Tuesday, November 25, 2008

1876 Eden election: a disagreement between two gentlemen at the Whau

The setting: Auckland in 1876, when provincialism was about to receive the axe by central government decree, and the districts found themselves divided in opinion between the idea of provincial government (and some measure of independence) and that from Wellington. Aucklanders had never truly recovered from the wound to their pride when the capital was moved from their fair city to that at former Port Nicholson.

Now, in January 1876, came an election for the seat of Eden, an electorate which covered most of the isthmus of Auckland. What had been a three-horse race before Christmas the preceding year, between Alan Kerr Taylor, Joseph Augustus Tole and Hugh Carleton, was reduced to two with Carleton's bowing out. It became a straight-out choice between provincialism, Sir George Grey who supported the councils (he had after all put them in place back in the 1850s), and Tole; and central government, a path chosen by Taylor to support.

Feelings in the area could be described by the placards which were "posted in conspicuous places" come election day on 6 January. "Vote for Tole and Sir George Grey, or for Taylor and 3s a day wages." "Be true to the interests of Auckland, and vote for Tole and Sir George Grey.

Three days before the election, the Whau Public Hall was double-booked that night. This was not a common occurrence -- usually bookings were handled by the halls' trustees. But as Taylor had arranged to use the hall for a gathering of his supporters (Whau Highway Board chairman John Bollard among them), so Tole had advertised by posters that he would conduct a meeting there that same night. It ended up being a fairly civilised question-and-answer session, chaired by John Bollard -- until local resident Mr. Owen, seconded by a Mr. Cantwell, moved a vote of confidence in Mt Taylor. The Southern Cross reported on the next moments.
"Mr. Buchanan (after a consultation with Messrs. Tole and Dignan) said there had been an understanding that no vote of confidence should be moved in either candidate at that meeting. The electors had now to regard measures, not men. He hoped the electors of the Whau would not be bound neck-and-foot, as they had been hitherto. At the beginning of every election in that district, there were men who went about getting votes in order to carry a certain candidate through before the electors had an opportunity of knowing who the candidates were and judging of their merits. Men had been compelled to go to the poll like so many bullocks. He had witnessed that for many years, until his blood boiled within him. (Cheers.) He had great respect for Mr. Taylor, but considered him a Government man by instinct. He begged to move, as an amendment, "That this meeting thanks both candidates for their expression of their views."
Mr. Owen, saying that he had been unaware that there was any understanding that there was to be no vote of confidence, withdrew his motion, and the amendment was carried unanimously.

Bollard, by now, must have been seething. When Tole moved, seconded by Taylor, a vote of thanks to the Chairman, Bollard bit back at Buchanan.
"The Chairman said that Mr. Buchanan had made an unjustifiable attack upon a person who was not in a position to defend himself.

"Mr. Buchanan: Sir, I rise to --

"The Chairman: Silence, sir. Mr. Buchanan's remarks were entirely out of place. He had made an unjust assertion when he said that the electors of Whau had been driven to the polling booth like bullocks. The fact was, Mr. Buchanan had tried to drive them like bullocks, but had been defeated by a straightforward honest course of conduct. Mr. Buchanan had levelled the insinuations at him (Mr. Bollard) when he was unable, as Chairman, to reply. He now dissolved the meeting.

"Mr. Buchanan: I have a few words --

"The Chairman: I dissolve the meeting.

"Mr. Buchanan: Very well, we can put some one else in the chair and go on.

"The meeting here began to disperse, but before doing so cheers were given for Sir George Grey and for the candidates."
Two days later, John Buchanan wrote to the editor of the Southern Cross:
"Sir, -- The report in the Cross of Messrs. Taylor and Tole's meeting at the Whau escaped my notice on the day of publication. I did not say that "men had been compelled to go to the poll like so many bullocks" but this: "The electors had been sold like bullocks," meaning their promises had been got so early in the day that they did not go to the poll free to vote as they wished on the day of the election. The sapient chairman applied the remarks differently; he would not allow of explanation, nor was there sufficient disinterestedness in him to vacate the chair, and have fair discussion. Abusing the privilege of his chairmanship fits tolerably well in the general course of domination affected in our quiet locality. I am, &c., John Buchanan."
Tole won, by a majority on the day of 51 votes. The Whau vote was tied 22-all.

