The Life and Work of Richard John Seddon
Chapter XII. — Mr. Seddon as Premier
Mr. Seddon as Premier.
Mr. Ballance's health was still very bad, and Mr. Seddon had a great deal of extra work thrown upon his shoulders. He did not hesitate to take up the burden. No Minister ever worked harder than he did. He travelled from town to town, finding work for the unemployed, denouncing the Legislative Council, telling the people that there was every reason for them to have full confidence in themselves and their country, hinting at the coming surplus, and outlining the Government's policy. He seemed to delight in the task he had in hand.
He courted opposition, and no prominent Conservative expected to speak in public without having to meet the facts and arguments he would be sure to array against him. The longer he appeared in full light before the people the more he seemed to be liked. He seldom gave an address without receiving a highly laudatory expression of opinion, all of which, he said, was meant for the Government, not for him.
Before 1893 was half through, Mr. Ballance died at his residence in Wellington. The Liberal Party was thrown into the deepest sorrow. Although it had been known that the end was not far off, the announcement came as a great shock. Mr. Ballance's close association with politics for many years, and the valiant fights he had fought, in which he was more often defeated than successful, had made his name revered in the colony. His Liberalism was of the broadest type. His splendid intellect had enabled him to bring his principles to the front and to put into operation the plans that his mind mapped out as the proper ones for a young country.
His death was peculiarly pathetic. He had spent many of his best years in a struggle against heavy odds. At last he had been victorious, with a greater victory than anyone had thought the Liberal Party would ever achieve. He was taken away at page 173 the very moment when his position was assured; and he did not live to see the fruition of his schemes.
The colony now looks upon him as one of its heroes, a simple, broad-minded, cultured gentleman, with a large heart, which beat in sympathy with the people's needs and aspirations. The task he had undertaken in leading the country was not too much for his abilities, but it was too much for his strength. His days were shortened by the work and the worry he was called upon to pass through as the leader of his party, and he passed away amidst eulogies that few statesmen have received.
Words used by Mr. Seddon at that time express the position held by Mr. Ballance in the people's affection:—
“He has been a good, true, and faithful servant to the colony. Parliament will miss his wise counsel and the great ability which distinguished his efforts as a legislator and a public man. He was ever generous alike to opponents and friends. He was a wise counsellor, and he had the entire confidence of those whom he led. I can go further, and say that he was loved and respected by all; and I might say truthfully that we shall never see his like again. I am unable to do full justice to his worth. His life proves that he sought not riches; but what he did seek, and what he obtained, was the goodwill of his fellow-men. His example is one that our young men might wisely follow. To the noble profession of journalism he was an ornament, and the great power at his command was always used in the interest of those around him and in the interest of the country. Speaking personally, I owe to him a deep debt of gratitude, and those here who, with me, worked with him would, I know, if opportunity offered, testify to his kindness, generosity, and self-sacrifice. He was always willing to work in harmony with his colleagues, in the best interests of the Ministry of which he was the head. They, and those with me, have one bright spot we can look back upon, and that is that during the whole time we have been working together there has not been one unkind word, not one act of unkindness, between us. It is to us a great source of consolation that we worked so harmoniously with him.”
After Sir George Grey, Mr. Ballance was Mr. Seddon's political hero. He never tired of referring to Mr. Ballance's greatness, or of describing his goodness of heart and his deep love for the people. The friendship between the two men began many years ago, before Mr. Seddon entered Parliament. He had almost made up his mind to leave the West Coast and live in the North Island, and had gone up to Palmerston North and on to Wanganui, looking for a place to settle in. On that northern trip he met Mr. Ballance. Their friendship dated from their first meeting. Mr. Seddon felt then that he had found a kindred page 174 spirit. He saw that Mr. Ballance's views were far in advance of the times, and he looked upon his new friend as an advanced thinker. After that meeting, they met frequently, especially when Mr. Ballance was a member of the Grey Ministry and a leader of the Liberal Party. As soon as Mr. Seddon went into political life, the friendship become closer, and he generally relied upon Mr. Ballance's vote on the proposals he brought forward as a private member.
Mr. Seddon was sent for by Lord Glasgow, and, after a long meeting of the Cabinet on May 1st, 1893, waited upon His Excellency at Government House. He had been willing to undertake the hard work of the Premier's office in Mr. Ballance's illness, but he now shrank from the heavy responsibility that came upon him.
At this point of his career, he hesitated. There were few difficulties in respect to the formation of a Ministry by him. He had been selected unanimously by his fellow Ministers as Acting-Premier. He was now an experienced politician, with much more than local fame. His selection as Acting-Premier had been endorsed without any sign of dissent by both the party and the country. He had been recognised as Mr. Ballance's first lieutenant; he had contributed largely to the party's victory; he was one of the most popular men in the country. His accession to the position, therefore, was a sequence and was in accordance with the fitness of things. He was full of forebodings, however, and he hesitated and doubted, asking himself if his command would be for the good of the party and the country. He was oppressed with a sense of heavy responsibility; his self-courage seemed to fail him, and he stood still for the moment, not daring to go forward with the happy confidence that had led him on before. He had always had the courage of his opinions; and if he had concluded that the party required another leader, he would have been content to continue to fight with others in the front rank as before.
In his perplexity, he fell back for advice upon his old friend, Sir George Grey. He sent a telegram to Sir George in Auckland, asking what he should do. The reply came back:page 175
“You have fairly gained the chance; form Ministry if you can, good; if not good, have nothing to do with it. Five are enough to start. If there is any difficulty, others will soon join you. You will have an opportunity of greatly serving your fellow-men. Do it. You have the capacity; do not shrink. All you have to do now is to say you will try to form a Ministry, and I believe you can.—George Grey.”
Not convinced that he could satisfactorily fulfil the duties, he sent another message, and a second reply came, more emphatic than the previous one:
“You are acting in a great crisis, such as makes a hero. Act with your Maker for the good of His creatures. What anyone else may say or do is nothing to you. The millions of your fellow-men and their Maker—let these be your thoughts. Be brave, unselfish, gentle, but resolute for good. Reflect well before acting; gain time for thought. The good will soon gather round you—George Grey.”
That evening, after another meeting of the Cabinet had been held, he was sworn in as Prime Minister of the colony, and started upon his record Premiership, extending over thirteen years.
There were conjectures as to the change of policy that would take place with the changes in the Ministry. Mr. Seddon took the first occasion, a visit to Napier at the end of May, to let his party and the country know that that which had been was that which would be. It was half expected and wholly hoped by the party's opponents that the impetuous Mr. Seddon, who was still depicted as a reckless, uncultured experimentalist, would announce a “bursting-up” policy of the most revolutionary character, with an inflammatory manifesto and highly sensational details.
