Since the beginning of European settlement in New Zealand, Pākehā men have enjoyed spending time with their mates. Until the late 20th century many work situations were largely male – whether gangs of shearers or firms of stockbrokers. Men also met their mates for man-to-man camaraderie in informal situations such as the pub.
There were many leisure organisations set up exclusively for men. These included rugby and other sporting clubs, troops of volunteer soldiers or fire brigades, and unions; but male friendship was a by-product of these rather than their main purpose. Men’s clubs, by contrast, were set up primarily so that men could socialise with other men.
Men’s clubs were aimed at a range of social classes. From 1840 to the 1950s the major types of clubs were:
From the 1940s service clubs, originally founded in the US, spread fast, especially among business and professional men in cities and towns.
These clubs shared certain characteristics. They claimed to be non-political and free of religious prejudice. They were often associated with the consumption of food and alcohol, and tended to have a degree of secret ritual. The clubs were overwhelmingly Pākehā, with few Māori members. They provided significant training in leadership for other social purposes.
From the later 20th century all these clubs had a battle about the admission of women, which threatened the core of their existence. Almost all eventually did admit women, after various disputes, between the 1970s and early 21st century.
Men’s clubs suffered a decline in membership at the end of the 20th century. This reflected:
Gentlemen’s clubs emerged in 18th-century London. These exclusive associations of gentlemen possessed buildings where members could socialise, drink, dine, relax and occasionally reside.
When the Dunedin Club was set up in 1858, it was seen as an alternative to pubs ‘where you have to rough it in the old room with Tom, Dick and Harry, and have old Gallie, the dirty blacksmith, pop down on the next chair to you and ask what you’ll take.’1 Gentlemen’s clubs were widely seen as an escape from grog shops.
New Zealand’s first clubs were the Pickwick Club, briefly established in Wellington in May 1840; the Wakefield Club, formed there five months later to ‘preserve a high British tone’2; and the Wellington Club, set up in December 1841, which amalgamated with the Wakefield, probably within a decade.
Soon other clubs appeared – a short-lived one in New Plymouth (1853), then Auckland and Christchurch (1856), Dunedin (1858), Hawke’s Bay (1863), the Northern in Auckland (1869), Canterbury and Marlborough (1872), Poverty Bay (1874), Masterton (1877), Invercargill (1879), Hastings (1885) and Tauranga (1894). In Wellington the Junior Wellington Club appeared in 1891. It was later renamed the Wellesley.
Gentlemen’s clubs usually had the most up-to-date facilities – but when the Dunedin club introduced the newly-invented water closet in the 1870s there were some complaints. Colonel Henry Kitchener asked that the closets be lit, while John Cargill complained that ‘the water closet arrangements with regard to bum fodder are simply barbarous – old newspapers and government gazettes. Suggest that Kempthorne Prosser paper manufactured for the purpose be substituted.’3
The clubs attracted well-heeled men. In the 19th century most clubs had an annual fee of £5–£10 (compared to 10 shillings a year for some Workingmen's clubs), and new members had to be elected. The Wellington Club attracted lawyers, merchants and doctors, and provided honorary membership to the members of Parliament and the diplomatic corps.
The Christchurch and Dunedin clubs were established by pastoralists wanting an exclusive place to stay in town. Samuel Butler remembered that at the Christchurch Club in the early 1860s ‘the conversation was purely horsey and sheepy’.4 In 1872 the Canterbury Club opened to serve the business and professional leaders of the city. The Hawke’s Bay Club was started by former officers in the New Zealand Wars. Political leaders were well represented (for example, three of Canterbury’s four superintendents were Christchurch Club members), and all clubs provided welcome and farewell dinners for governors. The clubs always represented élite class interests – in the widespread strikes of 1913, members of the Wellesley Club volunteered as special constables.
In 1879 the chairman of the Canterbury Club wrote to New Zealand’s agent-general in London asking for a first-class female cook: ‘She must not be too young – nor too old – not too good-looking and not too ugly, but a real professor of her art!’5
The clubs were places for affluent men to socialise, smoke, drink, dine and play billiards together. On occasion they were used for business meetings. It is said the agreement for the Union Steam Ship Company to take over Westport Coal was made over a billiard game at the Dunedin Club – but the normal convention was that clubs were for relaxation, not work.
