Quick March, journal of the Returned Soldiers Association who made support for the White New Zealand their number one policy plank

Quick March, journal of the Returned Soldiers Association who made support for the White New Zealand policy their number one platform plank

by Philip Ferguson

Chinese numbers in New Zealand dropped through the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century – from 4,444 in 1891 to 2,630 in 1911, while the European population expanded substantially.  In April 1921, there were 3,266 Chinese and a total non-Maori population of 1,218, 913.  Whereas in 1881, the 5,004 Chinese were 1.02 percent of the non-Maori population, they were now an even more meagre 0.36 percent.[1]  Yet after WWI campaigning against the Chinese was renewed, as was the discourse of “influx”.  The dichotomy between the prosaic reality of the Chinese presence and the hyperbole of the discourse suggests the Chinese had become the focus of something resembling a moral panic.  This can, in turn, be explained by the growth of fears of racial decay and the emergence of new organisations whose nationalism and racial fears provided the backdrop for renewed campaigning against the Chinese (and other unwanted immigrants).

White New Zealand after WW1: intellectual thought

In the period from 1910 to the opening of World War I, White New Zealand ideas continued to be strengthened by organisations campaigning for various forms of ‘improvement’.  Eugenics groups, for instance, expanded, from 1910.  That year a Dunedin branch of the Eugenics Education Society was founded on August 2.  Its main figures were a collection of middle class professionals, such as J.H. Walker, the chairman of the Otago Hospital and Charitable Aid Board; W.B. Benham, professor of biology at Otago University and a strong advocate of banning the ‘unfit’ from marrying[2]; the Anglican Rev. Canon Curzon-Siggers, who was active in the Society for the Protection of Women and Children (SPWC); and Dr Emily Seideberg, another SPWC activist, who was also the country’s first woman medicine graduate and a feminist.  The Dunedin branch’s governing council consisted of three ministers, two university professors and seven doctors.[3]  In Wellington, a branch was initiated by H.O.B. Kirk, professor of biology at Victoria; leading figures included Stout; Plunket founder Truby King; T.M. Wilford, who would go on to lead the Liberals from 1919-25; and an array of medical men and leading figures in the state bureaucracy.  Feminism was represented by Mrs A.R. Atkinson, a vice-president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and activist in SPWC.[4]  The WCTU warmly welcomed the formation of the Eugenics Education Society.[5]  The president of the national society was Liberal attorney-general J.M. Findlay, while fellow cabinet minister George Fowlds was a vice-president.  Findlay spoke and wrote on fears of national decay and the danger of extinction.[6]

The following year, 1911, saw the publication in Christchurch of Degeneracy, a work by  stipendiary magistrate H.W. Bishop.  This emphasised the “necessity for securing the purity of the race”.[7]  In July, a eugenics society was established in Christchurch.  Bishop was in the chair and delivered what the Press called a “striking address”.  The paper felt his experience as a magistrate made him an “undoubted authority”.  The paper also explicitly stated the aim of the meeting was “the purity of the race”.  Fear of a decreasing birth rate and the allegedly growing numbers of “degenerates” – who were “increasing out of all proportion to the desirables” – were seen as giving eugenics organisation urgency.  The meeting itself had been called at the request of members of the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board.  Along with Bishop, doctors and ministers of religion featured prominently on the executive of the new Christchurch eugenics group.  The Press editorial lamented, however, that the public was not yet ready for some of the solutions being suggested by eugenists.[8]  Press columnist Hygeia recommended Octavius Beak’s Racial Decay, which had been published the year before.  Beak was a member of the Australian Royal Commission which had investigated the falling birth rate.  Hygeia drew an explicit link between eugenics and fear of Asia, arguing that while European and Australasian countries were threatened with the “Cloud of Extinction”, “the teeming millions of the Far East. . . are rapidly increasing, and it is their policy to maintain this increase, because it bids fair to assure their national preponderance and ascendancy in the near future.”  Fear of Japanese and Chinese invasion, she noted, was also put forward at a recent eugenics address in Wellington as a reason for having larger families.[9]  In 1912 the national society printed and distributed 10,000 copies of What is Eugenics?[10]

As Fleming notes, eugenics was “based on neo-Darwinian beliefs which saw the white civilized races pitted against the rapidly multiplying hordes from the East.”[11]  Eugenics generally turned fears of decline and decay “into a campaign to direct biological progress, and to save the middle class and the white race from evolutionary oblivion.”[12]  While little study has been done in New Zealand on the connection between eugenics and immigration policy, the connections have been explored to varying degrees in North America.  In the United States, the writings of eugenists such as Madison Grant, Prescott Hall and Harry Laughlin “played a major role in convincing the public and Congress that the immigrant was suspect” and bringing about new restrictive Acts in 1921 and 1924.[13]  Eugenics was “used as a scientific buttress for legislation and policies born of racist and nativist sentiments.”[14]  In the case of Canada, Valverde has shown the linkages of racial purity, sexual purity and immigration policy for the same period while Barbara Roberts has shown how eugenics ideas legitimised racist exclusion policies by giving them a ‘scientific’ cover.[15]  In New Zealand, eugenists, as we have seen, were highly influential people and their ideas were an important part of the intellectual mainstream.  Their themes are very much those to be found in characterisations of the Chinese ‘Other’ and rationalisations of exclusion – most especially the fear of degeneration/racial deterioration that was seen as accompanying racial cosmopolitanism.

In some cases, there were very direct links between eugenics and the government – e.g. the involvement of cabinet ministers such as Findlay and Fowlds, the latter serving as minister of immigration.  Eugenics ideas, moreover, were not simply taken up among doctors, biologists, politicians, and feminists and other social campaigners.  Church groups could also combine philanthropy with racial improvement, for instance by promoting schemes for the immigration of suitable children.  Thus the Dunedin Presbytery could look forward to bringing out from Britain children who were “good physically, morally, and mentally” with the idea of providing opportunity in New Zealand.  Their plans were welcomed by Immigration Minister Nosworthy.[16]  Two days after its report on the Dunedin scheme, the Press reported on a similar plan, this time to bring British males in their late teens to New Zealand to work as indentured farm-hands.  A new Master and Apprentice Act Amendment Bill was presented to cover them.  Once again, the paper stated the view that the ideal immigrant was from the British Isles and of good health and character.[17]

While middle class elements, especially intellectuals such as Edward Tregear and John Macmillan Brown “did not wish to be associated with the prejudice of the ‘rabble’” they nevertheless held “conceptions of nationality (which) were, almost by definition, exclusionist.”[18]  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that Tregear became a vice-president of the White Race League in 1907.  Brown, who taught subjects such as classics, political economy and history at Canterbury, was an ardent eugenist.  His Canterbury University lectures on “The Pacific after the Russo-Japanese War”, referred to in the previous chapter, are permeated with Darwinist and eugenic ideas, often related to climate.  For instance, one of these lectures opens with the following: “The mistress of the Pacific must be in the temperate zone, the nursery of vigorous constitutions, strong wills and imperial ambitions.”  He continues: “The harsh conditions, not harsh enough to crush development, kill off the weaklings through the centuries, and by this vigorous selection forge nations hard and keen as steel, fit for the conquest of nature and then of man.”[19]

Even the English language carried freedom – “the heritage of the Briton more than of any other race” – with it wherever it went.[20]  In equatorial areas, however, nature “pampers her nursling, man” in “luxurious enjoyment of her better moods” and “superstitious fear” of her wilder aspects.[21]  Brown differentiated sharply between Orientals and Europeans, while making Japan an exception, as we saw in the last chapter.  He claimed a “radical and deep” spiritual contrast between East and West and that the “core” of this was in divergent attitudes to telling and seeking the truth.  “Orientals,” he claimed, “are satisfied with illusions, may cling to them as the best of life.  They feel no shame about lying, in fact consider it rather meritorious if not found out.”  Indeed, “lying and deceit are as the air they breathe.” As a result, “(t)he Oriental is and must be dealt with as a cheat and a liar until found otherwise.”  By contrast, Westerners had honesty ground into them through the long development of commerce.  Oriental attitudes to truth also made them believe in “world-old fancies and superstitions. . . there is no science in the East. . . (The) odd fact here and there in China’s knowledge and invention. . . is there by mere accident.”  This also impacted on progress: “With this deliberate blindness to reality and truth, there is not and cannot be any progress or love of progress.”  If there was any ideal at all in the East, “it is to be intellectually stagnant. . .”  Eastern “patience and endurance” was like “the fatalism of primitive peoples.”  Additionally, “(t)here is no public spirit.”[22]

