Created By: Radical Wellington Walking Tour
The Alexandra Hall at 56 Abel Smith was a popular space in the 1910s for political meetings, religious revival speakers and dances. In 1916 it hosted some of the big meetings of the anti-conscription movement. Worried about working-class enlistment to the slaughter of the First World War, in May 1916 the government introduced a Military Service Bill to try and establish conscription. The labour movement had been preparing for this since the war’s beginning, and anti-conscription leagues were set up across the country. Prominent Labour leaders would be jailed for the anti-conscription activism, and conscientious objectors (most famously Archibald Baxter) suffered horrific treatment by the army and the state. The police shut down and harassed anti-conscription meetings, but the movement drew in thousands of unionised workers to demonstrations, rallies, and public lectures.
Here at the Alexandra Hall a meeting was addressed by the British suffrage campaigner Adela Pankhurst as well as the local socialists Harry Holland and Paddy Webb. The Hall quickly filled up, and so Holland and Webb addressed overflow meetings on Abel Smith Street itself. These blocked traffic, and the police used them as an excuse to arrest all of the speakers.
The First World War had split the Women’s Social and Political Union in Britain, and its leadership in the Pankhurst family: Adela and her sister Sylvia both opposed the war on socialist and class-struggle grounds, while mother Emmeline, an enthusiastic imperialist, backed the British war effort. Adela, disowned by her mother, was exiled by the family to Australia, where she became active in the Women’s Peace Army and the local anti-conscription campaign. This Wellington meeting was one of dozens across Australasia she addressed. Pankhurst swung further to the left after the War, becoming a leader in Australian Communism, before turning sharply to the Catholic and anti-communist fascist right in her old age.
Holland and Webb were both convicted and fined for their role in the 4 June 1916 meeting and protest; Pankhurst, as a visitor to New Zealand, was convicted and discharged.
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Cory Anderson has written on the anti-conscription campaign for Socialist Review.
This point of interest is part of the tour: Walking Radical Wellington