By the early 1890s opponents of women's suffrage had begun to mobilise.
They warned that any disturbance to the 'natural' gender roles of men and women could have terrible consequences for society. The liquor industry, which feared that women would support growing demands for the prohibition of alcohol, lobbied sympathetic Members of Parliament and organised their own counter-petitions.
The suffragists' arch enemy was Henry Smith Fish, a boorish Dunedin politician who hired canvassers to circulate anti-suffrage petitions in pubs. This tactic backfired, however, when it was found that some signatures were false or obtained by trickery.
The Liberal government, which came into office in 1891, was divided over the issue. Premier John Ballance had long supported women's suffrage in principle, but privately he was worried that most women would vote for his conservative opponents. Many of his Cabinet colleagues, including Richard Seddon, a friend of the liquor trade, strongly opposed suffrage.
In 1891 and 1892 the House of Representatives passed Electoral Bills that would have enfranchised all adult women. However, on each occasion opponents were able to sabotage the legislation in the more conservative upper house, the Legislative Council, by adding devious amendments.
On Best Behaviour
Suffrage opponents had warned that delicate 'lady voters' would be jostled and harassed by 'boorish and half-drunken men', but in fact the 1893 election was described as the 'best-conducted and most orderly' ever held.
According to a Christchurch newspaper, the streets apparently 'resembled a gay garden party', and 'the pretty dresses of the ladies and their smiling faces lighted up the polling booths most wonderfully'.