Two days later, John Bollard replied in the newspaper.
"Sir, - I observe in your Thursday's issue a letter signed "John Buchanan", in which he has thought proper to censure my conduct as chairman of Messrs. Taylor and Tole's meeting. He states that the report of the meeting escaped his notice on the day of publication. This is untrue, as I know his attention was drawn to your report on that date; but it did not suit his purpose to publish his letter sooner. He then goes on to say he did not use the language imputed to him. I say most distinctly that he did, and there are many witnesses to prove it. Again he says that I would not vacate the chair in order to have fair discussion; this also is untrue. The facts are as follows: -- Mr. Buchanan in moving an amendment to the motion, made use of the language reported in your paper, and hurled insinuations at myself when he knew as chairman I could not reply. At the close of the meeting, on the motion of Mr. Tole, a vote of thanks was accorded me for my impartial conduct in the chair; and in returning thanks, I then chastised Mr. Buchanan for his cowardly conduct, perhaps rather too severely, considering his weak nerves. I then vacated the chair, as the business of the meeting was closed. He then tried to appoint another chairman, but the meeting refused to do so. I certainly thought Mr. Buchanan had sense enough not to rush into print over this matter, but now that he has measured swords with me, I advise him to beware, or he may receive some home thrusts. I am, &c., John Bollard."
John Buchanan wanted the last word. Two days later:
"Sir, - I am sorry to occupy your columns with matter very much of a personal nature, but am afraid there is no alternative left me than to reply to a letter in your Saturday's issue, signed "John Bollard." He states it "is untrue, as I know," &c., that your report of the Whau meeting escaped my notice on the day of publication. I reiterate my assertion, and call for his proof. He says I did use the language imputed to me. I say I did not. He says he can call witnesses. I can call witnesses that I did not use the language reported. But, even if I had, and the language used had not conveyed the idea intended, was it not still a chairman's duty to allow of qualification or explanation? I do not see how that helps your correspondent out of his difficulty. Your correspondent works upon such capital as this: -- "A vote of thanks was accorded me for my impartial conduct in the chair." I regret to interfere with the pleasure that fact gives Mr. Bollard, but would simply remind him that the ungentlemanliness complained of occurred after the formal vote of thanks. He says insinuations were hurled at him. I was not aware that insinuations could be hurled. I thought they were generally thrown out in a quiet manner. It was not so in this case. There was a broad and distinct statement made, and that publicly, and it truth is all the more palpable that the principal party concerned put on the the cap that fitted him so well. It is quite competent, Mr. Editor, for a chairman to leave the chair. Was this gentleman ignorant of the fact? If not, why does he -- I repeat the words -- "abuse the privilege of his chairmanship" in making a cowardly attack upon one whom he would not allow to explain? That was the true time for explanation when all parties were present. Why did he not allow it? Was he afraid? Let me now close by saying that it is not necessary to controversy to indulge in calling names, to be free with insinuations, or to make violent threats. Nor is it desirable to the lover of truth to create a great cloud of words, and all the while the would-bee reasoner is escaping from the real issues of the question. This, in my opinion, is what your correspondent has done. I regret not being able to oblige him with newspaper controversy. My business required most of my time, and I trust that the controversy may end here, even at the risk of being supposed to be afraid of Mr. Bollard's home thrusts. I am, &c., John Buchanan."
Buchanan's disagreements with Bollard continued into the disputes over the Northern Omnibus Company in the 1880s. In the end, Buchanan went to live elsewhere.


  1. Lisa,

    I admit my knowledge of all things Waugh is severely limited, but I wonder if you know that with your diligent work (the quotes, the research), you have the makings of a very fine historical film????

    Do you have aspitarions in that direction?

    Your German-American Friend


  2. Evelyn Waugh? I remember picking up a collection of his works one time from the library. I thought I'd never get into his stuff -- but I did. It was brilliant.

    Don't know about the historical film. Here in EnZed, that sort of thing costs money. Would love to see some kind of documentary about Avondale's characters, though. We've had quite a few of them, over time.

    Me, I have always been attracted to researching the oddities in life. Quirky temperaments, strange events, the frayed threads in the social fabric of life. To find two upstanding citizens of their day, both leaders in the community, men people looked up to and still do with awe -- quite literally flaming each other (to use the modern parlance) in print was irresistible. I'd still like to find out just what started the feud. I doubt that this was the beginning, not from Bollard's reaction at the meeting.

    Cheers, Bill.

  3. Dear Spammers,

    So sorry your messages aren't getting through. But thank you for your interest in the topic!

    I might sell you some swampland sometime.

    TTFN, Timespanner