Monday, June 27, 2011

Bullocks, beer barrels and cemetery plots: more 19th century election stories

Shorthorn Bullocks Shorty and Spider from the Battensby Bullock team, photo by Liz Clark (Mad Bush Farm blog), 
by kind permission.

Reading a recent newsletter from the Silverdale Historical Society, I was intrigued by this piece they found in the Observer:

An Auckland resident who used to be a power in the land in the glorious old days when Maurice Kelly's working bullocks were on the electoral roll, tells a good story of his experiences during a recent visit to a country district. Having the reputation of an expert in election matters the local Registration officer sought his advice in deciding on the qualifications of a number of persons who desired to be placed in the electoral roll. The work was duly gone through and the forms completed, until they came to one claim that appeared to be doubtful. The claimant was examined as to the nature of his qualification. He stoutly maintained his right to exercise the franchise, and being questioned as to his property he said the locus in quo was the cemetery. He was promptly informed that he could not be placed on the roll for such a qualification. "But," said the applicant, "I have erected a tombstone on that sacred spot at a cost of £45, and I can solemnly swear that I am thus possessed of property worth £25 as required by the Act." As the man displayed such laudable anxiety to exercise the privileges of an elector, and is moreover known to be a staunch supporter of the Hall Government, his request was acceded to.

Observer 19 November 1881

Election shenanigans in 19th century in the Auckland region have fascinated me for a while -- see the tale of the 1874 Waitemata Election, and J S Macfarlane's rather convenient subdivision of Riverhead. But bullocks? I had to find out more.

Maurice Kelly, a well-known character at the Wade (present day Silverdale and Waiwera districts, north of Auckland), definitely owned bullocks, as well as run a local pub. It seems the story hit the papers in 1862.
Political morality and purity of election were preached up on the polling day; yet in the same paper a decided misrepresentation of the arrangements sought to be entered into on behalf of Mr Graham to check personation was unscrupulously published. In the district of the Wade, however, personation would appear to have been rampant; for I am informed fifteen bona fide   voters only reside in that district, yet 61 votes were registered for Williamson, whilst Mr Graham only secured eight. There is a standing joke, that Maurice Kelly's bullocks are regularly polled in this district on the recurrence of elections.

Otago Witness 19 December 1862

And, it continued, now becoming synonymous with "something dodgy in the Wade polls" By 1872, it was reckoned they were counting beer barrels as well.

We were in error yesterday, as elsewhere explained. The correct returns up to the present hour in connection with the election are Stoney, 139; Buchanan, 113. Waiwera returns are not yet to hand, but there is little doubt Stoney is elected. It was Maurice Kelly's bullocks did it. We believe they were all polled to a man. Buchanan was returned by all the civilised parts. But Kelly's bullocks at the Wade, and Lamb's beer barrels at Helensville did the mischief. What has become of Waiwera we know not. We think it has got drunk and forgot to poll, or perhaps it has lighted its pipe with the ballot papers. We must therefore accept Stoney as the Councillor elect. Buchanan is beaten, but not conquered, and let all the white men of the district be glad in knowing that all beyond the Lake will soon be lopped off, and let the beer of Riverhead and the bulls at the Wade have it out in future among themselves.

Auckland Star 15 November 1872

At last Waiwera has spoken and pronounced for Major Stoney, the return being—-Stoney, 5 ; Buchanan, 3. This gives a total of 144 for Stoney, and 116 for Buchanan. The Major, therefore, has been elected by a majority of 28. Long live Maurice Kelly's bullocks. They are a power in the State.

Auckland Star 16 November 1872

The tale of Kelly and his bullocks, though, appears to have been true -- at least, if you take Maurice Kelly's word for it. Repeating an item in 1888 from the NZ Herald, the Hawke's Bay Herald related tales of wild election days at the Wade, when Maurice Kelly (believed by then to have been a centenarian) ruled:

On the establishment of provincial institutions Mr Kelly took an active part in political affairs. During the first Superintendency of the late Sir John Williamson he sat in the Provincial Council as representative for the Northern Division. Maurice could not be beaten at a polling booth. There is a time-honored jest current about his polling the bullocks at the Wade, but few people regard it as more than a joke, though it was a matter of sober fact. At one election, though he was carefully shepherded by two agents of the opposing candidate, he managed to put them on a false scent, and during their absence, though he had only five bona fide electors to work upon, he managed to poll 125 votes. He polled 14 times over himself. He had a whare about 100 yards from the polling booth, where various suits of clothes were kept for gumdiggers, in which they could exercise the privilege of "voting early and often." A number of gumdigger's wives also voted several times, and Mr S's daughters cut their hair short and polled at three stations: the Wade, Mahurangi, and the Hot Springs.

At one election, where the returning officer, a stranger, arrived at the Wade he told him the polling booth was at Wainui. Off the officer posted, and before he found out his mistake and returned Maurice had polled 50 bullocks. The process was to get an electoral roll, christen the bullocks after the names on the rolls, and poll them by batches from the slips. A partisan official never asked unpleasant questions, and never saw more than was convenient. At one of these contests a poll clerk, who did not know the simple-minded Patriarch of the Wade, remarked to him that "he had heard the Wade was an awful place for personation." Maurice replied with a smile childlike and bland, that "he didn't know; he was only a new chum, and had just come in from Matakana."

In the first Superintendency election, Colonel Wynyard v. Mr William Brown (of the firm of Brown and Campbell), Maurice pronounced for the soldier, and the "old woman", as he phrased it, for the merchant. The late Hon. Thos. Henderson sent a letter to Mrs Kelly (who was regarded as the grey mare of the Kelly team), asking her to do all she could for Brown. Maurice thus recounts the sequel: — " When she got the letter I had polled 18 to 20 votes for Wynyard. On reading the letter she came out with vengeance in her countenance, and gave me a kick on the centre of gravity, which sent me head-over-heels under the staircase. By the time I had picked myself up, she had 22 polled for Brown." His rule was never to fight with a woman, but to give her best.

He always voted straight, and only took one man's money, telling him right out whether he would vote for him or not. There was at this election six men lying pretty well drunk in a paddock, who were afraid of the "old woman", but would not vote without his sanction. He polled three for Wynyard and three for Brown repeatedly, as well as some bullocks. The result was, when the poll closed, that both candidates had 42 votes each, and he could not do fairer than that.

The last election in which the veteran electioneering agent took an active interest, was a triangular duel for the Superintendency between Messrs. John Williamson, J M Dargaville, and H H Lusk. Maurice looks back upon the good old days of polling bullocks with pardonable pride, and regretfully remarked that the voting was "now all messed up with new-fangled notions about the ballot," which prevented local talent from displaying itself ...

Though not strong on electioneering morality, Maurice was noted for his hospitality; and priest and parson coming that way were welcome to the shelter of his hospitable roof.

Hawke's Bay Herald 6 April 1888

He died on 24 October 1888, believed to be 104 years of age. Mind you, perhaps he also counted in the bullocks ...


  1. Well that is one story that will never live it down. Great post. I guess good old Maurice was good at telling a load of old 'bullocks' to get his way hah hah hah.

  2. Formally hands Liz today's bad pun award ...