Saturday, November 22, 2008

The re-run Waitemata by-election of 1874

In 1874, the Waitemata electorate of the NZ House of Representatives underwent a by-election. Actually, the electorate had two elections, because the loser didn’t feel that the winner of the first election should have won, or even taken part.

Gustav Ludwig Theodore Von der Heyde, born in Bremen, Germany in 1834, was naturalised as a British subject in South Australia in 1857 before travelling to New Zealand in 1866. By 1869, he had married the daughter of shipping and timber magnate Thomas Henderson, by 1871 he was a member of the Auckland Harbour Board, and in 1874 looked to succeed his father-in-law as MHR for Waitemata, an electorate that included North and West Auckland and the North Shore.

The other character in this story is John Sangster Macfarlane, born in Haddington, East Lothian in Scotland in 1818, his father the Presbyterian minister there.He arrived in Sydney in 1837 as an officer in the Commissariat Department, and resigned after some time to study navigation. Purchasing a schooner, he began a trading business between Sydney, Auckland, and the New Zealand east coast. After marrying in Sydney, he joined Captain Salmon in Auckland as a general merchant. Eventually, he operated his own self-named business, and became a major name in the merchant trading circles of his adopted town.

In July 1874, Von der Heyde ran against Macfarlane for the Waitemata seat, and won by 60 votes. The polling places at the time were Devonport (Von der Heyde), Stokes’ Point (Macfarlane), Riverhead (Macfarlane), Huia (Macfarlane), Whau (Von der Heyde), Henderson’s Mill (Von der Heyde), Wade (Macfarlane), Lucas’ Creek (Von der Heyde), and Helensville (Macfarlane). Gustav Von der Heyde, leaseholder from Emily Place, was duly elected on 3 August 1874 to serve as the representative of Waitemata. The voting may also have been associated with broader issues: Von der Heyde was an opponent of the break-up of the Provincial Council system, while Macfarlane supported the system’s end.

The announcement of Von der Heyde’s win was, according to the Evening Star, “hailed with repeated cheers. At the conclusion Mr. Von der Heyde advanced to the front and made a short speech of thanks. It was exceedingly gratifying for him to stand there and return their thanks for his election, more particularly because he felt convinced that the contest had been a fair stand-up one throughout. It had been carried on with an utter absence of unfriendly feeling on either side, and he felt proud to think he had come victoriously out of a competition in which such honourable dealing had been conspicuous. He would not trouble them with a speech, but would merely say he would do his best to carry out the promises he had made to protect the interests of Waitemata. (Cheers).

“Mr. Atkin returned thanks on behalf of the defeated candidate, Mr. J. S. Macfarlane. He corroborated Mr. Von der Heyde’s statement as to the fairness and good feeling evinced on both sides.”

Unfortunately, the matter was not yet over, and questions would soon be raised as to how “fair” the election had really been.

On August 5, the Star published reports of rumours circulating around Auckland that the Premier, Julius Vogel, was an un-naturalised alien. The Herald slammed the Star for this, but the evening paper remained adamant that this was something that needed to be looked into, and if true, remedied, even by special act of Parliament if need be. “To sleep in this manner on a slumbering volcano is not nice,” the Star asserted on 6 August. “… if Mr. Vogel has his letter of naturalisation … let him show them. If it is not so, and the unnatural proposal for naturalising him in one sitting is necessary to save us from national and commercial ruin we think that when he is passing through Mr. Von der Heyde will be hitched on behind.”

Did the doubt as to Von der Heyde’s naturalisation precede the Star’s comment, or was the comment the cause of the stir which was to erupt in Auckland for the next month? That remains unclear. In Vogel’s case, he was born in London; the kafuffle concerning him soon died down. Von der Heyde was not so fortunate.

Another MHR, Mr. Carrington, presented a petition to the House on 8 August on behalf of Macfarlane against Von der Heyde’s election on the grounds that the latter was an alien. The problem was that Von der Heyde’s naturalisation in South Australia did not, as he had thought and been advised, automatically grant him British subject status in the New Zealand colony under an 1870 Imperial Act relating to aliens. “What a pity,” the Southern Cross sympathised, “Von der Heyde did not at once make things secure by petitioning to be naturalised when he announced his candidature! It could have been effected without the slightest difficulty, and in the course of a week or ten days, by a simple order of the Governor and a Gazette notice.”

Macfarlane’s petition didn’t go through, but another by John Leck, an elector in Waitemata, did on 14 August. The Waitemata Election Petition Committee met in Wellington on 20 August. They recognised that Von der Heyde had successfully gazetted his naturalisation on the 11th of that month. Von der Heyde, in his testimony, stated that his father had been born in Hanover in 1805, at a time when that part of Germany was ruled by the King of Great Britain, and he only knew of any objection to him as being an alien four days after the poll result was declared. His South Australia papers had always been accepted by Customs officials before then. The following day, the Waitemata Election Committee declared the election void, and the seat vacant.

