Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 53, September 2009

(by Graham Watton)

With the increase of mining in the Ohinemuri County, during the 1880s so did the number of hotels to meet the thirst of the miners and residents. There were five hotels in Paeroa, three at Karangahake, one each at Mackaytown, Waikino and Waitekauri and five in Waihi.

The issuing of sale of liquor licences was entrusted to the local Ohinemuri Licensing Committee, which covered the Ohinemuri County. This group of five members, elected by the community, met every three months to consider the issue, renewal and transfer of licences and the general standard of service and maintenance of the premises.

The Ohinemuri County in those days also included Kerepehi, Patetonga and Waitoa and out to Waihi Beach.

Throughout New Zealand there was strong Prohibition Lobby and each general election this group was out in force calling for the ban on selling liquor through a poll conducted in electorates in conjunction with the election of candidates for Parliament.

The lobby was mainly based around church groups and Temperance Societies. In the three months leading up to the general elections there were numerous public meetings held and these were reasonably well attended.

For the 1896 general election there was counter move in the Ohinemuri Electorate with the licensed hotelkeepers deciding to raise funds and support those candidates who opposed prohibition.

In the election the voting for a continuation of licences was 2006; a reduction in licences 1140 and no licences 1533.

All went quiet in the prohibition controversy until about three months before the 1899 general election.

In July 1899 an enthusiastic prohibition convention was held in Wesleyan Church, Paeroa. Workers came from Thames, Turua, Puriri, Hikutaia, Te Aroha, Karangahake, Waihi, Waitekauri, Golden Cross and Paeroa. It was decided to establish a Prohibition League in each of the districts with a strong central committee.

Keynote speakers were brought into the area to lecture on the evils of liquor and there a noticeable increase in attendance at these meeting when compared with previous elections.

The general election was held in December, 1899, with the result: Continuance 2259; reduction in licences 2156 and prohibition 3128. However this was not the 3/5th majority of the votes cast required to have the licensing law changed.

The 1902 election saw the Prohibition Lobby campaign from six months out with the Prohibition League being revived and there was also the Paeroa No Licence League formed during a meeting in the Methodist vestry. The Temperance Society speakers received attentive audiences.

When the general election was held at the end of November, 1902, there was smaller turnout of voters than previously. The results were Continuance 1956, reduction in licences 1255, no licence 1808.

The lead up to the 1905 general elections followed the same campaigning as previously, with the Prohibition Lobby very active throughout the district. The voting resulted: Continuous 2096, no licence 2020, reductions in licences 1354.

Again in 1908 the campaigning of the Prohibitionists was full on, with meetings and high-profile speakers urging to make a change and the county go "dry".

And their efforts were rewarded in the ballot box with final count: No licences 3340 votes, reduction in licences 2295 and continuance 2040. Total number of votes cast were 5423. No licences vote was 86 more than 3/5th majority of the total vote cast required to have alcoholic liquor sales were banned the Ohinemuri County.

At about 10.30 p.m. on polling day the Ohinemuri Hotel, on the corner of Normanby Road and Arney Street, and which had been vacant for a few years, was burnt to the ground.

Rob Roy Hotel was the first to re-open in Waihi on July 1, 1926

The Rob Roy Hotel was the first to re-open in Waihi on July 1, 1926, after 17 years of Ohinemuri County being dry.

The Years Ohinemuri County Was "Dry"
Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 53, September 2009
Rob Roy Hotel was the first to re-open in Waihi on July 1, 1926

A recount of the local option vote was undertaken by Mr J. Jordan, Clerk of the Thames Magistrate's Court, and no change, the no licence majority vote went up by one vote.

Petitions were lodged against the poll alleging a number of irregularities. A Court of Inquiry comprising three magistrates sat in Waihi Court on December 21, but adjourned proceedings until January 25, 1909. The Prohibition Lobby strongly opposed the petitions.

