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Story: Carman, Arthur Herbert

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Carman, Arthur Herbert


Sports journalist and writer, bookseller, publisher, pacifist, local politician, historian

This biography, written by David Grant, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.

Arthur Herbert Carman was born in Pāpārangi, Johnsonville, Wellington, on 2 August 1902, the eldest of five sons of Gertrude Matilda Burd and her husband, Walter John Carman. His father, a former compositor with the New Zealand Times, managed a printing works with R. A. Wright in Featherston Street, Wellington, and ran poultry on a farmlet at Pāpārangi. Arthur was educated at Newlands and (later) Johnsonville schools. He joined the boy scouts, attended the Methodist Sunday school and was kept busy at home assisting with a big garden and 50 fowls. He had two years’ secondary education at Wellington College, but could not afford to attend university. Instead, in January 1918 he became a cadet in the government Audit Department, passing the matriculation examination and accountancy papers in subsequent years. His father built a bach at Titahi Bay where the family spent weekends fishing and picnicking. It was there in 1921 that he met a college girl, Edith Grace Miriam Clark, who would later become his wife.

During these years Carman played cricket for the Wesley club and rugby for Johnsonville, before failing eyesight forced him to give up the latter in favour of harriers. He developed an interest in cricket history and statistics, and in 1923 contributed Wellington club players’ batting and bowling averages to the Evening Post. He compiled rugby statistics for the same newspaper and reported on Saturday games for 10 shillings each, plus travelling expenses. In 1924 he arranged with B. C. Warnes, editor of the weekly New Zealand Sportsman, to cover the All Black tour to the British Isles at £1 a match. Taking leave from the Audit Department, Carman travelled with the team through Australia, Great Britain, Ireland and France, reporting on every game; he arrived back in Wellington in March 1925.

By this time Carman had become a leading figure in the Johnsonville Methodist Bible class, and he continued his church activities after transferring to the Auckland audit office in early 1926. He also maintained his interest in sport, and in 1927 compiled a brief history of rugby’s Ranfurly Shield, which was published in the Napier Daily Telegraph; it appeared in pamphlet form soon after. In July that year he transferred to Napier. By now he was taking church services and becoming increasingly attracted to pacifism, which had a strong hold within the Methodist Bible classes.

In September 1927 Carman bought a bookselling business in Molesworth Street, Wellington, and in the middle of 1928 he purchased David Griffin’s bookshop in Lambton Quay. He sold the former about a year later but retained the Lambton Quay shop until 1959. In the 1930s it became a well-known meeting place for socialists, pacifists and New Zealand Labour Party politicians such as Jim O’Brien, Ted Howard, Frank Langstone, Bill Barnard, John A. Lee and Tim Armstrong. Carman also became the Wellington agent for the New Zealand Left Book Club, sending internationalist and socialist literature to over 1,000 members. Edith Clark worked in his shop for a year before their engagement. They bought a section in Tawa on which they built a small, unpretentious house, and were married in Ngaio on 31 August 1932.

In 1930 Carman began his long career in local-body politics, gaining election to the Johnsonville Town Board. He was elected to the Wellington Hospital Board as a Labour candidate in May 1935 and was returned three years later. In 1938 he also stood, unsuccessfully, for the Makara County Council. He continued his involvement in sport and in 1934, with Arthur Swan, decided to publish a New Zealand rugby annual. Carman had been compiling statistics on international matches for the Evening Post for some years, and that season’s records became the basis for the first Rugby Almanack of New Zealand. It was to become a widely read publication.

In March 1936 Carman was a founding member of the Christian Pacifist Society of New Zealand. He was then chairman of the Tawa Flat branch of the Labour Party, but in the late 1930s became increasingly critical of what he saw as the dictatorial attitude of its leaders. In 1940 he resigned his membership and joined John A. Lee’s new Democratic Labour Party. However, he soon discovered that Lee was equally autocratic and quit the DLP as well. Carman’s outspoken criticism of Peter Fraser led the prime minister to discourage Labour MPs from visiting the Lambton Quay bookshop.

His fundamental pacifist beliefs having firmed, Carman was now actively campaigning against the Second World War and New Zealand’s participation in it. In October 1940 he helped to found the Conscientious Objectors Advisory Committee, which assisted military defaulters with appeals. On 7 March 1941 he was arrested in Wellington’s Manners Street and charged with conducting a prohibited meeting, as well as publishing a subversive document – a Christian Pacifist Society newsletter, ‘Defend Peace and Freedom at Home!’ Refusing Chief Justice Michael Myers’s offer to release him if he refrained from subversive activities, Carman was sentenced to 12 months’ prison with hard labour. While in gaol he stood as an independent candidate for the city council, winning over 2,000 votes.

When he was called up for military service in November 1942 Carman appealed to the Wellington Armed Forces’ Appeal Board on conscience grounds. Despite evidence of his leadership within the strongly pacifist Methodist Bible class, and his prominent membership of the Christian Pacifist Society and No More War Movement, his appeal was rejected in March 1943. Although by this time he had become a Quaker, he did not reveal this to the Appeal Board as he did not want it to influence their decision. Then aged 40, and with four children aged between two and nine, he was later excused military training because of his poor eyesight.

The only avenue left for Carman to debate pacifism legally in wartime New Zealand was to stand in a general election. In 1943, despite restrictions on his movements, he ran a strong campaign in the safe Labour seat of Wellington North, assisted by a small band of enthusiastic volunteers. He received 298 votes; the incumbent MP, C. H. Chapman, won over 7,000.

In 1944 Carman was re-elected to the Wellington Hospital Board. He was to hold this position until his death in 1982, becoming its longest-serving member, and chaired the board between 1960 and 1962. After the war he expanded his local-body activities: he was a member of the Wellington Free Ambulance Service board, the Tawa Flat Town Board and later Tawa Borough Council (1951–74), and the Hutt Valley Electric Power and Gas Board (1959–82).

Carman sold his bookshop at the end of 1959. Working from home, he continued compiling, editing, producing and distributing his Rugby Almanack, as well as the Cricket Almanack of New Zealand, which he had started in 1948. He also wrote books on Ranfurly Shield and international rugby, and Wellington and international cricket. A local historian of some note, he helped to found the Onslow Historical Society in 1968 and served as president of the Early Settlers and Historical Association of Wellington. In 1955–56 he wrote a fine local history, Tawa Flat and the old Porirua road, and in 1970 he produced The birth of a city, which chronicled early local government in Wellington. Maintaining his interest in church and school affairs, he wrote histories of the Tawa Flat and Johnsonville Methodist churches and Ngaio School. Most of these books were printed by the family firm of Wright and Carman, of which Arthur was a director. He also found time for extensive overseas travel with his wife Edith, particularly in the 1970s.

Arthur Carman died in Wellington on 28 November 1982, survived by Edith, three sons and two daughters. His full and busy life was notable for prominent involvement in many seemingly disparate areas. A prolific writer, his rugby and cricket almanacs in particular won him a wide and respected readership; he was an effective advocate in numerous local issues in Wellington; and his bookshop was a well-known meeting place for socialists and pacifists. Moreover, before and during the Second World War, Carman stood alongside Ormond Burton and Archibald Barrington as one of New Zealand’s most assertive Christian pacifists.

How to cite this page:

David Grant. 'Carman, Arthur Herbert', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4c8/carman-arthur-herbert (accessed 23 July 2024)