In contrast, New Zealand was a “sociological laboratory” in whose settlement there was “great deliberation”.  Idealism motivated many leaders and settlers of the new country, bringing about “idealist legislation long before the Seddon administration.”  At the end of the nineteenth century, “New ideals, especially those of Prohibition and Woman Suffrage, were forced on it from Christchurch, the chief storm-centre of idealism.”  Protected by British naval power, New Zealand “may come to be ready to hold her own before the Oriental nations have surplus energy and the ambition to seek new spheres for it.”[23]  Happily, from this view, “one of the most singular phenomena in the history of the world is the arrested development of the Chinese race. . .”  As the Chinese Empire had become luxurious and effete it was conquered and isolated, reducing the number of competitive types through which “the law of the survival of the fittest” worked.  The tropics would “never rule the world.  Ham shall not bear rule because his dark skin reveals the enervating tropics in his veins.” The Pacific would remain dominated by a white and island nation due to the specific qualities of non-tropical island nations.  New Zealand, however, faced dangers in that its supposedly Mediterranean-like climate was in danger of breeding people “too pleasure-loving” and its reforming legislation might remove “the conditions that nature has attached to all life in order to stimulate its progress. . .”  Nevertheless, the Pacific would be Anglo-Saxonised, and thus white Pacific Rim countries need not fear Japanese leadership or miscegenation.[24]

Chinese adaptation to living on little, combined with their numbers, “is about to be the greatest threat to the well-being of the West,” he argued.[25]  Moreover, if China reformed itself, “The conquests of Alexander, or Napoleon, or Genghis Khan would be mere temporary raids” in comparison to its advance.  “Waves (of Chinese) would precede its armies into neighbouring countries and sinify them. . .”  They would become part of China.  Chinese goods would flood the world market, bringing other industrial nations “to their knees”.  Chinese labour was not only cheap but efficient, and thus able to displace European labour.  But while an awakened China would pose a threat to the West, this awakening was limited by the Chinese “moral defect”.  China, he thus claimed, “will be the giant restless in sleep but never awake.”[26]

While some racial thinkers saw the Chinese as a mongrel race, Brown argued their brains were “heavier” than those of Europeans due to a longer period of intellectual pursuits.  Asking, “Why has so brainy a race failed?”, he suggested it was due to their purity:

“It is the cross-bred that progresses; it is the pure species that remains stagnant.  Perpetual crossing produces the supply of variants that is needed as the arena for the law of survival of the fittest; if all the new generations produced are as alike as batches of bread, there is but one type survives, and there is no scope or opportunity for competition, the fundamental principle of all progress.”[27]

Thus while Brown favours forms of cross-breeding, rather than racial purity, this is a twist within a shared framework whose preoccupations are racial fitness, survival and progress.  The fact that by this period, Brown had moved from an earlier liberal political outlook to a more conservative one, also shows the degree of unanimity between social conservatives and liberals in terms of fears of and solutions to social decay and racial decline.

In these lectures are to be found ideas which were dominant intellectually in the Anglo-Saxon world and other imperialist centres.  In New Zealand, intellectuals like Brown transmitted them to students who then took them into their professions and disseminated them in the wider society.  Brown and other intellectuals also, of course, delivered public lectures and wrote in both the learned journals of the time and in the mass-circulation press.  Brown’s views on subjects such as race, fitness, climate and competition did not appreciably change over the years after these lectures.  Nor do they appear to have been altered by his subsequent travels in the East.  Thus after a sojourn there, he continued to make such claims as, “The life of a nation is an amalgam of racial elements and environmental influences.”  In the case of China, “Nature’s Spartan training” produced fatalism.  The Chinese were also “mortgaged to the past”, while their “fondness for huddling together” made life a greater struggle and intensified competition.[28]  Chinese civilisation was so old “with constant, if not unchanging features, that they can wipe out any racial qualities and culture that they encounter.  No race has remain so long a race, no culture has remained so long uniform and changeless.  Nor has any race ever been so prolific and expansive in numbers.”[29].

A classic example of educated middle and upper class racial fears appears in a letter to the editor by an Auckland headmaster in 1914.  The writer argued that an alien population in New Zealand would result in “a national calamity”.  Firstly, if the conqueror and conquered had “kindred blood”, the race would be strengthened by amalgamation, but if they were of “alien blood”, amalgamation would result in weakness.  This, he claimed, was evident in “half-breed races all over the world, especially in America and India.”  Secondly, the Eastern mind and habits were “influenced and moulded by the ages of soul-enchaining superstition and idolatary (sic).”  Indian religion, for instance, “inculcates lasciviousness” and “teaches worship of the human sexual organs.”  It lay “like an awful pall of hellish sin” over Indian minds and consciences.  No “Christian white country” could welcome or allow in such people.[30]

The interweaving of ideas of social, economic and racial protection and improvement were evident in other forms, too – for instance, protectionism.  Economic protectionist ideas were not just promoted by the labour movement, but by important sections of New Zealand capital and within the parties which represented their interests most clearly, Liberal and Reform.  The first volume of the Reform Party’s Light and Liberty journal, which began publication in 1913, provides a glimpse of the linkages.  In a box headed ‘Words of Wisdom’, the writer advocates “(a)mple protection on things we can produce, and good wages.”  He links lack of protectionism in Britain to falling living standards of workers there and raises the alarm about Asian competition in the following terms:

“The Orient has and is erecting huge industries equipped with modern machinery, worked and to be with Asiatic labour (sic).  The question suggests itself to my people – how can any English-speaking country cope with this menace unless amply protected to save our industries and wage-earners from being brought down to the Asiatic level?”[31]

As well as linking various forms of protection, all of which are integral to the discourse of New Zealand nationalism during the period covered by this thesis, this item repeats the racialised view that Asian labour and Asian levels of existence are inherently degraded or low.

Nationalism, patriotism and citizenship

One of the significant aspects of the 1920 immigration legislation was its codification of patriotism and the linkage between patriotism, nationalism, citizenship and race.  The 1918 national conference of the powerful Farmers Union passed a motion “That the National Flag should be hoisted at all schools and the children taught to salute it on all State occasions.”[32]  An editorial in the Press in August 1920 drew attention to the change between the 1899 Act and postwar concerns.  The earlier Act was concerned with “nothing more serious (than) the control of coloured immigration and the question of illiteracy in white immigrants. . .  The war has changed everything.”  Now, the editorial said, it was vital for immigrants to take an oath of allegiance.[33]  The same view was on display the month before at the unveiling of a memorial at St Albans school in Christchurch.  Speeches by L.M. Isitt MP and Education Minister C.J. Parr stressed the importance of patriotism and citizenship.  Parr saw a special role for the discipline of history in this, saying it would tell young people about the great fights for liberty and how they had come to live in a free country.  Such history “would instill a proper appreciation of the proud position those were in who possessed British citizenship.”  He praised teachers who had put “the true patriotic spirit” into their charges, who had then been keen to “hot-foot to the war. . . “  He did not want any teachers who were not loyal to the Empire or not “a loyal member of the finest citizenship of the world – British citizenship.”[34]

Chief Justice Sir Robert Stout, probably the country’s leading public intellectual from the 1890s until his death in 1930, suggested that while the war had shown many fine qualities among people it had also revealed that “physical weakness, mental inability and moral degeneracy are still prevalent amongst our people and the message both of the War and of Peace to United States is that these defects must be eliminated.”[35]  In 1917, in a lecture in Invercargill attended by 500 people, he talked of the need for higher ideals.  Humans were involved in a struggle for a “higher and nobler race – a race with physical strength, brain power and kindly heart.”  People must have a view of the “capacity of untold progress of mankind.”  Patriotism must be seen everywhere and “citizenship would be the biggest thing.”  The country’s cities “would be clean and sweet, with no slums and no bad citizens menacing their civilisation.”  In such a society, “Liberty would reign.”[36]  Stout had also argued, shortly before the war, “The existence of disease is a menace to the race” and that people who did not preserve their health were “unpatriotic”.  In particular people who indulged in alcohol and drugs were “committing a crime against society.”[37]  As we have seen, the complaints about the Chinese focussed on allegations that their characteristics were the opposite of all these desirable traits.  Thus the new discourse of citizenship, created by liberal middle class intellectuals such as Stout and conservative groups such as the Farmers Union could only serve to strengthen their exclusion.