Finally the decision of the Court of Inquiry was released on March 1, 1909, which dismissed the petitions and the petitioners were order to pay court costs £80/17/- ($167.70) and typewriting expenses £27/6/- ($54.60).

The Ohinemuri Licensing District was declared a no-licensed area from June 30, 1909.

Under the new Sale of Liquor regulations all hotels would lose their licenses. The residents could obtain supplies from outside the Ohinemuri County area for their personal use only, supplies not exceed one quart of spirits or wine or one gallon of beer on any one day. The consignment had to have the purchaser's name and address clearly displayed together with the details of the order and the supplier.

There were many who flocked to the hotels on June 30, 1909, for their final night out and have their last drink on licensed premises. From July 1, most of the hotels became boarding houses. The Licensing Amendment Act prohibited, in a no-licensed area, liquor at any social function or sports meeting.

After four weeks being "dry" the Railways Department saw the chance to gain some revenue. It ran a special train from Waihi to Thames on Saturday mornings and return on Saturday nights. Thirsty miners dominated the passenger list with large numbers boarding the train at Waihi, Waikino, Karangahake and Paeroa. The train stopped at the Ferry Road level crossing at Hikutaia, to allow most of its passengers disembark and walk 150m or so up the road to the Pioneer Hotel, which was in the Thames County and still had its liquor licence.

On the return trip to Waihi, the train stopped at Ferry Road for its passengers who embarked in various state of intoxication. There was a story told that there was a rope along the edge of the road so that those hotel customers "a little under the weather" could find their way back to the train.

The train soon became noted for its drunkenness, fights, foul language, passengers being harassed, windows broken and drinking in the carriages. Children were placed on the overhead luggage racks for safety. Police met the train at each station to remove the trouble-makers.

The police were kept busy checking consignments of liquor coming into the county by boat, rail and coach. For instance a 3-gallon keg of beer was seized at the Paeroa railway station as it was not labelled in accordance with the Beer Duty Act. Again, a man was arrested with a quantity of liquor which was not labelled correctly.

The official returns tabled in the House of Representatives in September, 1910, records liquor sent into the Ohinemuri District as: Beer, 30,496.5 gallons; brandy, 89; gin, 84; rum, 22.5; whisky, 2562; wine, 341; miscellaneous, 64;. Total, 33,638 gallons (152,917 lt.). The number of electors on the Ohinemuri electorate roll was 6932—almost 4.85 gallons (22.05lt) per head.

When the Ohinemuri Jockey Club held its annual two-day race meeting in March, it could not have liquor on the course. This did have an affect on the number attending and the totalisator turnover.

With the lead-up to the 1911 general election, the Prohibitionists were out again, although not as forceful as in previous years. In Paeroa a branch of the Restoration Movement was formed seeking the licenses being returned to hotels in Ohinemuri.

The local licensing poll taken with the general election saw 3073 voting for restoration and 3263 for national prohibition. The 3/5th majority were not reached to change the situation.

The 1914 result was similar result and with the country was concentrating on the First World War the planned 1917 general election was delayed until 1919. Again the vote in the local liquor licence poll saw restoration gather 3058 votes, no licence 2559, with 181 informal. There was little change in the 1922 voting.

In March 1923 the Paeroa Chamber of Commerce discussed a motion to "approach the Government to issue licences to towns in no-licensed areas which had the required 3/5th majority vote at the last general election". A lengthy, and at times heated, debate ensued.

An amendment, "that the change be made only for those towns with a population of 7000 and over", was lost by 8 votes to 25. Another amendment "that towns should decide for themselves by a bare majority" was lost on a show of hands. Finally the main motion was carried by a 75% majority attending the meeting. However, there was little response from the Government of the day.

With the approach of the 1925 general election the Paeroa Chamber of Commerce, July, 1925, held a very heated debate over a notice of motion "that the present continuance of existing liquor conditions were a hindrance to the town". Finally, an amendment "that the matter be adjourned for six months" was a compromise to stop the chamber from splitting apart.