Napier was the centre of much of the Conservative thought of the colony, and nearly all his opponents and many of his supporters thought that the new Premier's speech in that district would come as a thunder clap, which would stagger the colony and wreck the Liberal Party for all time. Rash and random statements, the forerunners of still more rash and random actions, were looked for on all sides. But Mr. Seddon had gauged to the full the responsibility he took upon himself. His speech could have hardly been more moderate in tone. It was as disappointing to his opponents as it was pleasing to his page 176 friends. He showed that Mr. Ballance's policy would be continued just as if the late leader was with them still, and that, as long as the Liberal Party was in power, the colony would progress on the lines laid down by Mr. Ballance, and sanctioned by the people. It was the general policy that he clung to for the rest of his days, the policy which is now in force, and which has left a long line of reforms behind it.
His success completely changed him. From the day when he was sworn in as Premier he became another man. His mind had broadened when he became a Minister; it expanded further when he became Premier. He said that he was no longer merely a party fighter, but the representative of the country as a whole. He recognised that he was the servant of the people, a phrase which he used frequently. At the same time he let it be known that he would not be dominated by any factions. As a private member, he had denied the right of his leader to gag him in the House. In the same way as Prime Minister he denied the right of any collection of individuals to control his actions or dictate his policy. After he had spoken at Napier, he went on to Auckland. A few days before he reached that city the Liberal Association there issued a programme of legislative reforms, to which the Liberal candidates at the coming general election were expected to subscribe. There were fourteen articles in the programme. They included many sweeping reforms, such as the abolition of the Legislative Council, an elective Governor, the State to have full control of banking, coal, gold, and gum-digging, and state-ownership of all the land of the colony as well as the coastal services and other things.
This programme was produced by a few men who desired political distinction, and who, it was thought, believed that they would find their way into the House by inducing the association to put forth an extreme programme that would not be supported by men who were actuated by caution and a sense of responsibility.
Mrs. C. G. Morice. Miss May Seddon. Miss Mary Seddon. Mr. T. E. Y. Seddon, M.H.R. Master Stuart Seddon. Capt. R. J. S. Seddon. Mrs. F. Dyer. Mrs. Seddon. Mr. Seddon. Mrs, W. S. Bean. Miss Rubi Seddon. Mr. Seddon's Family.
In Auckland he had a long interview with Sir George Grey, who followed up the advice in his telegrams by telling him that he had the largest claim to be allowed to form a Ministry, and that the party must give him a fair trial.
The strange old man who had led the Liberal Party first to a glorious victory and then to a disastrous defeat; who had come into politics amidst the plaudits of a young nation and surrounded by troops of enthusiastic supporters; who had stood on the floor of the House a few years later and described himself as a “lone and unfriended man”; and who had called Mr. Seddon into politics, now told him not to hesitate on the threshold of a new and a greater career.
There was another claimant to the position, or at any rate, one who was put forward by some Liberals and many Conservatives as being more fitted than Mr. Seddon, and it was suggested that Mr. Seddon should undertake the duties for a short time and then retire in favour of his rival. Against this course, however, Sir George Grey strongly advised him. “You must not take the position tentatively, or as an experiment,” he said, “but you must hold office as long as you have the confidence of the House and the country.”
The Cabinet decided that new Ministers should be created, and the reconstructed Government was gazetted as follows;—
Mr. Seddon, Premier, Minister for Public Works, Mines, and Defence.
Sir Patrick Buckley, Attorney — General, Colonial Secretary, and Minister for Marine
Mr. W. P. Reeves, Minister for Education and Labour, and Commissioner of Stamps.page 178
Sir John McKenzie, Minister for Lands, Immigration, and Agriculture, and Commissioner of Forests.
Sir Joseph Ward, Colonial Treasurer, Postmaster-General, and Commissioner of Telegraphs and Customs.
Sir A. J. Cadman, Minister for Justice and Native Minister.
Mr. J. Carroll, Representative of the Native Race.
Mr. W. Montgomery, Member of the Executive Council.
When he met the House again, Mr. Seddon told members that in the past he had had a good deal of fighting to do, but that that work would now be left to his able lieutenants, a remark which was heartily applauded by the members of the Opposition. It would now be his duty, he added, to direct and guide, and at the same time to remain steadfast and endeavour to carry out that which he believed to be in the best interests of the country. He hoped to have the loyal support of his friends, and he desired to have their fullest confidence. With that confidence, with the assistance he was sure they would give him, with the very able assistance he would receive from his colleagues, and with the goodwill expressed by the leader of the Opposition, he felt confident that the satisfactory position of the colony would be maintained. “The legislation of this country,” he concluded, “is in advance of that of the other colonies, and I hope New Zealand may for ever continue in that proud position. Nothing will be wanting on my part in assisting to maintain it.”
If Mr. Ballance's Ministry was received with severe criticism, Mr. Seddon's was received with bitter hostility. He had all the principal newspapers in the colony except two against him, and he was subjected to many personal attacks.
It was never thought, even by his best friends, that he would be able to hold the party together for long. His opponents gave him two months, and Sir George Grey hinted that the House would soon lose confidence in him.
In view of the faith the country expressed in his administration at each election all through the remaining years of his career, it is interesting to read predictions and criticisms made a few days after he took office. The following are some of them:—page 179
“Of many departments of government he has no knowledge whatever. He does not know even the rudiments of finance; he is ignorant of the Education Department and of native affairs and customs and lands. His speeches are wearisome to listen to, and we do not believe that his warmest supporters could say they would be read by anyone but a lunatic for pleasure and instruction. Of the science of government as carried on outside of New Zealand he is as ignorant as a babe.”
“He talked himself into the Acting-Premiership, and then talked himself into the position of Prime Minister. No matter what the subject is, he is ready to talk. His talk is never clever, never witty, always spun out till it is not worth listening to.”
“It is difficult to believe that a man so uneducated, whose speeches betray such scanty acquaintance with affairs, can be a successful Premier. He is a born fighter, and has fought his way to the top, but the Premier must be more than a heavy-weight pugilist. As Leader of the House last session he was a dead failure.”
“He is known to be hostile to the female franchise, and he will see that it does not pass while he is Premier.”
“His speeches betray such narrowness of mental range, such an absence of broad statesmanlike views, as to place him mentally far below New Zealand's past Premiers.”
“The new leader has no tact in dealing with men. That, however, chiefly affects his party. What is more important is his mental inability to deal in a statesmanlike manner with public questions.”
“He is a good fighter, but will be a dismal failure as a leader.”
“His aspirations are good, but his training is deficient.”
“He is impossible as Premier. We give him credit for capacity, but we cannot see the statesman in him.”
He had with him well-tried and experienced men. Mr. Reeves had already done a great deal of work as Minister for Education and Labour. In the latter capacity, especially, he had put into operation a large part of the labour programme, which was the principal feature of the Liberal policy. Some of his measures had been carried; others had been blocked by the Legislative Council; but Mr. Reeves had shown that there was much to be done to raise the workers and improve their conditions, and that he and the departmental officers he had chosen to help him in his work would do it. Mr. Reeves was also a strong tower against the party's opponents in debate, where he had few equals.