After the war two more powerful lobby groups – the Returned Soldiers Association and the National Defence League[38] – were added to those opposed to Chinese entry and to racial mixing.  The RSA was also linked with the Farmers Union – for instance, the RSA elected its own representative to the executive of the Farmers Union. ANZAC day also emerged “as a racial heritage” as “’pride of race’ took precedence over ‘pride of class’ among the men who fought for ‘King and Country’, and in myths about the men who were ‘tested and proved’ at Gallipoli.”[39]

Returned Soldiers Association

The RSA declared in the first issue of its paper Quick March that this was “a paper for all of the people all of the time” and referred to belonging to “one great brotherhood” whose aim was “to uphold the inherent and sacred tenets of British freedom, the humanitarian principles of equity, justice and righteousness, and the glorious unsullied traditions of the Old Flag. . .”[40]  The Chinese, however, were placed outside this “great brotherhood”.  In its major statement released to electors and candidates in the run-up to the 1919 election, the RSA asked “that the general policy of a White New Zealand be adopted.”[41]  Major divisions of the RSA explicitly adopted the same stance.  A 350-strong meeting of Auckland RSA, for instance, adopted an 8-point programme on April 16, 1919.  The first six points dealt with returned soldiers’ actual material needs, but point seven was headed ‘Asiatic Immigration’ and declared, “That the principle of a White New Zealand be affirmed.”  There appears to have been no dissent.[42]  Two months later, the ‘Things Odd and Queer’ column of Quick March mocked a new book of Chinese poetry.[43]  In September 1919 the executive of the Christchurch RSA received a letter from two returned servicemen asking for “protection from the association” from competition by “Chinamen Fruiterers” who had opened up a new business located between the two ex-soldiers.  The executive favoured “preventing the chinamen (sic) opening up a new business in this particular district.”[44]  On October 9, a general meeting of the Christchurch RSA carried a motion “deplor(ing) the fact that any Britisher would let his shop to Chinamen, knowing they intended opening a fruit business in opposition to returned soldiers.”[45]  In April 1920 letters appeared in local newspapers in Timaru protesting custom being given to Chinese fruiterers at night when the street lights were off.  On the night of Saturday, April 17 a small crowd attacked and “wrecked, more or less” four Chinese shops.  No arrests were made.[46]  Among those involved were local RSA members.

In late May-early June 1920, the national conference of the RSA expressed great concern with what it perceived as an “influx” of Asian immigrants, most particularly “Hindus” and Chinese.  Immigration was discussed on June 3 and among the resolutions agreed to were one rallying the troops behind the slogan of White New Zealand and calling for meetings across the country to press for tighter controls.  It stated:

That the conference draw the attention of the Government to the increasing number of Hindus and Chinese that are arriving in New Zealand, and request that the Immigration Restriction Act be amended to stop without further delay the immigration of Hindus and Chinese, and affirm the principle of a white New Zealand, and that all Associations throughout New Zealand be requested to convene a public meeting in their district prior to the meeting of Parliament to protest against the unrestricted influx of Hindus and Chinese.[47]

The conference was also informed that, during the previous 12 months, the Prince of Wales had been enrolled as life patron, Admiral Jellicoe as life member, and leading military figures – Major-Generals Russell and Chaytor and Brigadier-Generals Richardson, Hunt and Stewart – had also been enrolled.[48]  This made the heir to the British throne, Britain’s leading naval commander, and NZ’s leading army commanders members of an organisation dedicated to the preservation of White New Zealand.[49]  The resolution of the annual conference appears to have been then taken to local areas.  For instance, the quarterly general meeting in Christchurch on July 12 adopted a resolution whose wording is the same as that above, up to the words White New Zealand. In the minute book it is also recorded under the heading of White New Zealand.[50]  On August 30 a meeting of the Wellington RSA unanimously adopted a three-part motion that went even further, stating

“(1) That this Association affirms the principle of a white New Zealand, and asks the Government to take immediate steps to stop the invasion of this country by coloured people, alien in race, language and religion, otherwise we will soon be faced with a problem similar to that confronting the USA and the white colonists of Africa

(2) That the Association also requests the repatriation of all Chinese and Indians who have come to the country since 1914.

(3) That the Association suggests that for the future the number of Indians allowed to remain here should not exceed the number of New Zealanders settled in India.”

A.B. Sievwright, who seconded the motion, contended that Asians in New Zealand would be a menace if trouble broke out in the East.  Opposition was also expressed to the Wellington town clerk having advertised for a Chinese cook and to Chinese-white miscegenation in Queensland.  Another speaker, Magnus Badger, said it did not reflect well on New Zealanders that so many Chinese were trading in main streets.  One of the new elements in the motion was the hostility to Indians.[51]  The fact that New Zealander and Indian had fought together in defence of the Empire, just several years earlier appears to have counted for little with the RSA leaders and members in Wellington.

RSA agitation in support of White New Zealand was not satisfied by the 1920 legislation.  For instance, the following year the annual conference of the Canterbury District of the RSA, presided over by its president the Reverend W. Walker and attended by 10 delegates from the region, passed policy which “again urges upon Government, the urgent necessity of stopping without delay the continued immigration of Indians and Chinese to this Dominion, as their presence in our midst constitutes a moral and economic menace to the white population of this country.”[52]

These kinds of motions continued to appear in the RSA in the early 1920s.  Many in the organisation, certainly among the level of office-holders, strongly favoured immigration to build up New Zealand’s population – but the immigrants wanted were Imperial ex-servicemen who were seen as a force to bolster White New Zealand.  For instance at a district conference in Christchurch in May 1923, RSAers adopted a remit seeing Imperial immigration as “the best safeguard” for “the policy of a white New Zealand.”[53]  The links between immigration and race on the one hand and democracy and citizenship on the other could be seen here too, as the RSA argued the government should have “a progressive land policy” to develop all land, whether Crown or private, and aim at close settlement of the land.[54]  Here, again, was the idea of a progressive, small-property-owning, land-based, democracy.

National Defence League

The National Defence League was established from a meeting in Wellington on April 6, 1920.[55]  Its president was Major-General Sir Andrew Russell and the first of its list of objects was “To maintain a White New Zealand.”[56]  On April 10, Russell issued a policy statement, again listing the first of the new organisation’s policies as the maintenance of “a White New Zealand”.  The Press Association report of his policy release stated:

“General Russell points out that the storm centre of the world is moving eastward, and we are at the point where East meets West, both of them probably in their highest state of development.  Though there is a certain fusion elsewhere, there can be none here, and in the clash of ideals ours may go under unless we can keep our shores inviolate.”[57]

The deployment of a virginal metaphor was not accidental.  The NDL explicitly linked racial purity with public health and fitness and national independence, democracy and citizenship.  For instance it wanted to suppress “bad language” in its camps, and favoured the “devotion of special attention to the moral training of the youth of this country, and their education in the ideals of good citizenship.”  It wanted a democratic, citizen-based defence force, state ownership of all armaments production, and its members, at least purportedly, “loathe(d) and despise(d) militarism”.  The organisation was, officially, non-party political and no serving soldiers were allowed to hold positions in it.[58]

However the NDL and the RSA formed a close relationship.  For instance, the Canterbury provincial executive of the RSA agreed all RSAs in the province should discuss the aims and objects of the NDL and all returned soldiers should give it their support.[59]  Perhaps more surprising was the NDL’s presence at the Labour Party conference in 1920, especially given that Russell had been at the head of ‘Massey’s Cossacks’ in Wellington during the 1913 industrial struggle.  (Russell did, however, assure the LP conference he would not do this again.) In his speech, the general declared he was “strongly opposed to the invasion of German territory by uncivilised Black troops and thought such action was a grievous mistake.”  In regards to the Massey government, he felt that if they “did not believe in a White New Zealand he would favour turning it out.”  He also felt that “(t)he danger to New Zealand unquestionably comes from the East.”[60]  Russell’s speech to the conference is interesting not only for the racism it shows at the top of New Zealand society, but also because it shows that the NDL attempted to appeal to the Labour Party on a racist basis.