Every club had:
From the mid-20th century some clubs added squash courts and gymnasiums.
Clubs enforced strict gentlemanly codes of dress and behaviour – even in 2010 the Canterbury Club did not permit jeans, jandals, T-shirts or ‘provocative clothing’. Members who offended by, for example, breaking wind in the card room were reprimanded. The ‘oak, leather and crystal’6 style of the clubs imbued a sense of aristocratic elegance and restraint.
Gentlemen’s clubs were conceived of as ‘the place for gentlemen to foregather without benefit of their womenfolk’.7 Even wives of members were allowed entry only under exceptional circumstances. In 1894 the Canterbury Club invited women for afternoon tea on the first Tuesday of every month.
Things did not change until the 1990s, when the arguments of modern feminism and the public prominence of women made exclusion untenable. The Northern Club admitted women as full members in 1990, as did the Wellington Club in 1993 after the Governor-General, Dame Catherine Tizard, refused honorary membership until entry was open to women. The Christchurch Club opened its doors to women in 1998, but 55 male members resigned in protest. The Dunedin Club, where the ‘dead bodies’ (‘over my dead body!’) had defeated earlier proposals, finally gave way in 2001.
Social change hurt membership. Men began sharing more home responsibilities, and police blitzes to prevent drink-driving made evening functions problematic. Clubs became luncheon rather than dinner clubs. In 2010 the Auckland Club – which had seen membership dwindle to under 300, from over 1,000 in the 1980s – merged with the Northern Club. Some gentlemen’s clubs still prospered, but no longer as exclusive bastions of male privilege.
Workingmen’s clubs emerged in the industrial areas of England from the mid-19th century to provide recreational and educational services for working men. The first New Zealand club was set up in Dunedin in 1874, and three years later clubs were founded in Wellington, Napier and Greytown. By 1896 there were at least 12.
There were two drivers. One was dissatisfaction with the pubs, for encouraging heavy drinking. The second was a desire to encourage self-improvement among working men. The Wellington club was called a ‘Workingmen’s Club and Literary Institute’; many early clubs had the description ‘mutual school of arts’ in their titles, and all had a reading room or library. By the 1890s the Wellington club had over 3,000 books.
At the opening of the Wellington Workingmen’s Club in 1877, Henry Anderson, editor of the Evening Post, said, ‘When you come to the club at night, your wives and daughters, and sisters and sweethearts … will know that you have not gone to a mere drinking shop but that you will go back to them and meet their pure eyes without a single reason to feel ashamed or reproach.’1
Members were well-mannered working-class men. Subscriptions were low – often as low as 10 shillings a year (compared to £5-10 a year for gentlemen's clubs) – and there were strong disciplinary expectations against drunkenness and disorderly behaviour. There were debates about admitting Māori, and for a time the Kaiapoi club barred them.
During the 20th century self-improvement became less important, and the clubs became focused on drinking and socialising. From the 1890s the prohibition movement had presented challenges and prevented new charters being awarded to clubs. After 1904 the clubs were forced to act as if they were licensed premises, with restrictions on hours. In ‘dry’ areas (where sale of alcohol was prohibited) they also had to be ‘dry’. They were not supposed to sell liquor for off-site use. Some clubs, such as Invercargill, circumvented restrictions by a system of personal lockers in which alcohol was deposited. Selling alcohol at cheaper prices than the pubs remained important.
In the 1920s returned soldiers set up Returned Servicemen’s Association (RSA) clubs, which functioned much like workingmen’s clubs. In the King Country, which was officially ‘dry’, clubs filled the gap. By 1950 there were 35 clubs there.
Hotel failings were a continual spur – when West Coast pubs raised the price of beer in 1947, three workingmen’s clubs sprang up. The Riccarton club was started in 1954 out of ‘dissatisfaction with the service … at the local watering hole’.2 In 1957 there were 140 chartered clubs. There was a big rise in clubs in the 1960s, with a concentration in South Auckland, perhaps in response to the migration of Māori and Pacific people to the area. The breweries gave considerable financial assistance in the form of loans and guarantees. By 1980 there were 365 chartered clubs in the country. As concerns rose about drinking and driving, the clubs established courtesy vans and expanded their bottle stores.