Sir Joseph Ward, who, like all other members of the Ministry then, was a plain “Mr.,” had rapidly come to the front. page 180 From the first, he astonished members by the wide grasp he had obtained of the colony's finances. He displayed a remarkable adaptability for mastering complex financial problems connected with the State's affairs, and his appointment as Colonial Treasurer was approved by all members. Besides that, his courteous demeanour and his bright and happy style of speaking in the House made him personally popular.
Sir John McKenzie, the greatest land administrator the colony has known, was at the beginning of a career that has marked him out as one of the prominent statesmen of the Australasian colonies. His rough speech, quick temper, and intolerance of all attempts to thwart him, were among his faults, but they were the kind of faults that fall hi line with the rough, rugged, and sturdy character he possessed. He was exercising an extraordinary influence in politics. In land legislation, he carried everything before him. He certainly gave up most of his time, attention, and energy to the work that his soul loved; he seemed to care for little else, but his individuality counted for much. He was a strong man, and stood side by side with Mr. Reeves and Sir Joseph Ward as Mr. Seddon's strong supporters.
The other members of the Ministry, although not of the same build as the leaders, were good men, who enjoyed the respect of the House, and had placed beyond all doubt their progressive views, earnestness, and abilities. In 1896, the Ministry was strengthed by the inclusion of the Hon. W. Hall-Jones, who has administered the Public Works and Marine Departments from that year on.
It was a splendid team with which Mr. Seddon started out upon the long road he travelled. He could not have had a better one. They had one aim. They were devoted to their party, and they would fight to the last for what they believed to be for the good of the country.
Mr. Seddon's best friends do not begrudge each of these men the great credit he deserves for the success achieved by the whole. Without them Mr. Seddon could not have done nearly as much as he did. They were legislators as well as administrators. They had the power of initiative to a high degree.page 181
Their minds were untrammelled, free, and receptive, and, combined with their progressive spirit, there was a steadying common sense which prevented them from going too far. Supported by these Ministers, he met the House in 1893 with a confidence he certainly did not feel a few months earlier, when he made up his mind to form the Seddon Administration.
The Speech he prepared for Lord Glasgow was worded in the same cautious and moderate tones as dominated his Napier address. By means of the Speech, he congratulated the colony on the undoubted turn of the tide. He was on safe ground there, as “The Exodus” had completely stopped. So far from having any anxiety on that score, his troubles began to run in the opposite direction. It was now Australia's turn to lose many colonists. There was a dreadful state of affairs there, especially in the “Marvellous Melbourne” which, a few years previously, had been the subject of Mr. George Augustus Sala's admiration and praise. Nearly all the Australian colonies had drifted into a state of most unhappy distress. New Zealand was looked to as a country that had plenty of work and plenty of money to pay away for public works. The colony got back not only its own people, who had left it in the time of need, but also destitute Australians in search of employment. Mr. Seddon, therefore, had to meet the danger of the country being swamped by those unfortunate people.
The Labour Bureau had been in existence for two years under Mr. Keeves's charge, and it, working in conjunction with the co-operative system, had been able to send many men to places where work was awaiting them. The fame of the bureau soon spread to Australia, where it offered another attraction to those who could find no work in that country.
In these circumstances, Mr. Seddon had to take steps to warn destitute persons from resorting for employment to New Zealand, as he argued that those who had remained with the colony in its trying time must receive first consideration in the labour market, whose power of expanding was still restricted by the fluctuations in prices for products. The country that was at its wits' ends a few years previously to retain its population was now devising measures to keep off those who wanted to flock to it.page 182
Financially, New Zealand was in a very satisfactory position. When Mr. Seddon met Parliament as Premier, he was able to announce that the public accounts showed a gross surplus of revenue over expenditure which was then unparalleled in the colony's history. The actual revenue for the year had amounted to £4,499,836, and the expenditure to £4,153,125, and the Government had an excess of revenue over expenditure of £346,771. With the surplus from the previous year, there was a total surplus of £572,282, and, after taking £200,000 for public works, and smaller sums for other purposes, there was a net surplus of £228,780, which, when announced by Sir Joseph Ward in the first Financial Statement he delivered, was loudly applauded by Liberal members.
It was evident now that New Zealand would remain entirely unaffected by the extraordinary financial panic that prevailed in Australia. It was an escape which, as Mr. Seddon claimed, was emphatic testimony to the far-sighted prudence of the New Zealand public and private finance in the years that had just passed. It was a high tribute to the manner in which the people had learnt the severe lesson they had been taught since they marched at a mad pace, scattering their thousands without regard to the future. It showed that there was still confidence in the colony and its people. Above all, it was a splendid testimony to the self-reliant, non-borrowing policy with which Mr. Seddon and his colleagues went into office.
Under the guidance of Sir John McKenzie, land settlement made great strides. Genuine settlers, many of whom are now well-to-do and even very prosperous men, had been induced by liberal laws and regulations to take up sections, and they had begun at once, by their industry and frugality, to return to the colony a fair share of the proceeds.
Throughout his first session as Premier, Mr. Seddon insisted that the course the colony had adopted so unmistakably ought to be continued. There was no turning back for him. “We must go on and advance with the age,” he said repeatedly. “There is still room for improvement. We must not let this young country get into the degrading condition and position of older countries. While we protect labour, we must give page 183 encouragement to capital. Our legislation and administration have tended to bring about a prosperous state of affairs. We have found that what we are doing is in the country's interest; we must continue on the same lines and we hope to leave it better than we found it.”
The most important measure thrown upon his hands by his promise to carry out in its entirety the policy of his dead chief was the Electoral Bill, with a clause conferring the franchise on women. Mr. Seddon's connection with this interesting and remarkable movement does not date back very far. He was one of those who believed that woman's special sphere was in the home. He placed her on a high pedestal. His admiration for her was almost unbounded, but he did not like to see her enter into the turmoil of election contests.
Mr. Ballance, on the other hand, had been one of the early advocates of the woman franchise. He had worked for it in Parliament and out of Parliament, and he had helped to bring it prominently before the people. When he came into power the supporters of the movement looked to him for a lead and for some tangible evidence of his sympathy with their efforts. He gave a pledge that the proposal, which had been introduced into the House several times previously without success, would be made a Government measure, and would be passed into law.
Mr. Seddon and some other members of the Government had doubts in regard to the wisdom of the promise given by Mr. Ballance, but as he had given it they felt that they also were pledged. When the leader died Mr. Seddon took up his policy, including the franchise question. Mr. Ballance had said that it should be passed into law, and Mr. Seddon said that the will of his leader would be carried into effect as soon as possible. He held that promise to be as binding and as sacred as if he himself had given it.