There was a certain degree of hypocrisy evident in the racial attitudes of the elite in New Zealand, for instance the Reform government and papers such as the Press.  While being ardently in favour of a White New Zealand, they favoured the use of Chinese labour, moreover indentured labour, in Samoa.  The Press was prepared to condone indentured Chinese labour in the New Zealand colonial possession because, it alleged, Samoans would not work.[61]  Sir James Allen, defending the use of such labour, following a strong attack on it by Labour leader Harry Holland, officially replied that without such labour Samoa would “relapse into nature and go out of cultivation” which, in turn, “must affect the cost of living.”[62]


The labour movement was certainly not to be left behind in the anti-Chinese stakes.  Labour gatherings after WW1 indicate that both industrial unions and the party were strong supporters of the White New Zealand policy, increasingly using racial rather than economic arguments as justification.  For instance, the 1919 party conference featured a remit from the Auckland Printers’ Machinists Union, “that conference appoint a committee to approach the Government with a view to prohibiting members of any colored race from entering New Zealand; failing this a more severe test of education should be placed on Hindoos.”  Savage and Holland succeeded in a motion to establish a committee to examine the immigration question.[63]  This reported to the conference the following year (see below).

In April 1920 Michael Joseph Savage, Bill Parry and Frederick Bartram telegrammed Massey asking that “steps be immediately taken to deal with (the) menace” of an “alarming influx of Asiatics and other classes of cheap labour. . .”  The Labour figures argued that this influx inevitably involved “the lowering of the living standards of our people, as well as the probable deterioration in the physical standard of all races mixing indiscriminately. . .”[64]  Here was a eugenics-type argument, showing the degree to which middle and upper class racial ideology had penetrated the labour movement.  And, as we saw above, the Labour conference in July 1920 welcomed NDL leader Russell as a guest speaker.  At the start of June, 1920 Auckland watersiders decided not to work ships carrying ‘Asiatic’ migrants.  A union official claimed, “The Chinaman is fast ousting the white man in the retail fruit trade.”  The “Hindoos”, meanwhile, were allegedly hawking butter door-to-door.  The watersiders’ action was directed against what they saw as a “continuous stream” of Chinese and Hindus “pouring into” New Zealand.”[65]  The Auckland watersiders also warned of the danger of a “piebald population” if ‘Asiatics’ and whites merged.[66]

When the committee set up by the 1919 conference reported to the 1920 conference, it criticised the existing levels of immigration from Europe but nevertheless felt that the “proper development” of New Zealand necessitated such white immigration.  It criticised the government for not adequately curbing Asian entry.  As well as repeating the old view that Asians were being brought in as cheap labour, it expressed the now-dominant view from above that an Asian population in New Zealand “would result in an intermingling of the races detrimental to all.”[67]  It called for a more rigid educational test and yet argued that Asians who managed to get in under such a test should only be employed under award wages.  Fighting for all workers to be covered by award wages was surely the best way to prevent Asians, or any other group of workers, being used as cheap labour, yet the movement never drew this conclusion.  Instead, the cheap labour argument was not eclipsed by a radical, socialist alternative – open entry and the organisation of all workers – but by a more openly racialised standpoint centred on racial purity.  Thus while one delegate, Kennedy, asked for more time to discuss the immigration committee’s report and criticised the lack of internationalism on the industrial wing of the labour movement, Red Fed firebrand and leading LP figure Pat Hickey called for the report to be adopted without further ado and accentuated the racial argument, saying that “(i)t was as far as possible their duty to keep New Zealand white.  Internationalism did not mean a reckless intermingling of white and coloured races.”[68]

The scapegoating of Chinese could be quite extraordinary.  For instance an article in the Maoriland Worker in early 1919 focused on who was responsible for high prices for fruit and vegetables.   It began by focussing on auction firms but soon dragged in the Chinese, claiming, “The auctioneer takes advantage of RACIAL ANTIPATHY, and ‘works’ the Chinaman against the white man.”  The writer goes on to claim “high prices do not hurt the Chinese retailer” while being “ruinous to the white retailer”.  The white retailer, claimed this Labour Party paper, “is really working to make fruit and vegetable growers (Chinese and others), auctioneers and merchants wealthy.”[69]

The parliamentary debate – Liberal and Reform

Agitation by groups such as the RSA, the NDL, the Farmers Union and trade union protests were complemented in parliament.  On June 30 1920, Ohinemuri MP Hugh Poland, a Liberal who had gone Independent in 1919, asked Massey what was being done to stop the present “influx of Asiatics – Chinese and Hindus” and pointed out that the RSA and Farmers Union were campaigning for action.[70] Massey replied that legislation was being drafted and would be presented in several weeks time.[71]  On July 23, Harry Atmore (Liberal, Nelson) called for an immediate halt to “alien immigrants” and for preference to British ex-servicemen and women, while William Glen (Reform, Rangitikei) called for an increased poll-tax on the Chinese and more stringent education tests on Hindus.  The first reading on the new legislation took place in the House on August 11, without discussion.[72]

The second reading took place on September 14 and the parliamentary discussion primarily took place around this reading.  The discussion was notable in several ways.  Firstly, the Chinese now had no parliamentary defenders at all.  Labour, Liberal, Reform and Independent speakers were united in a common desire to keep out the Chinese, although there were some differences in relation to Indians.  Secondly, while some Labour speakers still raised the issue of cheap labour competition, the overwhelmingly primary issue for the speakers, including the Labour MPs, was defence of an explicitly White New Zealand policy, directed at the Chinese who were seen as undesirable for racial reasons.  Thirdly, race, nation and nationalism were now thoroughly bound up together.

Massey opened this reading by noting a massive rise in white immigration from the British Empire and an increase in the numbers of Chinese and Indians, who together comprised only a tiny proportion of the immigrants.[73]  The new legislation was “the result of a deepseated sentiment” on the part of “a huge majority” of New Zealanders for a “’white’ New Zealand”.  He linked this with immigrants needing to have a “British Empire point of view.”[74]  The aim of the legislation was spelt out in very specific terms by Massey: “we want to keep the race as pure in this Dominion as it is possible to keep it.”[75]  Maori MP James Ngata asked if the new bill required Royal Assent, but Massey could point to the 1918 Imperial War Conference as having agreed that countries such as New Zealand should have complete control over the composition of its own population, including through restriction of immigration from any source within the Commonwealth.[76]

Some confusion remained about foreigners – residents of countries that Britain had treaties with – but Massey stated that the principle of the bill was that anyone who came to New Zealand who was not of British or Irish birth, or merely visiting, had to get a permit from the Minister of Customs and apply for it before departing for New Zealand.[77]  The bill was “not intended to penalize the people of any country in particular”.  Yet, in the same sentence, he noted, “there will be a very considerable decrease in the Chinese immigration.”[78]

The debate over the bill also reaffirmed the different racial – and racialised – treatment of Maori and the way in which the pakeha establishment took for granted the superiority of Maori over Chinese.  Ngata, for instance, asked how the bill would affect Maori.  Massey replied, “The Maori is a European for our purposes, and it is unnecessary for me to assure the honourable gentleman of that.  The Maori has the same rights and privileges as the European, in every sense of the word.  The Maori is well worthy of it. . .”  Ngata was anxious, however, that the bill did not formally say this.  Massey replied immediately, “If it does not say so, we will make it so.”[79]