“Another election for Waitemata,” the Star announced. “We trust that the nomination and re-election of Mr Von der Heyde will be but a formal affair … He has now conformed to our law on the subject of his naturalisation gazetted in New Zealand, and we are confident that with not a score exceptions, every opponent, as well as every supporter in the late struggle, will be pleased at the unopposed return of Mr. Von der Heyde.”

But, there was indeed opposition: from J. S. Macfarlane, who announced his candidature in late August. A match race of an election was therefore on the cards. Nominations were made in Devonport on 1 September. Von der Heyde was nominated by D. Burns and seconded by the Whau District’s John Bollard. Macfarlane was nominated by John Lamb from Riverhead, seconded by M. Roe.

Questions about Von der Heyde’s status were raised yet again, this time as to his eligibility to be on the roll and to vote. This was sorted by T. B. Gillies, who wrote to the Attorney-General on Von der Heyde’s behalf and received the opinion that as he had now legally registered his naturalisation, he was indeed eligible.

The new election took place on 8 September. Von der Heyde won by an increased majority, 62. Rumours of protest petitions began to go around the town yet again, one of which involved the Whau polling place, at the public hall, where at noon on the day of the election, the returning officer ran out of ballots. He decided to shut the hall, and have a messenger ride into the city for more papers. Once they arrived, the officer kept the hall open for voting until 5pm, an hour later than legally stipulated, in order that those who may have missed out due to the delay got their chance. The Star felt that they couldn’t believe anyone would have the audacity “to defeat the wishes of the constituency on a legal quibble.” The editor was right, but Macfarlane was still making threatening noises in that direction two days later.

On 11 September, the Star published a wonderfully arch letter, signed simply “Antwerp”:
“To the Editor: Sir, -- Sympathising deeply as I do with that large hearted patriot, J. S. Macfarlane, in his latest and most thorough defeat, I am naturally anxious to help him as far as possible in his commendable efforts to nullify the verdict of a benighted electorate. If the voters of Waitemata are so obstinate (not to say ungrateful) as to reject that self-sacrificing candidate, they must be lost to all feelings of regard for – for – for his best interests. Therefore I desire to point out a most cogent reason for upsetting the recent election – one which, strange to say, has escaped the notice of J.S. and his lynx-eyed henchmen. It is this: The pigeons which conveyed the returns from the various polling-places were not licensed carriers under the Act in that case made and provided. I do not like to mention this to J. S. personally, as he has such a lofty scorn of employing any means whatever to upset an election which has been decided on the actual merits of the candidates, but, nevertheless, I think it only right to call public attention to the circumstances … P.S. – I am grieved to learn that some of J.S.’s agents proved guilty of a flagrant dereliction of duty, but such is electioneering life.”
Another correspondent to the paper that day wrote:
“At the election of a member for Waitemata a cabman was inspired with a bright idea. He somehow possessed himself of an electoral roll, selected five names, went with them to J. S. Macfarlane stating they were electors, offering to drive them out to the Whau (they objecting to going to the North Shore the water being rough). The bait took, he received his demands for cab hire, and had in addition a handsome sum placed in his hands to stand treat to the voters. Of course when they arrived at the Whau they recorded their votes – but it was over Palmer’s counter [at the Whau Hotel].”
As an aside, the carrier pigeons used by the Star were a highlight of both elections. Both the NZ Herald and Southern Cross relied heavily on information relayed from the Star’s reporters out in the field at each polling station, via carrier pigeon. In the first of the 1874 Waitemata elections, the only thing that held up the news from Huia was that the reporter, becoming somewhat lost in the same bush that hadt spelled doom for the Whau’s Reverend Hamilton the year before, was late in releasing his bird. Mist and darkness were attributed as causes for the lateness of the Helensville bird, but that arrived the following day.

In the end, Von der Heyde served as MHR for Waitemata for less than a year. In 1875, he chose not run for re-election, and Macfarlane finally got his seat in the House. Von der Heyde left New Zealand a few months after the death of his partner Thomas Henderson in 1886, and returned briefly in 1889 en route to Sydney to take up a new position as the colonial manager and general agent for the Australasian branch of the German-Australian Steam Shipping Company of Hamburg. The German-Australian line or Deutsche-Australische Dampfschiffs Gesellschaft formed in 1888 and commenced operations in July 1889 with seven steamers – the Elbertfeldt, Essen, Barmen, Chemnitz, Sommerfeldt, Erlangen and Solingen -- and £400,000 capital. Within two years however passenger services were discontinued and it became merely a cargo service to Australia, the Dutch East Indies and South America. It was taken over by the Hamburg Line in 1926.

Gustav L. T. Von der Heyde died in Sydney in June, 1891, suffering from cancer of the stomach. John Sangster Macfarlane died after a short but painful illness in Auckland, 2 February 1880.

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