When the Greymouth club was set up in 1947, it was officially called (as was the custom at that time) a ‘Workingmen’s club and Mutual School of Art’. President Rod Scorgie said, ‘We always reckoned the “Art” was in the drinking. I had a lovely lady call me one day wanting to put on a painting exhibition. I told her I was a bit out of my depth.’3
As drinking became more significant to the activities and finances of the clubs, sports and gaming expanded. In the 19th century members had played cards and darts. In the 20th century clubs offered billiards, cricket, golf, bowls (indoor and outdoor), rifle-shooting, squash and table tennis. There were competitions between clubs. From the late 1950s some clubs introduced a TAB (for gambling on horse races) into their clubrooms, and from the 1980s a gaming room. Revenue from ‘pokies’ (poker machines) compensated for shrinking booze revenues.
There were also live events, from housie and quizzes to line-dancing and musical gigs.
From the 1960s workingmen’s clubs were challenged to admit women. In general they liberalised sooner than gentlemen’s clubs. Women were active club fundraisers, so their needs had to be recognised. The first club to receive a charter with both genders as members was the Canterbury University Club in 1965. The first integrated working people’s club was the 1968 Kinleith Pulp and Paper Workers’ Socialist Association (later the Tokoroa Cosmopolitan Club). Among established workingmen’s clubs, the first to admit women was the Tinwald Workingmen’s Club in 1969. Four years later it was renamed the Tinwald Club. Many clubs followed in the 1980s, especially those founded in the 1960s. Resistance was rarely extreme.
The Whangamatā Workingmen’s Club defeated a motion for women’s membership in 1974 ,with some members saying it was ‘the last bastion of man’s independence’.4 However, when women were admitted three years later, a number of men apologised for their earlier stand.
Women took up membership with some enthusiasm. Many clubs changed their names to ‘Cosmopolitan’ rather than workingmen’s clubs, but the membership remained the respectable working class, and the clubs continued to be highly successful. In 2016, including gentlemen’s clubs, there were more than 300 chartered clubs (including gentlemen's clubs) in New Zealand. The Petone club alone had over 13,000 members and was a major landlord.
Freemasonry is an international fraternal organisation. It emphasises ritual and supports charity and community service.
The origins of the movement were the medieval lodges of British stonemasons, builders of cathedrals and castles. Lodges had been established to protect the secret skills of their trade. By the 18th century the lodges had lost their occupational role, and freemasonry spread among the middle-class men of the UK and Europe. By 1726 grand lodges had been established in England, Scotland and Ireland.
The first New Zealand Masonic meeting was in 1837 at Port Levy, Banks Peninsula, with a gathering of French masons on board the whaling ship Le Comte de Paris.
The first lodge was the New Zealand Pacific, under the English constitution, which met in Wellington in November 1842. The next year saw the inaugural meeting of the Ara Lodge in Auckland, under the Irish constitution. By 1861 Masonic lodges had opened in all the main ports, and Dunedin hosted the first lodge under the Scottish constitution. Most early members had been Masons in the UK, but membership spread steadily. By 1890 there were 151 lodges, and a movement emerged to create a New Zealand Grand Lodge. It was only partially successful, with 65 lodges joining. In 2016 there were over 230 active lodges and over 8,500 members.
The ancient stonemasons’ tools, the square and the compass, are the most important Masonic symbols. The square is said to remind members to behave properly, so that all conduct is ‘square’; the compass teaches them to keep their passions and prejudices within bounds.
Ceremony, symbolism and regalia were central to Masonic meetings. The members dressed up in formal clothes, with each rank marked by distinct aprons, gauntlets, chain collars and finely decorated ‘jewels’.
The initiation of new members and the installation of officers involved complex ceremonies. Initially meetings were often held in hotels, but most lodges built their own halls where their symbols could be displayed. The ritual and the signs and passwords exchanged between members were secret.
In 1876 the District Grand Master of the North Island, Sir Donald McLean, wore an ‘apron ornamented with the blazing sun embroidered in gold in the centre, on the edging the pomegranate and lotus with the seven-eared wheat at each corner, and also on the fall; all in gold embroidery; the fringe of gold bullion.’1
Following the formal monthly meetings, Masons would share a drink and a meal. Socialising was part of the attraction. There was frequently music and singing. There were also other social gatherings such as balls, ladies’ nights, Christmas parties, picnics, indoor bowls and banquets. In the 19th century Masons also took part in public ceremonies, such as the laying of foundation stones, parading in all their finery.