Downie Stewart fretted over the “large influx of Asiatics” and concurred with the need for “maintaining a white New Zealand”.  In his view the Royal Assent should be no problem, as Britain would prefer to quarrel with an ally (China) than a Dominion, and he quoted Chamberlain’s position at the first Colonial Conference in 1897, where the British had made clear that dominions had the right to decide their racial composition.[80]  In Downie Stewart’s view, the point about the Chinese had best been put in 1903 by Sir Edward Grey in the debate over Chinese labour in South Africa.  “The question is,” Grey had said, “what sort of civilization are you building up?  Are you building up a civilization in which all the citizens are capable of the full rights of citizens, or a civilization of elements which are bound to conflict in their customs, their habits and their politics?  If so, you are building on an unstable foundation.”[81]

Downie Stewart, however, expressed reservations about the form of keeping out the Chinese.  He pointed out that the Chinese government had offered to make a friendly agreement with New Zealand which would limit Chinese migration.  Although he disagreed with the annual number suggested by the Chinese Consul-General – 300, he thought was too high – some such agreement would remove the offence to China.  He felt the poll-tax gave unnecessary offence and, while it was aimed at keeping out “the coolie class” rather than the “better class of merchants, tourists, and students”, it had been ineffective at doing so, as syndicates had stepped in to finance the ‘coolies’.[82]  The need for a less abrasive means to secure exclusionist aims was also put by Malcolm (Clutha).  The fact that the Indians had helped Britain during WWI meant there was a need for sensitivity; it was better to rely on agreements to exclude people, rather than merely unilateral legislation.[83]

On the Reform side, Archibald McNicol (Pahiatua) denounced the “commercialised Chinaman” found “travelling up and down the country in the first-class railway carriages” as a “parasite”.[84]  Alexander Harris (Waitemata) denounced “Hindus” as “even a greater menace than the Chinese” and complained that the 1913 Shipping and Seamen Amendment Bill, against the employment of “lascars”, was still in Britain awaiting Royal Assent.  Harris also noted the multi-party consensus, saying “I think we all agree that the first concern of the Legislature should be to keep New Zealand pure and white.”[85]  David Jones (Kaiapoi) concurred: “There is not a member of the House that is not desirous of excluding the foreign element – not a member of it.”  Noting that Labour was worried about too much power being placed in the hands of the Governor-General in Council, he saw this as a strength of the Bill.  Previous legislation had failed to fully shut the door as it had set out conditions and then had to explain why the conditions should be fulfilled.  The beauty of this Bill was “the freedom it gives to the Government to restrict the foreign element from coming to this country, without stating reasons.”[86]   William Lysnar (Gisborne) favoured the government taking all possible means to keep out “the foreign element” and “encourage British immigration”.[87]  James Young (Waikato) argued that “Asiatics” were of no benefit to society, especially since they were “mostly the coolie or lower orders”.  It was a “duty to preserve our nationality and Western civilization” against people who were “different”.  He favoured rigid education, health, physical and character tests on immigrants in order to “preserve the national integrity of our own people.”[88]

Apirana Ngata (Eastern Maori), the leading Maori politician, said that as “a representative of the aboriginal race of New Zealand” he sympathised with the attitude in opposition to “the influx of Chinese and other Asiatics.”  This sympathy was due to “the British race” having “the best civilization which has so far appeared on the face of this globe. . .”  The waste spaces of Australia and New Zealand should be filled up with descendants of this race.  He also felt that the dominions had been “far too nice, far too diplomatic, in the past” in relation to China and Japan.  It was time to “put their cards on the table”, for instance by enacting a statute which would make it clear to the Chinese government that New Zealand “did not desire any Chinese to come into it.”  Going through Britain would take years and it was “surely far better for the people of New Zealand to say straight out what they want in a statute.”  Ngata also pondered over what was worse – “the class of Chinamen or the class of Hindu. . .”  Indians were worrying for him because they could “become labour agitators, which is not desirable” or, if the education test was raised, middle class Indians might come in and compete in areas such as law and medicine.

On the Liberal side, Josiah Hanan (Invercargill) raised the classic middle class and elite view in relation to racial purity, stating, “If you allow an admixture of races – especially if you are going to allow a race with different ideals from ours, with a different conception of moral standards and social conditions of life – there can be but one result, and that is a sad deterioration of our race, and in the ideals and moral conditions of the country.

Hanan drew on his visit several years before to Tahiti which had provided him, he said, with an “object lesson. . . of the evil results of an admixture of races.”  While some Reform MPs had favoured trying to make a diplomatic agreement with China to restrict migration to New Zealand, Hanan doubted this would work.  He favoured the example of the Australians whom he felt “are determined at all hazards to be a race of white people.”  He praised Australian Labour for its racism but cast aspersions on the Labour Party in New Zealand, suggesting they were  more sympathetic to the “coloured races” than the earlier Lib-Lab members who were staunch advocates of exclusion.  Hanan also linked race, patriotism and citizenship declaring, “Our future rests upon the foundation of a prosperous and patriotic citizenry of assimilated people.”  Duty lay in “keeping our race pure.”[89]  Richard McCallum (Wairau) supported the bill but thought the best way of keeping New Zealand white was encouraging migration of “our kith and kin” from Britain and the evening would have been better spent discussing that.[90]  Harry Atmore (Nelson) felt there was no point in being “namby-pamby” when dealing with China, then went on to state the dominant racial thinking of the time:

“The question has been discussed by some people as to what will be the future of the world, and whether we shall evolve a world race and whether the races of the world will come to a common standard.  The dislike of the inferior races, which is the result of evolutionary forces, is for the purpose of protecting the progressive race against intermarrying with a backward race.”

Here, then, racism is posited as a mechanism of natural selection. Moreover, there was no doubt about which stock people in this country came from – “the early pioneers came from the finest stock in Britain” – nor that “we want to keep the purity of our race in this land unsullied. . .” The vital connection between patriotism, citizenship and race was also invoked.  Atmore declared the king to be “the symbol of (our) common centre” but quickly assured the politicians that this view of the king was not slavish, for the king was the “symbol of the unity of our race”.  In his view, “not one Chinaman should come in here as a permanent resident.”  New Zealand was “really the finest country on the face of the earth” and no stock but the best should be allowed in.  The restrictions were seen as keeping out opponents of “our idea of civilization” and “our laws and constitutional Government.”[91]  Independent George Mitchell (Wellington South) declared it to be “the duty of the government” to “maintain the purity of our race” and saw the numbers of Asians entering the country as “a menace to the race”.  He wanted Indians and Chinese excluded.[92]

While all these MPs agreed on exclusion the most thorough-going examples of the racial thought of the day came from Hanan and Atmore of the Liberals and Downie Stewart of Reform.  Downie Stewart was a lawyer, businessman and intellectual.  Hanan was a lawyer, former Invercargill mayor and intellectual who had held a number of government posts, including that of minister of education in which position his “overriding aims were to enhance efficiency and to educate youths for their future citizenship responsibilities and duties.”  At the time of his speech on the 1920 legislation he was a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand.[93]  Atmore ran his own small business as a painter, decorator and signwriter.  He was also a prominent freemason and temperance advocate.  In the 1920s he was an admirer of Mussolini.  He was clearly well-informed as to intellectual thought of the time since he “spent years reading widely and deeply, and had one of the most extensive private libraries in Nelson.” Atmore represented the “hopes of small pioneer settlers”.[94]  Thus the exemplars of racial thinking in the debate are from impeccable middle class and elite backgrounds, drawing on the dominant intellectual trends of the time.[95]

The parliamentary debate – Labour

Graham Warburton has claimed that in the 1920 parliamentary debate, Labour’s “concept of internationalism was interpreted without a uniform consistency.”[96]  In fact they were consistent and uniform, indicating the party MPs’ acceptance of the racist outlook towards the Chinese.  Indeed, the way in which Labour MPs repeated the arguments of the elite politicians on the other benches is striking.  Moreover, like good school pupils seeking approval by their teachers, they went out of their way to emphasise how strongly they held these views.  Thus Michael Savage claimed that what was at issue was not only living standards but “the very law of life itself.”  Declaring himself in agreement with Downie Stewart, he fretted, “. . . we are living practically within a stone’s throw of teeming millions, who continue to increase by millions annually, and (in Australia and New Zealand) there are millions of acres of uninhabited territory.”  The education test needed to be made more severe, he argued.  He also claimed that “the more educated section” of Chinese and Indians agreed that measures needed to be taken “to prevent the indiscriminate influx of Asiatics to this country.”  Savage wanted not only a lot less Asian immigration, but immigration from the better-educated only, a rather snobbish view for a party claiming to represent those at the bottom of society.[97]

Labour MPs took great umbrage during the debate when any other MPs suggested they were in any way less reliable in maintaining the white racial purity of the country.  As Dan Sullivan (Labour, Avon) put it:

“What I want to say quite definitely to the House is this: the Labour party is just as keen as any member of this House, or as any person or party in the country, to maintain racial purity here in New Zealand.  There can be no question at all about that. . .  I desire to say further, in connection with the discussion, that the Labour party are wholly in accord with the desire to reduce Asian immigration to this country; we are satisfied that there is too much of it already.”

