than the choosing of the Government. I recall the heavy boozers and smokers in the 1960s. By the 1980s they were all dead. For many working men there was not much more to do than drink outside his working hours.

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