Freemasonry was never a benefit society, but it provided support to members in distress and assisted members’ widows and children. The movement also provided charity for the wider society. It had particular interests in the aged, youth and medical research.
In this poem a Mason’s wife complains about the complicated regalia she had to help her husband dress in:
Many years have hurried past
since he first joined the Craft,
I used to help with stiff front shirts
and know that I was daft
To crawl about on hands and knees
to find the stud he’d lost,
He could have bought some extra ones
for very little cost.2
Masons believed in one supreme being, but within this they claimed to welcome all Christian denominations. There was, however, a long history of mutual antagonism between Masons and Catholics.
Masons were exclusively a brotherhood. Although they held ladies’ nights and family picnics, and from 1964 some lodges admitted women into their refectories, Masons argued that to admit women would challenge the international principles of the movement.
Freemasonry grew until the 1960s. Then it declined, as the existing membership aged and younger men found alternative forms of entertainment and activities involving their spouses.
There were several other societies closely modelled on the Masons.
Friendly societies, which provided financial help when a family’s male breadwinner suffered sickness, accident or death, emerged among British working men in the 18th century. The industrial revolution created a need for such societies.
New Zealand’s first friendly-society lodge was established in Nelson, by nine passengers from the Martha Ridgway who had held meetings in the ship’s long boat en route to New Zealand. Four days after arriving in April 1842 they formally set up the Loyal Nelson Lodge of the Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows.
Members of British lodges brought the idea to New Zealand. The first lodge (of the Manchester Unity Order of Odd Fellows), was formed by new immigrants in 1842.
Within a decade the order had lodges in all the main centres except New Plymouth, and by 1879 it had 113 lodges and over 8,000 members. Other orders sprang up, including:
By 1901 friendly societies had 41,236 members – 15% of all adult males. The societies’ support for members in the First World War and the influenza epidemic led to a rise in the 1920s, and by 1938 there were 113,709 members.
Friendly societies emerged in the cities before expanding into smaller towns. Members were the skilled, the semi-skilled and the self-employed. New members had to be between the ages of 16 and either 40 or 45, and were subjected to a tough investigation to ensure they were of moral character and sober habits. They had to be Christian and in good financial standing, and swear allegiance to the Crown.
Sectarianism and politics were excluded from lodge discussions, although the Hibernians eventually supported Irish nationalist aspirations.
The societies’ main role was to provide for their members in times of illness and death. If a worker fell ill, he would receive support of up to £1 a week. To assuage his fears of a pauper’s funeral, his funeral, coffin, plot and headstone were paid for. Most lodges had separate funds to support widows and orphans, and in the early 20th century they introduced medical benefits. Lodges contracted a doctor to provide free medical consultations for families – this became a more significant attraction than the sickness benefit. Friendly societies collaborated to operate pharmacies. By 1931 there were 31 United Friendly Society pharmacies with 50,000 members.
Due to the societies’ role in providing welfare, the government soon became interested in them and established a registrar of friendly societies. The registrar pushed for contributions to match expected payouts, and for small lodges to centralise their funds. By the 1920s most societies had followed these recommendations.
The Social Security Act 1938, providing for unemployment support and state medical benefits, challenged the societies’ role, and membership fell to 77,134 in 1948. In response, the societies moved into life and pension insurance, home finance and holiday cottages. In 2014 there were 88 traditional friendly societies (excluding organisations such as workingmen’s clubs), with 23,614 members.
In their use of passwords, initiation rites and hierarchy, friendly societies imitated the Freemasons. Rank was reflected in embroidered aprons, collars and badges.
After the formal business, members retired to the ‘hearth circle’ for drinking and singing. From the 1880s many lodges built their own halls (often at the cost of the lodge’s solvency), and held smoke concerts, banquets, anniversary dinners and inter-lodge competitions. Friendly society members paraded in their regalia on public occasions.
The temperance lodges included women because of their special interest in prohibition, and in 1876 the Rechabites set up a separate female ‘tent’. The 1890s suffrage movement led New Zealand to break with British tradition and establish women’s lodges of equal status with men’s. In 1894 the Foresters opened two courts for women, and the other orders followed. But in 1900 there were still only 142 women in friendly societies. In the 1910s there was a move to allow women into male lodges. This caused some initial conflict, but by the late 1930s nearly all city lodges were mixed. The few women who joined were usually single workers who left after marrying. The traditions of the societies kept them strongly male.
