Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

TAYLOR, Thomas Edward

(1862–1911).

Prohibition leader and reformer.

A new biography of Taylor, Thomas Edward appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Thomas Edward Taylor was born in Lincolnshire, England, of working-class parents, and emigrated with them and three sisters to New Zealand in 1873. In Chelsea, London, Tom had been a Band of Hope worker, and in Addington, Christchurch, where the Taylors settled, the prevalence of drunkenness led him to undertake further temperance and personal welfare work. He left school in 1874 and his subsequent wide reading included the biographies of the dissenting and evangelical Christian reformers who in England led the nineteenth-century crusades against slavery, child labour, and illiteracy. Himself a Methodist adherent, he was inspired by those great puritans. In 1889 he was associated with Rev. Leonard Isitt in founding the Sydenham Prohibition League. Out of this came the first agitation for local option, which became law in 1893. Through powerful propaganda and the fervid eloquence of “Tommy” Taylor and other forceful speakers, the prohibition vote increased until in 1911 there were majorities in 67 out of 76 electorates. Taylor at all times objected to State Control.

Elected junior member for Christchurch in 1896 as a radical independent, Taylor fearlessly attacked the Seddon administration and secured the appointment of a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Police Department. He was unseated in 1899 through his opposition to New Zealand's participation in the South African War. In 1902, with his wife, he visited England and Europe where he inspected electric-power stations, including the hydro-electric installations of Switzerland. To his enthusiasm Canterbury owes its possession of New Zealand's first hydro-electric station.

Re-elected to Parliament in 1902 he became leader of the New Liberals, a left-wing group pledged to expedite social reform and to expose Seddon's alleged maladministration. They included some talented speakers, including G. Laurenson, F. M. B. Fisher, and H. D. Bedford, later Professor of Economics at the University of Otago. But Taylor's unwise precipitation of the Seddon-Taylor slander case, with the ensuing voucher case, wrecked his party and caused his second defeat. He was returned for Christchurch North in 1908 with a majority of nearly 2,000 but refused a portfolio from the Premier, Sir Joseph Ward, and in 1909 he raised a storm of protest against the unconstitutional nature of the Premier's presentation of a dreadnought (HMS New Zealand) to Great Britain in the naval crisis. On 27 April 1911 he was elected Mayor of Christchurch, but died on 27 July of that year. His funeral was the largest ever known in Christchurch.

Taylor was a brilliant political evangelist; by his powerful speaking he could sway an audience, but his zeal led him into indiscretions which on occasion marred his work.

Taylor foretold the adoption by all enlightened states of most of the reforms and welfare services we know today. Onwards from 1894 he was advocating the admission of women to all public offices, free secondary education, technical colleges, the reform of mental and penal institutions, cottage homes for orphans, and vocational guidance. In Parliament his special causes were land reform and better conditions for old-age pensioners and workers.

T. E. Taylor's publications include The Shadow of Tammany (1897), An Impeachment of the Seddon Administration (1905), and Two Common Men (1907).

Married in 1892 to Elizabeth Best Ellison, he was survived by her, five daughters, and one son. Mrs Taylor, who was awarded the O.B.E. in 1937, died in 1941. Their son, E. B. E. Taylor, was appointed New Zealand Ambassador to Japan in 1961.

by Nellie Frances Hayman Macleod, Authoress, Christchurch.

  • Temperance and Prohibition in New Zealand, Cocker, J. (1930)
  • Press (Christchurch), 28 Jul 1911 (Obit).
  • The Fighting Man, A Study of the Life and Times of T. E. Taylor, Macleod, N. F. H. (1965).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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