In a bit of historic resonance today, a group of Mt Albert residents answered a "call to placards" as it were, and congregated outside a drive-in cafe on New North Road to protest the application to the District Licensing Agency for an off-license to be set-up called "Kiwi Drive Liquor". I stayed across the road, (a) not being a Mt Albert resident, and (b) because I wanted to photograph the protest.
It did bring to mind when Mt Albert residents first got together to protest and take action against the proliferation of liquor outlets in their district.
Samuel Stephenson was the man who first stirred up a hornets’ nest in Mt Albert regarding liquor. On 7 December 1881, he applied through the Onehunga Licensing Court for a license for his Mt Albert Hotel, situated on New North Road near the corner with present-day Carrington Road, just across from today’s Trinity of Silver café (the former Post Office building). 20 Mt Albert residents turned up at the hearing in opposition, but Stephenson had a number of backers who’d signed his application: Messrs. J. Rogan (owner of the block where Stephenson’s hotel was to be situated, and a fairly obvious candidate as beneficiary if the hotel succeeded), James Bound, Charles Turk, H. H. Martin, Mark Woodward, R. C. Greenwood, H. S. Wallace, William Motion, Frederick Young, and J. H. Daubeney. The objectors were fairly obvious, part of Mt Albert’s religious and culture-progressive elite: Rev. Mr. Haseldean, Messrs. C B Stone, James N. Ward, Thomas Wallace, James Reid, Thomas Allen, J. Tonson Garlick, Edward Allen (a near neighbour), and Mrs. Emma Hastie, and Messrs. Allan Waterhouse and Frederick Battley.
Eleven objections in writing were lodged, and the following generally may be taken as the grounds of objection:
1. That there was no necessity for such a place in the district.
2. That the house would prove a nuisance, because of the number of loafing and drunken men who would be drawn thither, as well as the likelihood of creating a similar class in the district.
3. That the presence of drunken and dissolute characters would be detrimental to the morals of the children and young people in the district.
4. There are no commercial or business men visiting the district who would be likely to require the accommodation usually supposed to be offered by such a place.
5. Such a house would only prove a temptation to such as are weak minded to indulge too freely in the accursed thing.
6. As a new Licensing Act has been passed by the Assembly, and is now only awaiting the proclamation of the districts by the Governor, no new license should be granted till the residents had an opportunity of expressing their opinion on the subject under the Act.
NZ Herald 8 December 1881
It was decided not to grant the license until after the new Licensing Act came into force, to allow the Mt Albert residents a chance to use local option.
On 9 January 1882, a meeting of ratepayers from Mt Albert, Mt Roskill, Pt Chevalier and the Whau (Avondale) districts formed the Mt Albert Alliance, aimed at restricting the opening and operating of licensed liquor premises through local option under the terms of the Licensing Act. They succeeded, barring new licenses (well, any license) for three years. Stephenson, who had put his money into the venture, was left with a lovely new wooden building, but couldn’t sell a drop.
In July 1882, Stephenson petitioned Parliament for compensation for hardship caused through operation of the Licensing Act. (NZ Herald 11 July 1882) In November Stephenson attempted selling his land and licenseless hotel as part of the Roganville sale, but the reserve failed to be reached. (NZ Herald 14 November 1882). On 15 December 1883 he filed for bankruptcy. For a third time, he again petitioned Parliament for compensation.
The following petitions were presented to the House yesterday:—From Samuel Stephenson, formerly hotelkeeper at Mount Albert, complaining that under the Licensing Act the district in which he resides was petitioning against the spirit and in defiance of the Act, whereby, he says, he was defrauded of his just rights and privileges, his property confiscated for three years, and himself and family brought to ruin, and he prays compensation (Hon. J. Tole) …
Auckland Star 17 October 1884
Come 1885, and some hope on the horizon for Stephenson's blighted fortunes: if he could just win enough votes on the side of the wets to allow liquor licensing in the district, all might not have been lost. It was certainly a lively election.
The greatest excitement that has ever prevailed in connection with any election in this district was evinced yesterday over the drink question. The Licensed Victuallers' interests were represented by Mr S Stephenson, who with his staff were flying colours of red, white, and green, and were early at the polling booth, quite confident of success. The temperance party, ably aided by non-abstainers, were alive to the importance of the occasion, and were equally confident of success. The Stephenson party relied on the new-comers who had taken up their residence on the Kingsland Estate, and events proved this to be correct, for after 5 p.m. they rolled up in cartloads together with the Chinamen, and this caused the Licensed Victuallers' party to be jubilant and confident they had gained the day. Liquor is said to have been freely supplied to the free and independent voters for a week before, and also on the polling day gratuitously, and the effect of this was evidenced in the loud talk of a large number, other than ratepayers, who waited to hear the announcement of the poll. Mr Brooking, the presiding officer, announced about 6.30 p.m. the result of the contest as follows :—Against a license, 66; for a license, 60, majority, 6; informal votes, 5. Mr Spragg, representing the temperance party, acknowledged the result, and proposed a vote of thanks to the Returning Officer. The disappointed section adjourned to the corner house, and continued to “drown their sorrows” in the flowing bowl to the small hours of the morning.The poll was declared in the presence of about 100 persons. We may add that the election yesterday excludes licensed houses from the Mount Albert District for a term of three years.
Auckland Star 23 April 1885
To the ratepayers of MOUNT ALBERT AND KINGSLAND. Ladies and Gentlemen,— Although beaten by the conspicuous absence of several gentlemen and five informal votes, it is a convincing proof that I am sustained in my assertion, and that one side is equally entitled to their privileges and opinions as the other. I sincerely thank all those who gave me their assistance, and who had the valour in them when called upon to record me their votes; and I feel deeply their confidence that their support would never be challenged, although put to the severest test I am. Ladies and Gentlemen, Yours very sincerely, SAML. STEPHENSON. Mount Albert, April 23.
Auckland Star 24 April 1885
Stephenson moved to Avondale (small wonder!) and again petitioned Parliament for compensation of fees for the licensing application in November 1887. (Star, 17 November) In 1891, the Public Petitions Committee decided they had no recommendation to make. (Star, 5 September) At that point, he disappears into history.
His wooden store went on to become the core of what was to become today's Mt Albert shopping centre, remaining as a general store (no booze) right through to World War I, when it was demolished to make way for a realignment of New North Road. Today, there is a liquor store on the site (if Stephenson has a ghost, he might find some measure of satisfaction in the way of a last laugh, perhaps, at those who had stymied him in life). Considering that there is a liquor store only a short way up the road from the proposed off-license -- it does seem a bit like too much. Good on the protesters then, carrying on with a 130 year old tradition in Mt Albert.