Service clubs originated in the American Midwest. Like other male clubs, they offered fraternal socialising, free of political opinions and religious beliefs – and added a primary focus on community service. Service clubs boomed after the Second World War. By the 1970s it was claimed there was a higher per-capita membership of Rotary, Lions and Jaycees in New Zealand than in any other country. Membership declined from the 1980s as alternative entertainments emerged, and expectations of shared parenting made it less acceptable for men to spend their free time on male-only projects.
Rotary was begun in Chicago in 1905 by Paul Harris, a lawyer. New Zealand politician George Fowlds’s visit to North America, where he attended a Rotary meeting, led to the first clubs in Wellington and Auckland in 1921. By 1930 there were 23 clubs in the larger towns, with over 1,000 members. From 1938 Rotary spread to small towns. By 1970, after spectacular growth, the movement had 175 clubs and almost 10,000 members. In 2015 there were 265 clubs in six districts, with 8,530 members (a drop of 3,000 from 1980). Members were usually in late middle age and worked in senior management in business or the professions.
The monthly meetings involved a lunch (or dinner in small towns), business and a visiting speaker. Members were ‘fined’ for small misdemeanours to raise funds. Rotary focused on three kinds of service:
Fraternal activities included golf tournaments, barbecues, theatre visits, champagne breakfasts or visits to other clubs.
Efforts were made to attract young men, with Interact clubs in schools and Rotaract clubs for those aged 18–28. In 1974 the first Probus Club was formed in Kāpiti to offer lectures to retired professional and business men.
Women had a separate club, the Inner Wheel, which began in New Zealand in Napier in 1936. However, from 1989 Rotary allowed women to become full members. In the early 21st century, 20 of the 150 members of the original Wellington club were women.
Lions began in Chicago in 1917, and reached Auckland in 1955. They grew fast in the 1960s and 1970s, reaching a peak in 1994 with 539 clubs and 15,639 members.
Lions were broader than Rotary in the occupations of its members, but shared the commitment to projects for improving the local community. In 2016 there were 389 Lions clubs and almost 11,000 members, making it the largest service organisation in New Zealand.
Lions also initiated special clubs for different age groups – Leo clubs for those aged 15–20, New Century Clubs for those aged 18–34, and Pakeke Lions for those 55 and over. There were Lioness Clubs for women from 1976 – but in 1987 the international movement changed the constitution to allow women to become full members. In 2004 20% of Lions were women.
Despite the similarities of the three major service clubs, there have been several efforts to define their differences. One view was: ‘Rotary members owned the town; the Lions membership worked the town; and the Jaycees played the town’. Another view was: ‘Jaycees thought and sold it; Lions built and operated it; Rotary paid for it.’1
Jaycees (an abbreviation of ‘junior chambers of commerce’) differed from other service clubs in having an age restriction (18–40), and placing as much emphasis on educating young leaders as on community service projects.
The movement started in St Louis, US, in 1915, and began in New Zealand as an off-shoot of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce. There were five chapters and 860 members in 1944, and then the movement took off as young men starting white-collar careers sought to improve the infrastructure of their suburbs. By 1970 there were 164 chapters and 6,367 members.
Jaycees were committed to a belief in God and the value of free enterprise. They provided significant training in meeting procedure, debating and project management. Initially they supported local amenities such as parks and playgrounds, and later promotional ventures like industry fairs or tourist brochures.
Jaycees spawned informal women’s auxiliaries, sometimes called Jaycettes, to assist their partners. From 1973 some chapters began admitting women – which was formally accepted nationwide after some debate in 1977. By the 2010s there were few active clubs left.
Other male service groups included:
Butterworth, Graham, and Susan Butterworth. Jaycee: developers of people, builders of communities. Wellington: Ngaio Press, 2007.
Ogilvie, Gordon. The shagroons’ palace: a history of the Christchurch Club, 1856–2006. Christchurch: Henry Elworthy for the Christchurch Club, 2005.
Parry, Gordon. Tradition and change: the first 150 years of the Dunedin Club. Dunedin: Dunedin Club, 2008.
Rolfe, Jack. In the club: a history of the chartered club movement in New Zealand. Auckland: Celebrity Books, 2000.