Memories - The Waihi Miners Strike

By Waihi Leader

November 12, 1912 marks a century since one of our most famous and tragic industrial disputes, the Waihi Miners Strike.

On the day remembered as Black Tuesday, striker Fred Evans, was killed. He was the first of only two New Zealanders to die in an industrial dispute.

The strike began in May 1912 and continued into July.

The new Prime Minister, William Massey, and the Police Commissioner, John Cullen, decided to crush the strikers and reinforce the police presence in Waihi.

Eventually, about 80 policemen, a tenth of the country's entire force, were deployed to the region.

In October the Waihi Goldmining Company felt confident enough to bring in strike-breakers to reopen the mines. The conflict finally came to a head on November 12, when strike-breakers and police stormed the miners' hall.

As people pushed into the miners' hall. shots were fired and some combatants injured, including Constable Wade and Fred Evans who died of his injuries.

After this tragedy, the strike collapsed and, with further violence threatened, many miners and their families were chased out of town.


Photo: Bill Parry, president of the Waihi Miners and Workers Union.

Courtesty Waihi Arts Centre and Museum



The most sensational incident in connection with the strike at Waihi has occurred, a collision between the Federationists and Arbitrationists resulting in a policeman and a worker being shot. The constable was shot in the groin and the worker, a man named Johnson, in the leg.

It is stated that three of the Federationists were armed and that more than one participated in the shooting.

After the sensational shooting episode, three of the assailants fled, but were pursued by an infuriated mob. They took refuge at the residence of Dr Craig, but their pursuers swarmed into the dwelling and discovered the men.

They were captured and, had it not been for the police protection offered, they would have fared badly.

One of our special correspondents at Waihi informed us by telephone that had it not been for the police, the man would have been lynched by the populace.

The policeman (Constable Wade) from the South, is reported to be seriously injured, while his assailant, a man named Evans, was badly knocked about. The worker who was shot is not believed to be in a serious condition.

An unofficial report states that the Federation leaders' have been warned to leave town within 24 hours.

Excerpts from Thames Star - November 12, 1912 - Courtesy Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand)


The Root of the Matter - Speeches by Webb, Fraser and Semple

On November 3, 1912 at the Sunday evening meeting, the Miners' Hall was packed, and yet unable to hold the crowd. The speakers were Messrs Webb, Fraser and Semple, and Mr H Kennedy presided.

Mr Webb said that from what he observed during his stay in Waihi, it was evident enough that the police and scabs were trying to promote disorder, as they were using every possible means to incite the strikers to violence.

The men of Waihi were too well under control, however, to lend themselves to such tactics, no matter how great the provocation. The days of winning fights by violence were relegated to the past. Violence was no part of our programme; we would leave that part to the police and scabs, while using our weapons of knowledge and organisation, we marched on to that victory from which no power could deter us.

Mr Pat Fraser said in a brief address, that Messrs Webb and Semple, on their departure in the morning, would be able to give the rest of New Zealand some idea of the happenings in the storm-swept centre of Waihi, and went on to say that while the workers might observe the law and order of the capitalist class, they would never respect it.

The only law and order they would ever respect would be the law and order they would establish when capitalism was overthrown. Up til the present, all laws and ethics had been made by the masters to serve their own purposes; for the laws and ethics of every age were those of the ruling class in that age.

It had been asserted by some that New Zealand would be immune from some of the severities imminent in capitalist production by reason of tho geographical position of this country, and other reasons, but the present struggle in Waihi had dispelled this fallacy. The class struggle could not be confined to any country or group of countries, but would manifest itself in every nook and cranny of the globe.<inline type="poll" id="5228" align="outside"/>

Mr Semple said that, although the struggle was fierce in Waihi, yet it was a mere bagatelle to what was going on in older countries.

The countries that were highly developed industrially were the scenes of the greatest persecution.

We could expect that course to follow here, for as Marx said: "The country that is more highly developed industrially only shows to the less developed the image of its own future."

Referring to the police, the speaker said that while he had no quarrel with the police force as a whole, yet the actions of the police in Waihi were indescribable, especially that of the individual who had galloped along the pavement the previous evening and did his utmost to ride down women and children.

At Waikino on Friday evening, he was waiting, along with Webb and a few more, for the train, when, at the instigation of the police, they were mobbed by a howling crowd of scabs, who only refrained from doing them personal violence because, like all scabs, they were cowardly curs.

We would not emulate the horrible example shown us, however, for we knew we had them beaten by continuing the peaceful tactics we had used all along.

He had heard that a statement was made in the hall some time ago to the effect that if working a popper drill single-handed shortened a man's life, it would be wise to reverse the position and shorten the life of the popper, so that the boss would find it unprofitable to use these machines. When this statement reached the ears of the master-class of this country and their lickspittles, they set up a howl that was heard from the North Cape to the Bluff. In pulpit, press, and Parliament was heard the yelp of the satellite protesting and threatening because a man had raised a protest against introducing Kaffir conditions in New Zealand.


Excerpts from Maoriland Worker - November 1912 - Courtesy Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand).


Photo: George Frederick Evans.

Courtesy Waihi Arts Centre & Museum





Fair, Fearless, And Free

Friday, November 22, 1912

Black Waihi!Events have moved with such startling swiftness at Waihi as to seem beyond realisation. The events of the week are as tragic as thunderous.

Riot, assault, mobbing and death are part of the story: the opening of the prison doors to liberate the 66 jailed union prisoners is another part of the story.

In due time the Lawless Law of which these are manifestations will be known and understood for the guilty sham it is. Our object in publishing this "special" is to present to the vigilant eye of the liberty-loving, truth-seeking people the other side of the shield. Thousands of this "special" will be distributed throughout New Zealand. Necessity impels its publication.

While the contents of this "special" speak for themselves, a few explanatory remarks will clarify the record.

In complete ignorance of the Master Class conspiracy, and unconscious of the devilry being hatched, Messrs Kennedy and Richards (acting-president and acting-vice-president respectively of the Waihi Workers' Union) had been summoned to attend a Federation conference at Huntly and left Waihi on the fateful day of Tuesday last in accordance with instructions received earlier in the week.

Their departure was not caused by the "dayoff" orgies of the blacklegs and the police, though these orgies entered into the situation. In view of happenings Mr Kennedy, with Messrs Semple and Webb, hurried to Wellington, and the outcome was the "official statement" elsewhere inserted and this "special".

By Thursday morning the aforementioned "statement" and the messages herein had been printed, affiliations reached, meetings organised for chief centres, executive summoned for Tuesday next, and much else accomplished. In the north other and equal activity had been shown.

Distinctive of the campaign of calumny has been the diabolical character stabbing engaged in by press and capitalists in relation to Messrs Webb, Semple, and Glover, all of whom have for months pursued strenuous, restless and wearing activity in the interests of their organisation. The same thing applies to others. All that this has meant will never be known.

With the foes of working-class progress tigerishly anxious to destroy working-class champions, it is well that the toilers comprehend the position and swear to stand to the uttermost for their own Product and own Voice. It is because of agitators like these that they are the marked of Despotism and Privilege.

Count it unforgettably to the infamy of the New Zealand Times that it suggested on Wednesday the arresting of Messrs Webb, Semple, Glover and ourselves is responsible for the brutal outrages at Waihi committed by the licensed strike-breakers.

As we write there is news to hand of the sad death of George Frederick Evans, who leaves a widow and two children. Deceased was but 28 years of age, and was an earnest and true unionist, revering his cause and ready to die for his class. Mr Evans had undertaken to guard the union hall at Waihi against the threats and fears of it being burned to the ground, and had slept on the premises on Monday night. How he himself and others were attacked, terrified, chased and batoned is known to some extent, though much remains to be revealed.

Taken to the hospital unconscious, Mr Evans died on Wednesday night.

We may all mourn his loss, he adds another to the lengthy scroll of industrial martyrs butchered by and under capitalism. We part with an assassinated comrade with a tear and a curse.

News reaches us on this Thursday night that the whole of the union prisoners "have been released on bonds to keep the peace".

Bonds . . . Peace - the mockery of it!

Jail and "slugging" for the innocent, with the real criminals at large And here, too, a reckoning is called for.

Excerpts from Maoriland Worker - November 22, 1912 - Courtesy Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand)

Editorial - Thames Star, November 12, 1912

Today's news from Waihi is of a sensational character.

In the melee that ensued this morning a body of Arbitrationists endeavoured to rush the Miners' Union Hall, which was guarded by policemen, and as the result of the use of the revolver by one or more of the Federationists a constable and a worker were shot.

The injury received by the former was of a serious character, while the Worker fortunately escaped with a severe flesh wound.

The wounded constable batonned his assailant before he sank to the ground and was conveyed hospital, to which place his assailant was also taken after an exciting chase.

The town this morning was practically in a state of riot and revolt.

The workers were on the aggressive and after a serious conflict are now in possession of the Miners' Union Halls at Waihi and Waikino. At the latter place sensational incidents occurred, it being alleged that a charge of gelignite was thrown at the Arbitrationists as they approached the hall.

There was a terrific explosion, but fortunately no one was injured.

The leaders of the Federationists were warned by the leaders of the Arbitraitionists that it would be advisable to leave the town and it would show the whole of to-day's news would serve to show that the positions have been entirely reversed.

It is said that the Acting President of the Waihi Miners' Union has left for Auckland, and it is probable that his action has been, inspired by his desire to consult his imprisoned colleagues, including the President, Mr W. Parry.

The sign above the Waihi Hall states Parry and his comrades must be released, has been torn down by the Arbitrationists (as was the Union Jack then despoiled by the Federaitionist and the British ensign hoisted amidst cheers. The whole incident is as remarkable as it is regrettable.

We deeply deplore the fact that acts of violence have been committed and men's lives endangered. Such conduct cannot advance the cause either side.

Excerpts from Thames Star - November 12 1912 - Courtesy Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand)



Fight Has Now Raged For Six Months


Last Monday the strike and lockout had been going for 26 weeks. What an historical six months! What a never-to-be-forgotten fight, brimful of significant events and of climax upon climax! Twenty-five thousand pounds in strike and lock-out pay! Beyond all expectations.

Again has the impossible been done. While men and women can fight as have fought the Waihi and Reefton Federationists; as have fought the membership at Huntly, Kiripaka, Auckland and Nightcaps against bosses' victimisation and intimidation; as have fought the splendid givers not directly involved in these particular troubles - while this sort of fighting is so marked and persistent, nothing can defeat the revolutionary working-class ploughing to its own. In the future and finally, success is sure, aye, every failure but a stepping stone to the last great emancipatory victory.

In the meantime, the situation is grave enough, but the whole line of progress is one of action and reaction, with the last-named in a particular case never so far back as its immediate predecessor. Ebb and flow are in all things.

The attack just now is terribly severe, and therefore must the effort to resist it be doubly strong and determined proportionately. Waihi's solidarity is worthy of worship. It will live in greater glory as the years pass; just as its scabbery will earn ever-growing detestation and disgrace.

In connection with Waihi, it seems to have escaped editors' notice that the full text of an "ultimatum" issued by the police was wired throughout the length and breadth of the Dominion, and next its authorship emphatically repudiated by the police.

No one has asked who wrote the ultimatum. We do know. If the police didn't, the man who did has committed a serious offence against the much-deified Law and Order, even according to Law and Order.

Will the criminal be punished?

Excerpt from Maoriland Worker - November 1912 - Courtesy Papers Past (National Library of New Zealand)


- Bay of Plenty Times

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