The subject had been discussed in Cabinet several times, and had been thoroughly thrashed out there in all its bearings. Ministers knew exactly where they were on the question, and had formed a definite opinion as to the results that would be likely page 184 to follow the granting of the franchise; and they decided that the franchise clause should form part of the new Electoral Bill, partly prepared by Mr. Ballance.
Mr. Ballance believed that women should have the right to sit in Parliament, and he was favourable to that privilege being granted them, as he saw no reason why women, as well as men, should not frame the country's legislation. It was quite useless, however, to expect Parliament to go as far as that.
In 1891, the proposal to extend the franchise to women was carried in the House by a majority of about three to one, but it was rejected in the Legislative Council by two votes. Mr. Seddon's Government, therefore, argued that the proposal, having been sanctioned by the representative chamber, had received the consent of the country and ought to become law without any delay.
The Electoral Bill passed through the House with ease in 1892, but in the Council, which had thrown out the new franchise without reservation in 1891, there was a clause inserted that women, instead of going to the polls to vote, should record their votes privately by the exercise of electors' rights, on the same system as was allowed to seamen and shearers, that is, virtually, by letter. The Council, in its reported arguments, at any rate, expressed a belief that women would not go to the polls in the rain and bad weather. Councillors said that it was unreasonable to ask women in the country districts to ride twelve or fifteen miles to record their votes, and that women who were employed in factories would not have time to attend the polls and wait for their turn for recording their votes, and they should therefore be allowed to vote by letter.
Mr. Seddon, in Mr. Ballance's absence, was in charge of the House in September 28th, 1892, when the amendment of the Electoral Bill, proposed by the Legislative Council, to allow women to vote by electors' rights, was sent down, and he said at once that he would not advise the House to agree with it. He moved that the House should disagree, and the House formally decided that it was not desirable to do as the Council wished, as the proposal, if carried, would place disabilities in the way of page 185 women voting, and would tend to destroy the secrecy of the ballot.
The Council insisted on its amendment, and a conference was arranged, Mr Seddon being among the managers from the House. The point was debated at length in the conference. The Council's managers retired and came back to the managers of the House with an ultimatum that they would agree that the women's electoral right method of voting should not apply to the four city electorates, but it must apply in the country districts.
Mr. Seddon and his fellow managers considered that that was only an aggravation of the position taken up by the Council, as it was making a distinction between women in the country and in the towns. It was seen that the Council's representatives had made up their minds and that nothing would shake them. When it was urged that women in the country would not record their votes owing to the distance they would have to travel, Mr. Seddon said that that difficulty could be overcome by providing that no polling-booths in the country electorates should be more than three miles apart. He made a distinct offer to the Council's managers to arrange that that idea should be carried out if the amendment was withdrawn. Mr. Seddon's proposal had been unanimously agreed to by the managers of the House, and would have removed the difficulty. Some of the Council's managers professed to believe that the proposal could not be carried out in practice, but Mr. Seddon pointed out that tents, schoolhouses, farmhouses, and even shearers' and shepherds' huts could be used. It seemed to him absurd to think that in a colony where settlement had progressed at an extraordinary rate, it would be impossible to provide polling-booths at distances of three miles; but his offer was refused, the Council stood by its amendment, the House refused to agree to the proposal, the Bill was withdrawn, therefore, and the reform was lost for that year.
Mr. Seddon has been blamed by some of the supporters of the movement for not giving way, allowing the amendment to become law, and repealing it in a future session. The position he took up is quite clear, however. It is a position he had taken page 186 up many times before on other questions, and a position he occupied many times in after life. He would have what he believed the country desired: an absolutely unrestricted privilege. He had confidence in the women of the country, but he did not want to see the franchise given to them in a half-hearted manner, and it seemed to him that the Council's amendment involved a proposal to give the franchise to women under degrading conditions.
It was impossible for the Government to place the franchise on the Statute Book in 1892. Before Parliament met in 1893, the whole country had been stirred by those who were behind the movement. They saw that they were within a measurable distance of achieving their aim. Redoubling their efforts, they pushed the franchise to the front on all possible occasions in order to let the Legislative Council see that there was no doubt the country favoured the reform, if it did not demand it.
Franchise leagues had been formed in the centres of population, and the Women's Christian Temperance Union had been working hard for many months to gain adherents. By the time the session opened in 1898, Sir John Hall was ready with a monster petition, signed by 31,872 women, nearly one-third of the women of the colony, praying that the privilege should be granted. The old debate over the Electoral Bill took place again, and every argument that could be used on either side was brought into force.
On August 17th, Sir Patrick Buckley moved the second reading of the Bill in Council. In that chamber, also, the debate was renewed in all its heat and vigour. The fight in the Council cannot be said to have been of a party character, but the opposition to the clause seemed to be as determined as ever. After many amendments had been disposed of, the final struggle took place on September 8th, when the Hon. C. C. Bowen moved that the Bill should be read that day six months. The amendment was lost, and the third reading was carried by a majority of two.
Even then the measure was not safe from the attacks of the critics. Eighteen of them drew up and signed a petition page 187 to the Governor, asking that he should withhold his assent, for the following reasons:—
That it is a Bill of an extraordinarily important nature, and the rights and property of Her Majesty's subjects not resident in the colony are seriously affected, as the results may seriously embarrass the finances of the colony, thereby injuriously affecting the public creditor, who was unaware that such legislation was seriously contemplated.
We firmly believe that the majority of the settlers of both sexes are opposed to the measure.
There has been no opportunity yet afforded to the electors to express their opinions on the subject.
As a counterblast to this, Mrs. K. W. Sheppard, who was leading the women workers in the movement, sent the following communication to the Governor:—
“On behalf of the 31,000 women whose petition I had the honour of forwarding to Parliament, I am empowered by my executive to address your Excellency on the question of the protest urged by a minority of the Legislative Council against your Excellency's immediate assent to the enfranchisement of the women of the colony. I, therefore, beg to point out that on the eve of the last general election a large majority in the House of Representatives affirmed the principle of womanhood suffrage, and that Sir John Hall was induced to withdraw the Woman's Franchise Bill, which would have given effect to the principle, solely on the ground that the question has not come before the constituencies and should be relegated to the country. Womanhood suffrage was one of the most prominent questions raised at the last election, and every candidate, I believe, without exception, declared himself as either favourable or antagonistic to the enfranchisement of women. The constituencies having elected a large majority of representatives who were avowedly supporters of womanhood suffrage, the assertion made in clause 3 of the protest forwarded to your Excellency is absolutely without foundation and contrary to fact. I sincerely trust that your Excellency will not allow the action taken by both Houses of Parliament in acceding to the petition of 31,000 women of the colony to be frustrated.”