Sullivan then assured Hanan that any impression the Liberal MP might have had about the lack of commitment of the labour movement to White New Zealand was quite wrong.  In fact, Sullivan attacked the bill for not being restrictive enough, claiming “it is just as much an Asiatic immigration promotion Bill as it is an Asiatic restriction Bill.”[98] Then, having already made clear (as above) Labour’s support for White New Zealand, he re-emphasised “the fact that the Labour party of this country is as keen to retain and preserve racial purity as any party in this House.”  After yet another call for a more rigid education test and rigid numbers limits Sullivan wanted only 50-100 Chinese let in per year – he stated, for the third time in his speech, Labour’s opposition to miscegenation and support for “racial purity.”[99]

As if there could still be any doubt as to where the party stood, James McCombs (Labour, Lyttelton) rose shortly afterwards and declared, “I want to put on record the very definite and very clear statement of the attitude of the Labour party on this immigration question, written before the bill was drafted.”  He then read from a report from the party’s fourth annual conference held that July:

“That for the proper development of the country it is essential that the white population of the country should be increased by immigration. . . that a more adequate check should be placed upon Asiatic immigration. . . (and) that the presence of Asiatics in this country in any number and as permanent residents would result in an intermingling of the races detrimental to all.”[100]

McCombs was also annoyed at Hanan for suggesting that Labour Party MPs might be a little less enthusiastic than earlier labour movement MPs.  As he rightly stated, “There is really no mistaking the attitude of the Labour party in New Zealand on this question of Asiatic immigration.”[101]  (And, indeed Liberal and Reform MPs not trying to point score accepted this.  As Kaiapoi Reform Party MP David Jones noted, “There is not a member of this House that is not desirous of excluding the foreign element – not a member of it.”[102]  Massey himself indicated his pleasure with the “moderate and reasonable” nature of the debate and the “absence of bitterness”, contrasting this with debates on other issues.[103])

William Parry (Labour, Auckland) reiterated Labour’s hostility to Asian immigration, focusing again on racial purity.  Labour, he said, was “decidedly” and “absolutely” opposed to “unrestricted immigration of Asiatics” because “we believe that it would not be conducive to the best interests of this country for the indiscriminative intermingling of the races.”[104]  The concern with the “best interests of the country” is also interesting as it shows Labour’s primary adherence to nation rather than class.

Frederick Bartram (Labour, Grey Lynn) complained that some MPs who had spoken had been “far more anxious to slate the Labour party than to keep out Chinamen.”  Some MPs, he said, had argued that New Zealand should emulate Australia in keeping the country white.  “But it seems to me,” he said, “that we want to do something better than Australia, because Australia has not been at all successful in keeping out the Chinamen.”  Having criticised Australia for not being white enough, he went on to criticise Nelson Liberal MP Harry Atmore, a strong advocate of White New Zealand, for not being sufficiently anti-Chinese.  (Atmore had favoured the use of Chinese labour in Samoa.)  Having stated his support for White New Zealand and his hostility to the Chinese in the most forthright manner, Bartram went on to claim that he favoured the “brotherhood of man” and that Labour’s reason for opposing Chinese entry was to “keep as high as possible our standard of living”!

Bartram complained that the poll tax had not worked in keeping the Chinese out of New Zealand.  He desired to keep the education test but also wanted a rigorous restriction on the number of Chinese to be let in each year.  His paranoia was such that he suggested that letting Chinese into Samoa was a risk to New Zealand’s national security: “Such Chinamen, after they are sent back to their own country, are sure to become missionaries in China  to spread the gospel of where to attack us in time of trouble.”[105]

Ted Howard (Labour, Avon) said that he had a very bad cold and so could not speak at any length, but rose only long enough to record his “entire agreement” with the other Labour speakers.[106]

The most left-wing of the party’s MPs, Labour leader Harry Holland, opened his parliamentary speech on September 14 with the necessary internationalist bow that the same red blood ran through the veins of all humans, before proceeding to deal with the actual issue at hand – the exclusion of one particular group of those same-blooded international brothers and sisters, the Chinese.  If anything, Holland favoured even tighter exclusion than that of what he viewed as the two Tory parties.[107]  Presenting Labour’s position, he declared:

“We think that a bona fide education test should be imposed – a test in English and arithmetic according to the New Zealand Sixth Standard; that there should be a definite limitation of the numbers of Asiatics entering New Zealand in any given year; and that the numbers so limited should be exceedingly lower than the numbers coming into New Zealand at the present time.”[108]

Moreover, Holland had already had a disagreement with Ngata over a possible loophole in the legislation.  Holland worried about the Minister of Customs having the say on the entry of individual Chinese into New Zealand.  When Ngata pointed out a benefit of this – namely, that the minister could decide not to let in any more Chinese, Holland absurdly said, “On the other hand, he can let them all come in.”[109]

In committee, on September 16, Holland tried to make the legislation more restrictive, through making the educational test tougher.  Massey, for instance, argued that Holland’s proposed restrictions were too extreme.[110]

The contradictions of racist ideology also appeared in Holland.  For instance, he differentiated between Indians and Chinese.  In his view there was no danger of Indians undermining wages and conditions, so long as they were unionised.  Moreover, they “made excellent unionists.”[111] Chinese workers, however, were simply racialised as cheap labour.  Moreover, Holland shared not only Reform and the Liberals’ desire for a Chinese-free New Zealand but also their view that this was a country in which British citizenship was central.  One of his complaints about the draft legislation was that it undermined the value of British citizenship, a strange position indeed for a revolutionary internationalist![112]

Labour MPs also tried to put extremely restrictive limits on the number of ‘Asiatics’ to be let into the country each year.  Holland moved that the total number of “Asiatic immigrants” per year not be allowed to exceed 100.  This was a step too far for the Liberals and Reform.  Only one non-Labour MP (Reform’s  Downie Stewart) voted with the Labour MPs for it, so Holland’s motion was overwhelmingly lost.[113]  Savage then moved that the number be 110 and this garnered 20 votes.[114]

Independent Labour MPs Edward Kellett (Dunedin North) and Sydney Smith (Taranaki) spoke as keen supporters of White New Zealand.  Kellett favoured outright exclusion rather than some form of diplomatic agreement with China to keep immigration to New Zealand from there as low as possible.  “I object to one coming in,” he continued.  He also claimed “the evil of mixed breed” was evident in Samoa, in Wellington and, indeed, “all over New Zealand; and it is time we stopped it absolutely, and the only way we can do so is by restricting the entry of even one Asiatic.” He also seemed to find the competition of Chinese especially objectionable in the small business sector, for instance in laundries and among traders.[115]  Smith declared himself “a young New Zealander who has an intense love of his country” and therefore wanted to stop Chinese and “Hindu” entry “as their presence here is a menace to our people.”  He quoted from a press clipping of a talk given in Sydney by a missionary in Fiji, Rev. Piper.  Piper feared the “native races” of the Pacific passing away and Fiji becoming a “little India”.  The missionary worried that Indians in Fiji had lost caste distinctions and become slum-dwellers divorced from religion and morality.  This, indeed, was a classic middle class and elite fear in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries as industrial capitalism broke down older, fixed hierarchies.  The fact that it was now recycled by an Independent Labour MP shows the degree to which the labour movement, especially its leading figures, were permeated with ideas from those above them in the social order.  Smith, like the Dunedin Presbytery, the Christchurch Press and other conservative middle and upper class elements, favoured “suitable boys” from Britain being induced to migrate here “to keep New Zealand as white as possible.”[116]