Campaigning on both sides had been stepped up for the 1925 general election. The Prohibitionists held rallies and the Band of Hope organised a parade of children from the railway station to the Gaiety Theatre.

On polling day there were 6773 votes cast in the Ohinemuri Electorate on the local liquor issue. Restoration received 4112 and no licence 2661—restoration gained the 3/5th majority by 49 votes and Ohinemuri electorate had voted to become "wet" after 17 years.

The New Zealand Alliance petitioned for a magisterial recount and when this completed the majority moved up one vote.

With the Ohinemuri County change to take place on July 1, 1926, an election was held to re-constitute the Ohinemuri Licensing Committee in March, 1926, when 22 candidates stood for the five vacancies. The election resulted in W. J. Towers, P. E. Brenan, W. Marshall (all Paeroa), F. W. Walters (Waitoa) and W. M. Wallnutt (Waihi) being successful.

Licenses were to be issued at one for every 500 population. There were 15 hotels in the area and those which were still under the same management as at the time of prohibition in 1909 were given preferential treatment when making an application for a renewal of their licences. There were seven applicants in this category. While many of the hotels still existed after 17 years of no-licence, they all needed extensive renovations and additions to bring them up to meet current licensing standards, before a new licence would be issued.

There was a shortage of accommodation in Paeroa as the four hotels converted from boarding houses back to licensed premises. On one particular night there were 50 visitors wanting dinner and a bed.

The first licence to be issued was in April, 1926, and it was to Mr W. L. Buchanan to manufacture wine.

By the end of April three Paeroa hotel proprietors had lodged applications: Paeroa Hotel, owned by L. D. Nathan and Hancock and Co Ltd., Royal Mail Hotel, Catherine Vincent Crosby and Criterion, Lewis Emanuel Cassrels.

The committee's first meeting was held in the Paeroa Courthouse early in June, 1926.

When making an application for a licence formal evidence was taken of the history of the hotel, the current proprietors, and renovations either done or to be done. In the case of the Royal Mail Hotel, there were plans tabled for a new hotel, as the previous building had been destroyed by fire in 1912.

There was an application for a Railway Hotel, but as this did not exist and the persons involved were not in the licensed trade prior to 1909, it was declined. There was extensive legal action, going all the way through to the Auckland Supreme Court, but without success.

The Pioneer Hotel, Hikutaia, Mrs Julia Corbett, had its licence approved subject to conditions of an upgrade. An application for the Karangahake Hotel was withdrawn when a certificate of fitness was not granted to the applicant Guiseppe S. Rossi.

The Licensing Committee visited the Paeroa and Commercial Hotels in Paeroa and Rob Roy at Waihi on July 1 and issued them with licences.

The three hotels opened at 2 p.m. on the same day after 17 years of being dry. The first to be served in Paeroa was Wae Taekuto, a 70-year-old Maori. Good fellowship prevailed until closing time at 6 p.m. Paeroa was one of the most convivial places in New Zealand.

Paeroa and the surrounding district accepted a significant social change to the community and apart for the odd "harmless drunks" appearing before the Justices of the Peace in the Court, the return to liquor licensing went smoothly.

Applications were received by the Licensing Committee for wholesale licences, but the Committee chairman, Mr F. W. Platts, SM, told the applicants the Committee was not in favour of such licences and the applications were withdrawn.

An application in 1927 from the Commercial Hotel for a wireless in the bar area was also declined by the Committee.

On March 6, 1929, the Ohinemuri Licensing Committee held its last meeting. It was merged with the Thames Licensing Committee, covering the Counties of Thames, Ohinemuri and Hauraki Plains and the internal boroughs of Paeroa, Waihi and Thames. Before its first the meeting in June that year there had been an election held and the five representatives came from Coromandel, Matatoki, Paeroa, Waihi and Thames.