On September 19th Mr. Seddon, as Premier, announced that the Governor had assented to the Bill at noon that day. In the meantime, the Government had thoughtfully made arrangements that forms for enrolment should be available at all post-offices in the colony and at the offices of all registrars of electors. Mr. Seddon gave instructions that extra clerical assistance should be allowed throughout the colony to the officers engaged in enrolling electors. There was little time to spare before the general election took place at the end of the page 188 year, and he said that as the women had finally been given the privilege, the Government desired to have a real live women's vote, and every opportunity should be afforded to them to exercise their votes. He also gave instructions that extra polling-booths should be erected as soon as possible to meet the convenience of the new electors.
It has been stated already that Mr. Seddon was not personally connected with the movement, although it was brought to a successful issue in the very first year of his Premiership, and is one of the prominent features of his administration. As a matter of fact, the movement began two years before he was born, thirteen years before the establishment of responsible government in the colony, and nearly forty years before the first Liberal Party came to change the face of the colony's politics. It is true that Sir George Grey formed the first Liberal Party, and was the first great Liberal leader, but Liberalism was present in New Zealand before he came into touch with its politics. It could not have been otherwise. Amongst the people who left England to meet the hardships of life in a new land there were many with broad views and with something more than a leaning towards reformatory legislation. In some cases, it was their Liberalism that sent them from their native land. They wanted a freer atmosphere, where they could shape the ideas they had formed in regard to legislative freedom.
Amongst these men was Mr. A. Saunders, one of the advanced Liberals of his day. It is largely owing to his advocacy that the woman franchise movement was started. He preached the granting of the franchise when those who discussed the proposal in any degree of seriousness were looked upon as faddists of the most pronounced, and sometimes of a dangerous, type. With all the world, apparently, against them, they stood the brunt of severe criticism, and they held to their doctrines through the unpopularity and the scorn that came from the very people the reform they advocated was most likely to benefit. Mr. Saunders, who spoke in favour of the movement in 1843, lived to see it achieve its great success half a century later. There were giants in those days, as in later ones, and Mr. Saunders had the good fortune to live among the Monroes, page 189 Staffords, Dometts, Wakefields, Foxes, and others, whose names appear on the colony's records as the men who laid the foundation stone for any greatness New Zealand may claim. Of those very early colonisers, however, Sir William Fox is the only one who stood by Mr. Saunders in advocating the new franchise. It was not so fashionable to be “advanced” then as it is now, and it required strength of mind and firmness of purpose to press forward with Liberal doctrines.
About 1850, Mrs. Müller, wife of Dr. Müller, Resident Magistrate for Wairau, in the Nelson district, quietly but determinedly suggested in public that the women of the little nation should be enfranchised. Dr. Müller was not only opposed to the proposal, but also disliked the idea of his wife appearing as its advocate. Mrs. Müller then made use of a Nelson newspaper, placed at her disposal by a friendly proprietor, and wrote anonymous articles on the subject, which were reproduced in other newspapers in the colony. Later, Mrs. Müller, believing that this reform was far ahead of the times, took up other branches of work in connection with legislation affecting women, and helped many other reforms. She lived to see the franchise granted and exercised by the women of the colony on three occasions.
The next who stood beside Mr. Saunders and Sir William Fox was Dr. James Wallis. He was another of the colony's Liberals in the pre-party days. On Sir George Grey coming forward to organise the party, Dr. Wallis stood for the constituency of Auckland City West in 1877, and was elected. On the first day he sat in the House he brought up the subject he had at heart. He was the fifth speaker on the Address-in-Reply. Being opposed to Sir Harry Atkinson, who was then Premier, he criticised the Governor's Speech, and remarked incidentally that “there is a great need for some change in the representation of the people in two directions—namely, more equal electoral districts, and of manhood, and I may say womanhood, suffrage—of universal suffrage.”
On August 8th of the following year, he showed himself to the House in all his ultra-radicalism. The subject of a motion he moved was so great and so important, he said, that he feared page 190 he might not be able to do full justice to it, and he was ashamed that a motion to put women on a footing of equality with men should have to be advocated in any Parliament, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century of the Christian Era. The motion was:—
“That, in the opinion of this House, the electoral disabilities of women should be entirely removed, and that the same political rights and privileges should be granted to women as to men.”
He made an exceptionally long speech, filling six pages of Hansard, and pointed out that New Zealand had already gone a long way in recognising that women had legislative rights. At that time women who were ratepayers possessed the municipal franchise, and could vote at elections of members of Education Boards and municipal bodies and could hold office on these bodies. “The sweet girl graduate,” he pointed out, attended the colony's universities. Wives' properties were protected against worthless husbands and their creditors. But New Zealand, in common with all other countries in the world, had not adopted “the principle of perfect equality, admitting no powers or privileges on the one side or disabilities on the other.”
The motion was seconded by Sir William Fox, but it did not go any further, the rules of the House preventing it from being put to the vote.
When Sir George Grey, as Premier, introduced his Electoral Bill, a few days later, Dr. Wallis brought out his pet subject again, but without avail, and, as he lost no opportunity of speaking for the women, he was soon classed among the faddists.
On October 11th, 1879, Mr. Ballance, who had recently resigned from the position of Colonial Treasurer in Grey's Ministry, openly joined the reformers. It does not seem to be generally known in the colony that on November 7th, 1879, Mr. Ballance was successful in inducing the House to agree to the franchise being given to women who owned property. This was done when the Qualification of Electors Bill was in committee. This incident is referred to in an earlier chapter, but it might be explained more fully here that when the second clause in the Bill was under consideration Mr. Ballance moved as an amendment that the word “person” should be substituted for page 191 “man.” The question was put in the form that “man” should stand part of the clause, and it was lost. The voting was:—
The word “man” was therefore struck out and “person” substituted. Those who voted with Mr. Ballance for the woman franchise on that occasion were: Sir Harry Atkinson, Sir John Hall, Colonel Trimble, Major Haines, the Hon. A. Pitt, Major Willis, Dr. Wallis, and Messrs. Acton-Adams, J. W. Bain, J. C. Brown, De Lautour, H. J. Finn, Seymour Thorne George, R. Hursthouse, G. Ireland, W. Johnston, J. Lundon, J. Macandrew, W. Montgomery, F. J. Moss, W. A. Murray, K. Oliver, R. H. J. Reeves, R. C. Reid, A. Saunders, W. Swanson, R. Turnbull, E. G. Wright, W. J. Speight, and the full contingent of Maori members, Te Wheoro, Tomoana, Tainui, and Tawhai.
The proceedings were watched by many ladies in the Ladies' Gallery of the House. Mr. Ballance, Mr. Saunders, Dr. Wallis, Mr. Murray, and Colonel Trimble spoke in all seriousness and in good taste; but most of the debate, according to the reporters in the Press Gallery, “was of an inane, not to say idiotic, character.”