The older, economic argument used in the labour movement against the Chinese had always had a racist undertone, since the Chinese were depicted by it as naturally and inevitably cheap labour.  However, this had been a subordinate part of the argument, and the labour movement had often tended to be against any immigration, even white immigration, seen as resulting in cheap labour competition.  Moreover, the ‘cheap labour’ argument was one which could arise spontaneously among groups of pakeha workers in competition on the labour market.  The 1920 debate indicated how much the economic argument had been displaced by the directly racial argument that this should be a ‘White New Zealand’ and not a ‘piebald’ or racially intermixed country.  This argument is not one which tends to arise spontaneously in workers’ heads, since it is not generated by any of their daily experiences.  Rather, it is a racist and eugenist argument which was constructed by the middle class and upper class, including the liberal intelligentsia, and propagated through middle class-dominated groups like the Eugenics Society, Plunket, the NDL, and in the pages of learned journals and, at a more prosaic level, in the editorial and other columns of the country’s newspapers.  Racial thinking was an elite obsession from the mid-nineteenth century onwards[117] and it is not until the first two decades of the 1900s that it emerges as the dominant form of argument used within the labour movement against Asian immigration and in relation to the ‘proper’ make-up of the New Zealand population.

Labour after the 1920 Act

Warburton has argued that after WW1, racism receded in the labour movement, as internationalist-minded socialists got the upper hand,[118] although he fails to mention the source of international socialism at the time – namely, the Russian revolution and the stand taken by the Bolsheviks on national and racial oppression and for international solidarity.  He argues that by 1921 the Labour Party’s “racial policies were dominated by the socialist principles and the old racism was rejected outright by the Party” and henceforth White New Zealand “received only a little emphasis in the labour movement.”[119]  He also claims that “foremost” among the “leading anti-racists” were Holland and Parry.[120]

Yet we have already seen that labour movement forces campaigned strongly in early 1920 for a tighter application of the White New Zealand policy and that Labour MPs were unanimous in support of the 1920 legislation, their chief criticism being that it did not go far enough.   Indeed, as we have seen, they sought to make it even more restrictive.

As the legislation was going through, we also find anti-Eastern sentiments in the Maoriland Worker, which Warburton tends to regard as a bastion of the international socialists in the movement.  For instance, the “Parliamentary Notes” in the paper expressed pleasure that the debate on the new legislation showed that “the menace of the East was more clearly feared than any Bolshevik bogey” and praised Downie Stewart’s “thoughtful contribution”.  Of the Labour MPs who spoke, it said, “All of them pointed out that while they give whole-hearted adherence to the working class principles of Internationalism, they were most certainly opposed to an influx of Asiatic workers and would vote for drastic restriction.”  The “colour problem” would be fatal to New Zealand workers’ living standards and worker solidarity.[121]  In fact the view expressed here in the paper, along with the speeches of the Labour MPs, shows a distinct lack of real internationalism.  If a Chinese presence in New Zealand would undermine workers’ solidarity, as claimed, then what was really being argued is that internationalism and class solidarity were to apply only to white workers.  Or, at best, that internationalism was a flowery phrase for high-minded speech-making, but not to be applied in practice.  Thus the 1920 conference, which wanted stiffer controls on Asians and expressed horror at racial “intermingling”, could adopt motions in favour of equal opportunity for all on the planet regardless of colour, creed, sex, nationality or culture.[122]  These motions should be taken as seriously by historians as the long-time Labour official policy to nationalise the means of production, distribution and exchange.  Meanwhile, far from being “foremost” “anti-racists” Holland and Parry were, as shown above, strong supporters of the White New Zealand policy.

Moreover, even with the door to the Chinese being slammed shut with the 1920 legislation, Savage just could not help himself and had another little dig at the government, asking how many Chinese were coming in without paying the poll-tax.  The Minister of Customs assured him, however, that none were.[123]

It is certainly true that Labour lost interest in agitating around White New Zealand after 1920, and labour movement organisations showed little enthusiasm when overtures were made towards them by middle class-dominated white race groups later in the 1920s.  However, this was more likely because the labour movement had largely achieved what it wanted.  The 1920 tripartisan legislation, which closed the door quite effectively on the Chinese, was sufficient to meet the demands of the labour movement – and of the liberal middle class.  Afterwards, only the most reactionary middle class elements, in groups like the White Race League, whose racial fears were especially extreme, indeed paranoid, continued to campaign, generally at the fringes.

The Liberal-Reform coalition of the Depression era – although by then the Liberals had changed their name to United – stopped collecting the poll tax in 1934.  In 1935 Labour came to power and did not collect the poll tax either, although it did not abolish this racist tax for a further nine years.  When, in 1944, they finally abolished it, this was done because the tax has become an embarrassment, partly because China was on the Allied side in World War 2 and partly because it was difficult to attack the racial policies of the Axis powers while keeping the poll tax.


[1] Figures taken from Population Census, 1926.

[2] See, for instance, his Heredity and Eugenics: a lecture, reprinted from Otago Daily Times, December 1, 1910.

[3] See Otago Daily Times, August 23, 1910 and Fleming, pp16-17.

[4] See Evening Post, May 2, 1911 and Fleming, p18.

[5] See the WCTU paper White Ribbon, August 17, 1911.  This reference is taken from Miriam Clark, “Transcending Chastity and Continence: the provision of sex education by women’s organizations, 1930-1950”, History MA thesis, Canterbury University, 1996, p34.

[6] See, for instance, his Urbanisation and national decay: address. Under the auspices of the Eugenics Education Society of NZ, nd.

[7] H.W. Bishop, Degeneracy, Christchurch, 1911.

[8] Press, July 26, 1911.

[9] Press, July 25, 1911.  See also Octavius Beak, Racial Decay, Sydney, Angus and Robertson, 1910.

[10] White Ribbon, vol 18, no. 207, September 18, 1912.

[11] Fleming, p9.

[12] Michael Belgrave, “Archipelago of Exiles, a study in the imperialism of ideas: Edward Tregear and John Macmillan Brown”, Master of Phil thesis, Auckland, 1979, p104.

[13] Elof Axel Carlson, “Eugenics Revisited: the case for germinal choice”, in Carl J. Bajema, Eugenics: then and now, Benchmark Papers in Genetics/5, Stroudsberg, PA, Dowden, Hutchinson and Ross, 1976, p212 .

[14] Baker, p90.

[15] See Valverde, op cit, especially chapter 5, and Barbara Roberts, “Purely Administrative Proceedings: The Management of Canadian Deportation, Montreal, 1900-1935”, PhD thesis, University of Ottawa, 1980, cited in Valverde, p107.

[16] Press, August 11, 1920.

[17] Press, August 13, 1920.

[18] Belgrave, p129.

[19] John Macmillan Brown, “Probable Solution of the Dilemma of East and West”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B3: Lectures: packet grouped as “The Pacific after the Russo-Japanese War”.

[20] John Macmillan Brown, “The Mastery of the Pacific”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B3: Lectures: packet grouped as “The Pacific after the Russo-Japanese War”.

[21] John Macmillan Brown, “Probable Solution of the Dilemma of East and West”.

[22] John Macmillan Brown, “East and West”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B3: Lectures: packet grouped as “The Pacific after the Russo-Japanese War”.

[23] John Macmillan Brown, “New Zealand in the Pacific”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B3: Lectures: packet grouped as “The Pacific after the Russo-Japanese War”.

[24] John Macmillan Brown, “The Mastery of the Pacific”; Brown’s views of Japan changed, however, after a subsequent visit to Korea which made him decide the Japanese were an unscrupulous people and a menace.  See, for instance, his March 2, 1914 lecture to the annual meeting of the Canterbury branch of the Navy League, as reported in the Press, March 3, 1914.

