|Ref: 7-A10659, showing rioters in Featherston Street, Wellington running for protection from Mounted Special Constables during the Waterside Strike, 1913, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
|Ref: AWNS-18991215-5-9, WF Massey, Parliamentary Representatives Auckland Provincial District, 1899, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
The majority of Auckland's total of 1,902 mounted volunteers came from rural areas of the Northland or the Waikato, but there were also significant numbers from South Auckland localities. According to figures published in the semi-official volunteer-produced 'Camp Gazette', Waiuku with a total of 53 volunteers led the South Auckland contribution by far. Then came Buckland (23), Clevedon (17), East Tamaki (15), Patumahoe (15), Pukekohe (14), Tuakau (10), Mauku (9), Manurewa (8) and Bombay (4). There were three volunteers each from Glenbrook and Otahuhu; two from Aka Aka, Papatoetoe, Paparimu, Puni and Runciman; one each from Karaka, Pokeno and Waiau Pa.
|Ref: Footprints 02388, A group of East Tamaki farmers who served as special constables, photograph reproduced by courtesy of Howick Historical Society, 1913, South Auckland Research Centre|
Most of the mounted men transferred to the Domain on or after 6 November, although smaller camps were also established in Remuera and near the wharves. The 'specials' took control of the wharves on 8 November, at which stage the strike in Auckland become more-or-less general. This phase lasted little more than a week, however, after which strikers gradually returned to work. The strike was formally called off on 24 November, although some unions held out longer - the waterside workers until 19 December. The specials by that time had mostly quietly returned home.
|AWNS-19131113-40-2, the enrolment of special foot constables in Auckland, 1913, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
"The police enlisted thousands of special constables with horses and batons and sometimes revolvers [sic]. Young farmers, 'Massey's Cossacks', rode into the main ports as 'specials' to intimidate the strikers and the public ..." ('Poverty and Progress in New Zealand' (1969, p.65).
Popular mythology thus has it that the 'specials' were armed thugs rampaging out-of-control through the streets. This view reaches its apogee in Chris Trotter's book, 'No Left Turn' (2007, p.90), which characterises them as a proto- or Ur-Fascist species ("Look at the carefully posed photographs of these lads: young, confident, flaxen-haired, resplendent in their brown shirts and riding boots, batons in hands, it really is hard to tell whether they're from Hamilton or Hamburg ...").
|Ref: AWNS-19131113-44-3, farmers swearing in as special constables at Otahuhu, 1913, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
Most of the violence occurred in Wellington, where the strike began, rhetoric was at its hottest, and for a time the strikers seized control of the wharves. There ensued scenes never seen before on New Zealand streets. Soldiers and sailors paraded with fixed bayonets. Machine gun emplacements were set up on street corners. Spiked devices to lame horses were strewn on the streets. Even a cache of dynamite was discovered. In the overheated atmosphere a number of bloody clashes occurred between the police and special constables and the strikers and their supporters.
|Ref: AWNS-19131113-42-1, the camp of mounted special constables on the Domain, 1913, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
|Ref: 7-A10660, Mounted police guarding the lower Queen Street entrance to the wharves, 1913, Sir George Grey Special Collections|
For more information about this story, with full references, see Manukau’s Journey (use the search term ‘Cossacks’). Contemporary newspaper reports on Papers Past also offer other insights into these events. For background material on the Great Strike from a range of different perspectives, see the following resources held in the heritage collections at Auckland Libraries:
- Erik Olssen, 'The red feds: revolutionary industrial unionism and the New Zealand Federation of Labour 1908-14 (1988)
- James Bennett, 'Rats and revolutionaries:: the labour movement in Australia and New Zealand 1890-1940' (2004, pp. 69-2)
- Melanie Nolan (ed.), 'Revolution: the 1913 Great Strike in New Zealand' (2005)
- Bruce Farland, 'Farmer Bill: William Ferguson Massey and the Reform Party ' (2008).