That motion affirmed the principle that the franchise should be given to women who possessed property. Three days later, when the Bill was in committee again, Mr. Ballance moved to strike out “man” and substitute “person” in another clause, providing that there should be a residential qualification to vote as well as a freehold qualification. But the House felt that it had gone far enough, and it declined, by 27 votes to 19, to sanction that proposal.
After the Bill had gone through committee, and was reported for its third reading, Mr. Vincent Pyke asked that the Bill should be recommitted with the object of considering the woman's franchise again. The attitude he took up was that it was not necessary for women to hold property in order to possess intelligence, and that the franchise, therefore, should be given to them without reservation; but, as he was one of those who page 192 had voted against the movement, it was understood that the desire was to retract what had been done. Having got the Bill into committee, Mr. Pyke moved that “person” should be struck out and “man” inserted. He was successful; and the franchise, half measure though it was, was taken away from the women a few days after it had been given. The majority against the woman's franchise on this occasion was nine.
In 1881, Dr. Wallis introduced the first Women's Franchise Bill, but it got no further than its first reading. For nearly six years Parliament was troubled with the question no longer, and it seemed to have disappeared from practical politics. Even on the platform it was seldom referred to by either supporters or opponents. Then Sir Julius Vogel came upon the scene. He had returned from England, had re-entered political life, and had placed before the people many schemes for bringing themselves out of the groove into which they had fallen. On being asked to contest an electorate, he spoke strongly in favour of the movement, saying that the franchise should be granted to women without delay. He came into power. Mindful of what he had said on the platform when the people asked him to come and help them out of their difficulties, he introduced the Women's Suffrage Bill. He was assisted, and, probably, largely instigated, by Sir Robert Stout, another friend of the cause. The proposal was received with ridicule, as usual, some members having provided themselves with books of anecdote and facetiousness in order to have a good supply of banter. The Bill came as a surprise from Sir Julius Vogel, who was well known to be opposed to exceptional reforms. His address was strictly logical. It was a calm array of solid arguments with very little appeal to sentiment, and it may be said to be one of the best attempts made in the colony to place the case for the women clearly and forcibly before the people.
The case against the women, also, it must be admitted, was put with much vigour and force. The brief speech made in Maori by Wi Pere, the member for the Eastern Maori district, and translated to the House by an interpreter, is of more than ordinary interest. He said:—
“My opinion of this measure is that if it becomes law it will be a source of trouble to this House. I think we have only to look back to the trouble that page 193 came upon Adam through his wife giving him an apple. We should bear in mind the evil that befell Samson when his locks were shorn by Delilah. We should also bear in mind the story of Naboth's vineyard, how a woman incited a man to murder another in order to obtain possession of his vineyard. I am afraid if ladies were allowed seats in the House it would distract the attention of some honourable members, and they would not pay so much attention to the affairs of the colony as they would otherwise do. Although I am getting up in years I must confess that I should be affected by a weakness of that sort. If the honourable gentleman in charge of this Bill would introduce the clause providing that only plain women should be allowed to come into the House, I think the source of danger would be removed; but if any beautiful ladies were sent to this House I am quite sure they would lead astray the tender hearts of some honourable gentlemen, particularly the elder members of the House. I say in conclusion that if attractive ladies are allowed to come into this House I am quite certain my own wife will never consent to my returning here.”
The second reading of this Bill was carried by 41 votes to 22. Evidently, the House, and, presumably, the country, were viewing the proposal with more favour.
In committee on the Bill an attempt was made to limit the franchise to women who owned property; but the supporters of the Bill would have no more of that, and the motion was rejected by 17 votes. The next minute, the House, seeing that the reformers would not take an instalment of the reform, killed the Bill by striking out the second clause, which provided that the Qualification of Electors Act should be amended so as to include women; but the majority against the women was only two. On June 3rd the Bill was discharged, and so ended Sir Julius Vogel's chivalrous attempt.
The movement stood still for another period as far as Parliament is concerned. Then the Women's Christian Temperance Union reached New Zealand in its ambitious endeavour to spread itself into all lands. One of the Union's “world missionaries” came to the colony and established district unions in different parts. Early in 1886, a convention of delegates from these unions was held in Wellington, and a recognised governing body, now known as the “New Zealand Christian Temperance Union,” was established. It set up several different departments, and among them was the “Franchise Department.” The work lagged somewhat, however, to outward appearances, at any rate, until 1887, when Mrs. Sheppard was appointed Superintendent of the Union page 194 for the colony. Up to this time, although the subject was coming gradually to the front, it was not well received by the public, and the harder the suffragists worked, the stronger grew the opposition. In 1887 the opponents, instead of being apathetic, were decidedly hostile. This hostility did not come so much from men as from women, large numbers of whom regarded the proposal with shuddering dread, as if they knew not what shocking consequences would arise. It began to be thought that if the extension of the franchise was made, the “women's vote,” which, it was believed, would be a solid reality, would go strongly for the Temperance Party, and this, while it raised some friends, also raised many enemies who otherwise did not care much whether women received the franchise or not.
Mrs. Sheppard communicated with Mr. Saunders and took steps to organise all the forces in the colony. Literary and debating societies, synods, assemblies, and church unions were asked to give the subject prominence on their programmes, and the publicity afforded by the columns of the daily newspapers was taken full advantage of. “There were numbers of good men and true,” says a writer who took part in the campaign, “who, by voice and pen, heartily supported the courageous women; chief among them were Mr. Saunders and Sir John Hall; both were veteran politicians, usually on opposite sides of the House, both were full of years, and both had long and honourable records of public service; the prestige of their names gave weight and influence to the movement, their great experience rendered them invaluable advisers, and their unselfish co-operation and generous advocacy lifted the question high above mere party politics.”
The year 1890 saw the colony listening to many public debates on the subject. Early in the session of that year, Sir John Hall was again in front of the movement with a motion in the House, simply affirming the right of women to vote at the election of members of Parliament. The motion was seconded by the Hon. W. P. Reeves, who described himself as a “halfloaf” man. As a liberal, Mr. Reeves believed in equality of rights, but he thought that the franchise should be given to page 195 women gradually, cautiously, and tentatively. He pointed out that the mass of women had taken little interest in the subject, and had not demanded the franchise. He feared that if the privilege was given all at once most of them would be unready for it and would be indisposed to use it, and many of them would be more unfit than were large numbers of the electors in whose hands it had been placed already. He believed that it would be better to begin with the women who had commenced to go through the higher course of education, conferring the franchise first on women who had passed the matriculation examination of the University.
Mr. Saunders was there to support the motion, but there were strong opponents, chief among them being Mr. H. S. Fish, the most determined opponent the movement met in the House. Evidently, however, the franchise had gained much ground, as Sir John Hall's motion was carried by a majority of 26, only 11 voting against it. Sir John, having ascertained the feeling of the House, introduced his Franchise Bill again, but no opportunity was given to him to take it through its stages, and nothing more was done that session.
