A Night on the Town

Election nights were still lively and sometimes disorderly occasions.history-masterton-1884_0.jpg

In the early years large crowds would gather outside the main polling station (usually the courthouse) to hear the returning officer announce the local result(s) and the candidates thank their supporters. Groups of young men would often throw eggs, rotten fruit, flour-bombs or firecrackers, and drunken fights were common.

In the 1850s it could take days or even weeks to get news of election results from elsewhere in New Zealand. As the telegraph network expanded in the late nineteenth century, however, preliminary results could be forwarded to the main centres on election night.

By the early twentieth century newspaper offices had become the new centres of election-night activity. Huge crowds would gather to watch as the latest results were posted on massive outdoor election boards. Candidates would often address the crowd from a balcony, to the cheers or jeers of those assembled.

These scenes were common in New Zealand towns and cities until after the Second World War, when the growing dominance of radio (and later television) broadcasting began to shift the focus of election night off the streets and into the living room.

Flour-bombs and Firecrackers

The 1879 election in Christchurch was one of the most dramatic and violent in New Zealand's history. As night fell, a crowd of 1,500 drunken 'larrikins' battled the city's 33 policemen at the corner of High and Cashel streets, hurling flour-bombs, firecrackers and stones, and smashing several shop windows.


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Last updated: 15 February 2013