A parade or protest march is a procession of people through streets to celebrate an event or publicise a grievance. To generate maximum publicity, most processions are held in cities – their success is often judged by the crowds they attract.
Parades and protest marches use symbols and rituals. Flags, banners, music and chants express the identities and aims of marchers. Colours can be symbolic – red is linked to unionism, and black may represent grief. Buildings and places also have symbolic importance. Squares, parks, landmark buildings like Parliament, and other symbols of government, often provide focal points for marches and rallies. Marches give participants a communal voice, and attempt to shape events.
City and town dwellers were treated to a large number of street parades in the 19th century. These ranged from the formality and pomp of military parades to the theatrics of circus parades.
In 1870, following their evening drill at Fort Britomart, the Auckland Naval Volunteers (Reservists) decided to parade under arms through the city streets. When their band played ‘spirited airs’, an exuberant crowd soon fell in behind, ‘thus showing what an influence such parades … would have in popularising the movement, and inducing recruits to join.’1
Early military parades – processions of armed forces through the streets – emphasised the power of the state. After hearing in 1840 that Wellington settlers had set up their own government, Governor Hobson dispatched a military contingent to reassert his authority. The sight of soldiers marching along Lambton Quay soon led Wellingtonians to pledge loyalty to the Crown.
Royal visits allowed people to express their loyalty to the British Crown and encouraged large parades and elaborate street decoration – arches, flags, and festoons. The first visit by a member of the British royal family was by the Duke of Edinburgh in 1869. His arrival at Port Nelson was received with ‘tremendous cheers of several thousand persons’,2 after which he joined a parade of police, firemen, friendly-society members, children and politicians into the town.
Picnic and circus parades
Parades often preceded group picnics and galas. During the 1870s Auckland’s Sunday-schools held their annual picnics on New Year’s Day. In the morning processions of children marched through streets to their destinations. They returned in the evening in ‘little knots, showing in sunburnt faces the wear and tear of the day.’3
An 1880 parade of Cole’s circus attracted thousands to Wellington streets. The procession included ‘a cage of three lions, with the tamer calmly seated in their midst; a ferocious-looking savage seated in a large glass case, holding in his right hand a huge reptile; [and] two large and two baby elephants’. The parade, said the press, was ‘at once gay and imposing’ and the best of its kind to have come to the city.4
Circuses usually marked their arrival in town with a promotional parade of animals and performers.
In the 19th century most funeral processions consisted of a horse-drawn hearse followed by a few carriages and mourners on foot. By the 1880s it had become the convention to remove hats and stand in respectful silence until the group passed. Funeral processions for prominent citizens attracted big crowds.
There were few religious parades in New Zealand. Churches generally evangelised off the streets. The Salvation Army was an exception. From its arrival in 1883 it used street processions to promote its ministry. These included brass bands, singing, tambourine playing, banners and preaching.
A gruesome death
In 1867 the residents of Cambridge ‘executed’ an effigy of politician George Graham. The townsfolk loathed Graham – a Crown negotiator during the 1860s New Zealand Wars – for being a Māori sympathiser. Graham’s ‘death’ was long-drawn. After receiving 50 lashes, he was hanged. The effigy was taken down and paraded through the main streets to the tune of ‘The rogues march’. Afterwards the ‘corpse’ was riddled with bullets, before being burnt ‘amidst groans and hisses’.5
The first protest marches often involved effigy burning – combining demonstration and street theatre. In 1843 Aucklanders marked the end of Willoughby Shortland’s detested reign as acting governor with a large party and bonfire. After repeated cheering for Captain Robert FitzRoy, the new governor, ‘three groans – most awful’6 were proposed for Shortland, whose effigy was carried about and thrown into the fire. People who insulted or were perceived to work against local interests were also targets of effigy burning.
Irish Fenian protest march
Some protest marches were more subdued. In 1868 almost 800 people marched through Hokitika’s streets in a mock funeral for three Fenians (Irish nationalists) who had been hanged in Britain (contentiously) for killing a Manchester policeman. The procession ended at the cemetery, where a cross was erected to the memory of the men, infuriating those who believed them guilty.