The work never ceased. In 1891, when Parliament met again, Sir John Hall was ready with petitions, containing ten thousand signatures, in favour of the reform. He first of all presented several small petitions, and this led two members to pass some scornful remarks on the small percentage of women, who, apparently, wanted the franchise.
“I hope honourable members will suspend their remarks until I have completed presenting petitions,” Sir John said; and then he produced his monster petition, which was seventy yards long. One end of it was seized by Mr. Kelly and run out to the furthest end of the House, and the document was unrolled before the House, Sir John at one end and Mr. Kelly at the other. Members arranged themselves on each side to inspect the names as they passed along, and some rather rough banter was exchanged between the supporters and the opponents of the franchise.
A deputation of members waited on Mr. Ballance as Premier, and asked him what opportunity would be given page 196 to the House to express its decision. Mr. Ballance replied that if a Bill was introduced the Government would take it up after its second reading. He would not make it a Government Bill, and the question would not be a party one, but each member would vote on the subject as he chose.
On August 24th, Sir John Hall moved the second reading of the Female Suffrage Bill. The motion was seconded by the Hon. D. Pinkerton, one of the new Labour members, who said that the best argument in support of the Bill was the fact that “woman is a fellow being, equal to ourselves in intelligence, in morality, in suffering, and in obedience to the laws in the making of which she has no voice.”
This time, the majority for the women was increased to 25. With the object of making sure that the Bill would be thoroughly distasteful to the Legislative Council, and would have no possible chance of passing through that chamber, one of its opponents moved in committee in the House that a new clause should be added providing that every woman registered as an elector should be qualified to be elected a member of the House, and this was agreed to in spite of the efforts of the friends of the Bill. The Council went into a long discussion on the Bill, and finally rejected it by two votes, the Maori members being amongst the opponents, and the proposal was shelved for another year at least.
In 1892, Sir John Hall prepared another Bill, but as Mr. Ballance had made provision for the franchise in the Electoral Bill, Sir John Hall's measure was withdrawn. Mr. Ballance was successful in passing the proposal through the House once more, and the question was threshed out in the Legislative Council afresh. The second reading was carried there without a division. The Bill passed its third reading, but it was found that the Council had added a new clause giving women the right to the use of electoral rights.
It was when this amendment was sent back to the House for consideration that Mr. Seddon took charge of the Bill, and refused to accept the alteration, for the reasons stated. In 1893, the supporters of the movement achieved success, as described above, and the women of New Zealand were fully emancipated.page 197
As the day of the general election of 1893 drew near, many speculations were made as to how the women's vote would affect parties. Several of the strongest supporters of the movement in favour of extending the franchise were Conservatives, who believed that a vast majority of the women of the colony would vote on the side that was conservative in instinct, and Liberal leaders feared that many women would be captured by the social positions of leading Conservatives.
Mr. Seddon hardly knew what to think. The experiment, to his mind, was a bold one, and he was not sure that it was wise. “By granting the franchise to women,” he said when speaking on the subject some years later, “Parliament plunged into an abyss of unknown depth.”
The contest took place shortly after the session had concluded. The Conservative Party was well organised. It had founded an organisation called the National Association, which had started in Auckland some years previously, and had gradually spread itself through the land, forming branches in all centres, especially in the country districts, where feeling against Mr. Seddon and his Government was supposed to be very strong. Most was made of the socialistic character of the Liberal policy. Its aims were exaggerated, and word pictures were drawn of the evils that would result from giving the “Seven Devils of Socialism” another term of office.
There was a distinct issue before the people. They were asked to decide whether the Liberal Government under Mr. Seddon should be allowed to continue in power, or whether there should be a return to the conservative rule. Both sides made good use of the time available in the recess, and canvassing was carried to an extent that was unknown at any previous electoral contest. Some of the criticism was of a personal nature. Mr. Seddon received hard knocks. He was hampered to a large extent by the position he held. It was not fitting for a general to take the part of a soldier; his share of the work was not in the field, and he spent much of his time directing his forces, issuing instructions, advising committees in all parts of the colony, and giving a helping hand to many Liberal candidates.page 198
The Conservatives' manifesto stated that the confusion and commotion of the previous years had disturbed society and kept the colony from progressing as it ought to have progressed. New Zealand's escape from the financial storms that swept Australia was attributed to the prudence of the old Continuous Ministry. It was urged that the country must send back to Parliament members pledged to prudent and economical legislation. The Liberals were accused of having absorbed the dangerous doctrines of Henry George, Edward Bellamy, and Hyndman. State Socialism, it was said, was the Government's principle, and it was a bad thing and should be thrown out. The labour proposals, a large portion of which had not been placed on the Statute Book, were derided as a complete fiasco. The Government's schemes were described as being crude and illconsidered; others were vexatious; the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Bill was a measure of coercion that could not be tolerated. The Shop Assistants Bill, which enforced a half-holiday every week throughout the colony, was to come into operation early in the New Year, and one leading Conservative affirmed that if it had come into operation before the election not a single man who voted for it would have been returned for Christchurch City.
Mr. Seddon relied mainly upon the material signs of the colony's progress during the past few years, and upon the contrast the position afforded with that of three years previously, when the Continuous Ministry was in office. He pointed out that Sir Harry Atkinson had raised loan after loan, while the Government of which Mr. Seddon was the head was the first that had gone for three years without passing a Loan Act. He boasted of the advanced land legislation recently passed. The Government's policy, he said, so far from driving capital away, had attracted it. His Government was the first to possess sufficient boldness to reduce the public debt out of the surplus. The time had come when both employees and capitalists would look back upon the labour legislation of those years and acknowledge that it was in their interests. Speaking to farmers, he pointed to the repeal of the property tax, the reduction of railway freights, and other concessions. At that time the page 199 Government was considering its scheme of advancing money to farmers at cheap rates of interest, but he did not use this as a a bait to catch votes, relying solely upon what he had done.
The result of the election far exceeded Mr. Seddon's most sanguine expectations. He did not anticipate defeat. He did not see how he could be defeated with a good policy behind him and a better one in front. He was never one of those who placed much faith in the gratitude of a country. He knew too well its fickleness, and the readiness with which it forgot past services, no matter how great they were or how much sacrifice they entailed. But he knew that he had done something for the people. He wanted to do much more and he felt that he would not be denied.
His opponents were practically annihilated. The leader of the Opposition himself was rejected. The colony, on reading the daily newspapers on the morning of November 29th, found that the Opposition had almost ceased to exist. The figures given in the newspapers are:—
The small number of independent members shows the distinct character of the issue. The verdict could hardly have been more emphatic or more flattering to the Premier. It was a thorough endorsement of his appointment, his policy, and his actions, and he, the proudest man in the colony, probably the proudest in the world, felt that he was now the undoubted leader of a nation. He had been practically elected by the whole country.
