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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



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The Act of 1893

The result was the Alcoholic Liquors Sale Control Act of 1893, which created the licensing system virtually as it exists in New Zealand today. Licensing districts were to be identical with parliamentary electorates, with licences to be granted for three years at the discretion of the Licensing Committee. Severe restrictions were placed upon the conditions under which new licences could be issued. The triennial poll was extended to cover the issues of reduction and no-licence. Over half of the electorate had to vote for any poll to be valid, and no-licence had to secure three-fifths of the votes to be carried. If no-licence were not carried, however, the votes for it were added to those for reduction.

The Act erected severe barriers for the prohibition forces, but great optimism prevailed in late 1893. Women were able to vote for the first time and it was confidently expected that they would cast their votes for prohibition. The result was encouraging to the alliance: No-licence had won more votes than either continuance or reduction, but not a majority of the total vote.

Results of Licensing Polls
Year Continuance Reduction No-licence
1894 42,429 16,096 48,993
1896 139,580 94,555 98,312
1899 142,443 107,751 118,575
1902 148,449 132,240 151,524
1905 182,884 151,057 198,768
1908 188,140 162,562 221,471
Year Local Continuance Local No-licence
1911 237,025 234,656
National Continuance National Prohibition
1911 205,661 259,943
Local Continuance Local No-licence
1914 274,405 229,474
National Continuance National Prohibition
1914 257,442 247,217
1919 April National Continuance 264,189 National Prohibition 253,827
Year National Continuance State Purchase and Control National Prohibition
1919 Dec 241,251 32,261 270,250
1922 282,669 35,727 300,791
1925 299,590 56,037 319,450
1928 374,502 64,276 294,453
1935 521,167 57,499 243,091
1938 546,995 96,131 263,208
1943 529,386 123,701 269,800
1946 542,681 202,664 259,162
1949 660,573 135,982 268,567
1954 672,754 164,380 250,460
1957 723,059 160,483 260,132
1960 765,952 138,644 255,157
1963 791,078 157,511 235,553

In spite of the success of prohibition in the total vote, it was frustrated at the local level. The results of the local polls in 1893 were as follows:

  • 33: Polls invalid.

  • 12: Reduction.

  • 12: Continuance.

  • 2: No proposal carried.

  • 1: No-licence carried.

The district voting for the abolition of licences was Clutha. This was the prohibitionists' first victory.

The size of the vote commanded by the prohibitionists was a severe shock to the Government and to the licensed trade, and from that point liquor became a national political issue. For the first time the strength of the prohibition movement on a national scale was brought home to New Zealanders. Prohibition sentiment, now a mass movement, had been quietly growing during the 1880s. By that time the movement was fully committed to prohibition and it approached its task with evangelical fervour. Although a number of churches and many individual clergymen helped the movement actively, it cut across denominational lines. Even thousands of Roman Catholics, whose church was anything but sympathetic to prohibition, joined the movement after the visit of Father Hays, an American.

The participation of many clergymen probably helped to give the movement its evangelistic flavour. Religious arguments and references were freely invoked in temperance literature, and prominent figures, such as the Rev. L. M. Isitt and the Rev. Edward Walker, helped to stamp the movement with a religious imprint. At the same time, however, agnostic humanism was also strongly represented in the movement by such figures as Sir Robert Stout and F. A. de la Mare. The emotional feeling generated by the liquor question was very great. As Pember Reeves wrote in The Long White Cloud, “it … introduced an element of picturesque enthusiasm and, here and there, a passion of hatred rarely seen before in New Zealand politics”. Some prominent temperance advocates were certainly the least temperate of public men in their speeches and campaigning, and it is probable that the movement alienated much moderate opinion by the extravagance of some of its assertions and demands.

This was offset to some extent by the politically radical flavour of the movement, which emphasised the demand for “the right of the people to decide” and for the settlement of the liquor question by simple majority vote. The alliance's tilting at the powerful liquor interests was also an indication of its crusading spirit. It was easy for the movement to argue that its proposals would benefit the working man and improve his welfare by the diversion of money away from unproductive liquor consumption. T. E. Taylor and many other prohibitionists in Parliament, were left-wingers in the Liberal Party and they carried on a running battle with the leadership on social and economic matters.

Besides Taylor, other prominent prohibitionist leaders during the movement's heyday were the Isitt brothers, Frank and Leonard, both Methodist ministers and excellent speakers, Sir Robert Stout, and the Rev. Edward Walker, the alliance's organiser and parliamentary agent.