[25] John Macmillan Brown, “Chinese Scholarship”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B2: Manuscripts (China and Chinese Problems).

[26] John Macmillan Brown, “Problems of the Pacific (If China Awakes)”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B2: Manuscripts (China and Chinese Problems).

[27] John Macmillan Brown, “Chinese Scholarship”.

[28] John Macmillan Brown, “The Chinese and their Life”, in Macmillan Brown Papers, B2: Manuscripts (China and Chinese Problems).  The B2 manuscripts also appeared in the Press.

[29] John Macmillan Brown, “The Chinese and Japanese in Manchuria”, Macmillan Brown Papers, B2: Manuscripts (China and Chinese Problems).

[30] New Zealand Herald, May 13, 1914.

[31] ‘Champion’, “Words of Wisdom”, Light and Liberty, vol 1, May 27, 1913, p20.

[32] New Zealand Farmers Union: Records (MS-Papers-1159): Dominion Meetings and Conferences – Minutes, 1917-1921, MSY-0238.

[33] Press, August 16, 1920.  See also, Press, August 12 (article) and August 13 (editorial).

[34] Press, July 26, 1920.

[35] Stout Papers, Folder 52.  This is a handwritten set of lecture notes, from Good Friday, 1919.

[36] Stout Papers, Folder 77.  The meeting is reported in a newspaper clipping.

[37] Stout Papers, Folder 77.  This is a newspaper report of his “New Year Reflections” at the end of 1912.

[38] These kinds of groups played a similar role in other white Pacific Rim countries.  Brawley, for instance, notes the role of Returned Servicemen’s groups in Canada and the Allied Patriotic Societies of America in the United States in post-WW1 racial immigration agitation and policy-making, White Peril, pp57-8.

[39] Mein Smith, “Blood, birth, babies, bodies”, p6.

[40] Quick March, April 25, 1918, p1 and p15.

[41] Quick March, December 1, 1919, p51.

[42] Quick March May 10, 1919, pp9-11.  Point 8 was for the deportation of “all enemy aliens” interned at any point in the war.

[43] Quick March, June 10, 1919, p45.

[44] Christchurch RSA Executive Committee minutes, September 16, 1919, CH743/29.

[45] Christchurch RSA General Meeting minutes, October 9, 1919, CH743/29.

[46] Press, April 19, 1920.

[47] Press, June 4, 1920.

[48] Press, June 1, 1920.

[49] Indeed, it made Russell a leading figure in two such organisations, the other being the National Defence League (see later in this chapter).

[50] Minutes of Quarterly General Meeting, July 12, 1920, CH743/29.  In the Christchurch motion the word white is capitalised, whereas in the report of the national gathering it appears in lower case.

[51] Christchurch Press, September 3, 1920.

[52] Minutes of meeting of Annual Conference of Canterbury District RSA, May 17, 1921, CH743/18.

[53] Minutes of District Conference, May 16, 1923, CH743/18.

[54] Minutes of District Conference, May 16, 1923, CH743/18.

[55] Press, April 7, 1920.

[56] Press, April 8, 1920.

[57] Press, April 12, 1920.

[58] See Press, April 8 and April 12, 1920.

[59] Press, September 22, 1920.

[60] Maoriland Worker, August 11, 1920.

[61] See, for instance, Press editorial, April 6, 1920.

[62] Allen’s official statement reported in the Dominion, April 7, 1920.

[63] Maoriland Worker, July 30, 1919.

[64] Telegram cited in Auckland Star, April 20, 1920.  Parry’s involvement contradicts the claim in Warburton (p181) that he was a “leading anti-racist” in the LP at the time.

[65] Press, June 3.  The first quote is directly from the union official, the second is the reporter summarising.

[66] New Zealand Times, April 20, 1920 and Auckland Star, April 28, 1920.

[67] Maoriland Worker, August 25, 1920.

[68] Ibid.

[69] Maoriland Worker, January 22, 1919.

[70] NZPD vol 186, 1920, p18.

[71] Ibid.

[72] NZPD vol 187, p84.

[73] Massey noted that from January 1-June 30, 18,774 migrants had entered from the Empire, compared with 19,650 for the whole previous 12 months, and that 476 people had paid the poll-tax in the first half of 1920, compared to under 200 for the previous year.  Given that the previous year, however, was 1919, with WW1 having only just ended, the rise in immigration can be explained as a result of the fact that people could not migrate in large numbers from 1914-1919 due to the war.

[74] NZPD vol 187, 1920, p905.

[75] Ibid, p908.

[76] IWC resolution quoted by Massey, ibid, p905.

[77] Ibid, p906.

[78] Ibid, p907.

[79] Ngata-Massey exchange, ibid.

[80] Ibid, p909.

[81] Grey quoted by Downie Stewart, ibid, p910.

[82] Ibid, pp910-1.

[83] Ibid, pp916-8.

[84] Ibid, p919.

[85] Ibid, p920.

[86] Ibid, p939.

[87] Ibid, p927.

[88] Ibid, pp934-6.

[89] Ibid, pp921-3.

[90] Ibid, p923.

[91] Ibid, pp936-8.

[92] Ibid, pp920-1.

[93] Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 3, 1901-20, entry by Gregory Lee on Hanan, pp197-8.

[94] Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, vol 4, 1921-40, entry by Shirley Tunnicliff on Atmore, pp22-23.  The information about his freemason and temperance links comes from G.H. Scholefield, Who’s Who in New Zealand, Napier, G.W. Venables and Co, 1925, p9.

[95] Apirana Ngata, the leading Maori politician who spoke in the debate, was a European-educated lawyer.

[96] Warburton, pp147-8.

[97] NZPD vol 187, 1920, pp918-9.

[98] Apparently not understanding that the Reform and Liberal parties were just as racist as himself, he fretted that the discretionary power contained in the bill for the admission of immigrants might be used in future to let in Asians.

[99] NZPD vol 187, 1920, pp924-5.

[100] Ibid, p930.

[101] Ibid.

[102]Ibid, p939.

[103]Ibid, p940.

[104] Ibid, p933.

[105] Ibid, pp939-40.  As we shall see both Holland and Savage made attempts to do this.

[106] Ibid, p940.

[107] Moloughney and Stenhouse accuse Holland of being a “sinophobe”, although they provide no evidence for this rather extreme claim.

[108] Holland on September 14, 1920, NZPD vol 187, 1920, p913.  The 1920 stance of Holland, Michael Joseph Savage and other Labour MPs on the 1920 legislation somewhat contradict the claim by Murphy that the first Labour government, led by Savage, was motivated by “socialist inspired principles of equality” and “a true friend of the Chinese in this country” (Murphy, p52), and Warburton’s that in 1917-1920 socialist internationalism won out in the Labour Party and unions over racism (Warburton, p182).  While methodically detailing labour’s involvement in racist anti-Chinese activity over several decades, Warburton’s conclusion is that this was left behind after 1920 and thus Labour leaders’ early preoccupation with the ‘Yellow Peril’ “had come to nothing” (p183).  Given the views expressed by Labour’s leaders around the 1920 Act, a more convincing explanation for the lack of labour movement anti-Chinese activity after 1920 is not the triumph of anti-racism but that the array of restrictions now meant there was no need for further campaigning by them.

[109] Ibid, p932.

[110]Ibid, p1019.  See also the Dominion, September 17, 1920 which reports on this amendment discussion.

[111] Ibid , p913.

[112] Ibid, p914.

[113] Ibid, p1019.


[115] Ibid, p926.

[116] Ibid, pp938-9.

[117] See, for instance, J.W. Burrow, The Crisis of Reason: European thought, 1848-1914, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2000, esp pp103-8.  Burrow notes that it was Count Gobineau who introduced the idea that racial purity was the key to civilisation (p107).  His ideas were continued in a number of works, including Houston Stewart Chamberlain’s 1899 Foundations of the Nineteenth Century.

[118] Warburton, p159.

[119] Ibid, p160.

[120] Ibid, p181.

[121] “Parliamentary Notes”, Maoriland Worker, September 22, 1920.

[122] Maoriland Worker, September 15, 1920.

[123] NZPD, vol 188, p191.

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