Census Sunday: Alternative Census Records for NZ

Electoral rolls as alternative census records.

Electoral rolls are important genealogy tools in a country like New Zealand where census records are not available. Full names, addresses and occupations are listed in the rolls and, because they are regularly published, it’s possible to track family members over time and place.

1911 election night in Cathedral Square, Christchurch.
Auckland Libraries, AWNS-19111214-4-2 

The Central Auckland Research Centre recently obtained a new CD-Rom from the NZ Society of Genealogists which has fully indexed five rolls marking major changes in male and female suffrage in this country.

1881 Electoral Roll

In the first national elections of 1853, only male British subjects aged 21 and over who owned property were eligible to vote.

About 100 Maori men were enrolled out of a total electorate of 5,849 because few Maori qualified under the property requirement - their lands were generally held communally (as iwi, hapu or whanau groups) rather than under individual freehold or leasehold title.

This property requirement also excluded recent arrivals, and transient workers who usually lived in boarding houses, tents or shacks. As these men did not possess property, they were not considered real settlers.

Voter turnout was low and candidates were often elected unopposed until the 1881 election when, after much debate, universal male suffrage (excluding aliens and prisoners) was introduced. Provided voters had lived in the colony for one year, and in their electorate for six months prior to the election, they were now entitled to vote.

In Christchurch’s Heathcote electorate, the Star reported “at the time of closing the poll some disturbance occurred on account of a number of electors having congregated in the lobby shortly after 5 o’clock; and when the hour of closing arrived and their votes had not been recorded, they manifested a somewhat forcible unwillingness to leave the building until the assistance of a constable was called in.”

Observer, 2 December 1911, page 6
from Papers Past
Observer, 31 October 1896, page 7
 from Papers Past

1893 Electoral Roll

Despite opposition to women’s suffrage, franchise was extended to include women aged 21 and over in 1893, although women were not allowed to stand as candidates or be elected as parliamentarians until 1919.

“The Hon. Dr Grace opposed the clause to enfranchise women chiefly on the grounds that their system was too complex to stand the strain attendant upon the excitement of election. He thought too highly and tenderly of women to subject them to the excitement of politics.”    ~ Wanganui Chronicle, 25 August 1893


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