The only doubt that crept into his mind was whether his success had not been too great. Would he be able to hold his party together? Would it become too unwieldy, break into divisions, and fall a prey to its opponents after they had gathered up their strength later on? Here, at any rate, was a fresh responsibility for him. He would have to carry out his legislation and administration without the check of an efficient Opposition.page 200
He realised that while he could never deviate from the principles of Liberalism, he must act with caution and take no unfair advantage of the immense strength that had been given to him. He now looked upon himself as the chairman of directors of a large company, whose interests he would have to watch. Party considerations had fallen out of his thoughts.
In the flush of his victory he hinted, for one thing, that interest charges on mortgages were too high in the colony, and he foreshadowed the advances to settlers scheme by stating that the Government should, if possible, advance money at a fair rate.
The years that have passed since that victory of the Liberal Party prove that he was as ready to accept victory as defeat, and the steady and unswerving march he made is evidence of the control he exercised over himself and his party. There have been many splits in it, and members have quarrelled with it and left it, but it has remained the same party, and was as ready to follow him at the end of his Premiership as at the beginning in 1893.
Mr. Reeves was the most abused member of the Government, not excluding Mr. Seddon. He had brought himself into high disfavour with the Conservative Party, mainly on account of the persistency with which he introduced his Conciliation and Arbitration Bill after it had been rejected several times by the Legislative Council. As far as he was concerned, the election turned largely on that measure, and when he was placed at the head of the poll for Christchurch City, with a large majority above the second candidate, his success was taken as an endorsement of the measure. In the following session the Legislative Council acknowledged this with some grace, and, withdrawing its obstruction, allowed the Bill to pass, and it became law and was soon in full operation, as explained in another chapter.
What became of the “women's vote?” There was no “women's vote.” It is a thing that is often spoken of and discussed in New Zealand still, and it is often said that it has done many things and will do many more. As a page 201 matter of fact, the women did not give a solid vote to any man or any principle in the election of 1893, nor have they done so since. There is as much difference of opinion among them as among men, and they scatter their votes in the same way. No party or section of a party has been entitled to lay claim to the vote of the women of the colony generally. The same may be said in regard to most candidates in the different electorates. The women have had a great deal to do with the advance of Prohibition, but even the Temperance Party cannot say that it receives anything like the entire women's vote.
The colony has become used to women voting now. Women themselves have become used to it, and they flock to the polling-booths in large numbers, recording their votes quietly and intelligently. In 1893, however, the sight was a novel one for everybody, and men electors stood by with good-natured curiosity to see how their newly enfranchised sisters would vote. It is best to let Mr. Reeves, who was in the midst of it, fighting for his seat in Christchurch City, describe his observations and impressions, which are applicable to all election contests held since. He says:—
“The eventful morning was bright and fine almost everywhere. The women began to vote early—at about nine o'clock—and by amicable arrangement were allowed in the cities to have certain booths pretty much to themselves until noon. A New Zealand elector may vote at whichever booth in his district he pleases. In several districts the committees took care that a woman's vote should be the first vote recorded. Workmen's wives “tidied up” at homes, put on their best clothes, and walked to the nearest poll. Sometimes their menkind escorted them, for it was a general, though not a universal, holiday. More often the women of one or two neighbouring families made up a party and sallied out together. Between noon and two o'clock, dinner postponed politics; in the afternoon the women again thronged the booths, and had almost all comfortably voted by tea-time, when the rush of workmen, which in the colonies begins an hour or so earlier than in England, began to flood the polls. All things were done in courtesy and order, without rudeness, hustling, or hysteria. Good-natured neighbours took it in turns to look after each other's children while the voting was being done. Each woman armed herself conscientiously with her number, and, on the whole, the novices went through the ordeal with much credit. The proportion of spoiled ballot papers was very little larger than at previous elections. When the polls closed at seven o'clock, 90,000 women had peacefully voted. In the towns, crowds of men and women stood patiently in the streets from about nine o'clock onwards, waiting to see the results not only in their own district but of the colony's elections. The order kept by these thousands of full-fledged citizens was astonishing. They talked, laughed, and chaffed each other, and boys ran about page 202 shouting. There was no drunkenness, no brutality. Each party received verdicts, as they were posted up, with groans or acclamation. The interest was of the keenest, but, as there was no irresponsible, voteless crowd merely bent on horseplay, there was no rowdyism.”*
It was found when statistics were available that out of an estimated adult female population of 139,915, 109,461, or 78·23 per cent., registered as electors, and of those registered 90,290, or 85·18 per cent., recorded their votes.
After the women had held the franchise for a decade, Mr. Seddon paid a high compliment to them for the manner in which they had exercised the privilege. He said:—
“Who dares to propose that we should repeal the legislation that gave the franchise to the women of the colony? I have not met a candidate, a politician, or a canvasser who has dared to say this privilege should be taken from them. I want to ask this question: Can you show where woman has been untrue to the great responsibility cast upon her? In the legislation of which we boast, in the great social advancement we have made—more particularly in that beneficent legislation, the Old Age Pensions Act—I say that the women are behind it all; and I say more: that in respect of progressive measures, in respect of that which is for the good of the lives of others, women are keener and more determined than the lords of creation.”
Besides the granting of the women's franchise, some other notable legislation was passed in 1893. The Criminal Code Act, a monument to the ability and stupendous industry of the new Minister for Justice, Mr. Reeves, was submitted to the House and passed. Its humble title gives no idea of the comprehensive character of the measure, or of its usefulness. It is one of the most useful Acts standing to the credit of the Seddon Administration. It reduces a vast mass of chaotic legislation to order, and simplifies the whole criminal code of the colony. It has abolished a large number of distinctions in regard to embezzlement, theft, larceny, breach of trust, and other crimes. It enlarges the scope of the law dealing with perjury. It acknowledges the right of appeal in criminal cases. If Parliament had done nothing else than pass the Criminal Code Act in 1893, Mr. Seddon's first session as Premier would still be a notable one among the sessions of the New Zealand Legislature.
There is a third Act which helps to make that session a remarkable one from a legislative point of view. It is the Alcoholic page 203 Liquor Sale Control Act, which many people specially interested in the temperance movement regard as the most important of the trio. There had been a long and bitter conflict in the colony between popular rights and the vested interests of the publican. Sydenham, one of the suburbs of Christchurch, was the scene of the fight. There the Prohibitionists gathered their forces, and there they were beaten in the Courts. The attempt to secure local option on licensing matters through the Licensing Committees failed, and the people, aroused to action by the Prohibition leaders, demanded that they should be allowed the right of direct veto. Sir Robert Stout, as the champion of the Prohibitionists, introduced a drastic Bill. Mr. Seddon was in a very difficult position. The banking legislation tried his courage, but the licensing legislation tried his tact and skill. He showed that he had been as well endowed with one as with the other, and the Bill, which established the principle of local option, was passed.
* State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand.