This week marked 124 years (September 19, 1893) since New Zealand women were given the franchise - that is the right to vote in a general election.

The prime mover of the parliamentary bill to allow this was Sir John Hall, a member of the house of representatives (MHR or MP) from the South Island.

In 1890 Sir John had introduced a resolution to Parliament to grant the franchise to women.

The MHR for Waipawa, Thomas Tanner (1830-1918), fully supported the proposal, although he was not overly keen on women becoming Members of Parliament.


A transcript of the debate after the resolution was proposed in August 1890 shows that Thomas Tanner argued against a fellow MHR from Wallace who believed it was against biblical scripture to allow the women to vote:

"The honourable gentleman entirely forgot the elevated position women held in those ancient days.

"He forgot entirely the account we recently heard in the churches, of the Queen of Sheba, who visited Solomon, and who was paid the very greatest attention by him, the greatest monarch that ever lived.

"Now the honourable gentleman said that the woman's place was in her home, that there she was queen, that there she reigned, and should reign nowhere else; but it does not all follow, if the motion of the honourable member for Selwyn is passed, that woman would be in any other position than she is at present; she would still reign in her own home and have the additional privilege of exercising her judgment and right to vote for representatives to this house."

There were many who just thought it was unwise to give the vote to women, as they "wouldn't know what to do with it".

Not so, said Thomas Tanner, as "their natural intelligence would go a great way to counteract the ignorance on the part of many of the other sex who have the privilege already".

Thomas wasn't so keen in taking this a step further to allow them to become MHRs, although he did concede "that might come afterwards" and that "would have, without doubt, a very civilising influence on the debates, and that it would tend very much to check the manner and sometimes the matter of honourable members' discourses, as the influence of women is good whenever it is".

However, he continued, "she would have the right to express opinions here, and if you got a lady on the government side and another on the opposition side I think the debate might assume a very interesting but at the same time alarming character".

Sir John Hall's 1890 bill didn't, however, get the support needed at that time.

Thomas Tanner left for England for a visit at the end of 1890, so was not involved in Parliament when women were given the franchise in 1893.

In many ways, despite his reluctance for women to become MHRs, he was a promoter of their advancement.

Thomas was heavily involved in both local politics and the Anglican Church in a governance level.

Post-1893 he also argued for women to be represented on Anglican church Synod committees, and to vote in local authority elections which, from 1876, only allowed women who owned property to vote - usually spinsters or widows.

When the debate to allow women the franchise occurred in 1893, Napier MHR George Swan (1833-1913), who was elected in 1890, voted against giving women the vote.

His opposition was vocal and public.

When Sir George Grey moved Parliament to go into committee of supply in 1892 at the end of a long session to try and get it to obtain the franchise for women, a telegram was hastily sent to the Dannevirke Railway Station.

Its intention was to get George Swan, who had left for Napier, to return in anticipation of a close vote, but he wasn't needed on that occasion.

Swan was one of Parliament's biggest opposes of the franchise.

It was due perhaps to his association with brewing, as many men feared that women would bring about the prohibition of alcohol due to the influence of the Women's Christian Temperance Union.

After the franchise had been secured in September 1893, George Swan went into the 1893 election for the Napier seat still confident of success.

George had stated that "he felt sure of one thing - he would receive his fair share of the female vote" and that "he felt sure it would not prove unfavourable".

The Daily Telegraph reported on election day that, "The sight of knots of women at street corners, anxiously awaiting the results, was one which has not been seen before, and led one to conjecture that many on election day had been decided on the votes of the women."

However, fellow candidate Samuel Carnell (1832-1920) secured 2115 votes and George Swan 1594. Samuel Carnell was "hoisted shoulders high" by his supporters in victory.

George Swan was said to have taken the news of the loss "calmly", and in addressing his supporters upon accepting defeat said, "Although he was beaten in this election, in which the result had largely been affected by the votes of women, he believed in the principle that the majority must rule, and willingly bowed to their decision."

Samuel Carnell served only one term as Napier's MHR from 1893 to 1896.

George Swan was mayor of Napier as well as concurrently serving as the MHR during 1893 to 1896.

He was first elected as mayor in 1885 and continued until 1901, when he did not seek re-election, and at that time was New Zealand's longest-serving mayor.

I believe to this present day he remains one of Napier's most-loved and popular mayors.

• Michael Fowler ( is a Chartered Accountant, speaker and writer of history