A brewery was one of the earliest industries in most fledgling towns in New Zealand, and most locations had more than one. The White Swan Brewery on Hastings Street, Napier was started, around the early 1870s, and was in business for over 60 years, with the building pictured and its additions wrecked in the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake.
The introduction of brewing from the “old country” was welcomed by the thirsty pioneering men, but drunkenness became a widespread problem among many Europeans and also Maori to whom it was introduced – they had no equivalent In their culture, therefore had little tolerance for it.
Many Maori originally did not like the taste of alcohol and called it waipiro (stinking water) or wai kaha (strong water), but, as the taste was acquired, many laws were passed to protect them from it beginning in 1847. These were not always successful in stopping the problem. Some early sales were made easier if alcohol had “greased the wheels”. Most of the legislation relating to Maori, and alcohol was overturned by the 1948 Licensing Amendment Act.
There were not surprisingly strong opinions on alcohol with women and the clergy mostly against it. The temperance (anti-alcohol) movement managed in 1911 to get a national vote on prohibition – the banning of manufacture and sale of alcohol, but 60 per cent of voters had to be in favour, but this failed as 55.8 per cent wanted prohibition. The closest New Zealand came to prohibition was in 1919 when 49.7 per cent voted in favour of it, narrowly missing out as the threshold was then 50 per cent, down from 60 per cent.
In 1928 prohibition was still a hot issue. The following letter, I am told used to hang on the wall at the Hawke’s Bay Hospitality Association. I know little else, except that a vote of prohibition was to take place that month.
6th November, 1928.
Do you realise that in a few days you will be called upon to cast your vote For or Against prohibition and that the future welfare of your country depends upon you? But even more intimately does it affect you in regard to the Health and Happiness of your husband, your son, your daughter or your betrothed?
Can you not recall how when you forbade a child something, that forbidden thing grew in that child’s mind and assumed a strange attractiveness? This peculiarity grows with the child and becomes thoroughly developed in a man. If prohibition is carried, be sure that unscrupulous people will always find a way to provide drinks, but such drinks will produce illness, blindness, and death.
If you want to be a proud mother and see the flesh of your flesh as self-controlled, law abiding and healthy New Zealanders, now is your chance to protect them from all the horrors and consequences of prohibition.
Believe me, dear lady, you do far better by appealing to the moral sense than to throw your loved ones and your country into the hands of bootleggers. Let us join at the poll in voicing a woman’s deep rooted objection to prohibition and its dire results.
Yours in all sincerity,
P.S. I forgot to mention l am going to cross out two lines and prohibition will be one of them. P.
The lines Prudence mentioned were state control and prohibition, leaving continuance. The 1925 prohibition poll in Hawke’s Bay had votes of 4911 in favour of continuance; 833 for state control of liquor, and 3463 for prohibition. In 1928, the year of letter, 4982 were for continuance, 640 wanted state control and 4061 for prohibition.
It is interesting that after the 1931 Hawke’s Bay earthquake when the government gave rehabilitation loans to rebuild business buildings wrecked in the 7.8 magnitude earthquake, that Napier’s Masonic and Criterion hotels were refused loans due to public bars being part of their buildings, which led to the creative ﬁnancing of the Masonic Hotel I’ve written about before.
In 1987 the last vote for prohibition was held in New Zealand, which of course failed.
Photo caption – HISTORIC: The White Swan Brewery in Napier likely taken from Swan Street angle in the 1870-80s.
PHOTO/COLLECTION OF HAWKE’S BAY MUSEUMS TRUST. RUAWHARO TA-U-RANGI 12446
Historic Hawke’s Bay