A year in the life of the New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal

The values expressed by the political cartoons in The New Zealand Graphic and Ladies Journal give us clues about the attitude of its publisher to the policies of the Liberal Government. The publisher’s attitude generally set expectations about the style and tone of both journalistic and cartoon content in their papers. The Graphic was published by Henry Brett, who also published the New Zealand Farmer and the Auckland Star. In those days both papers reflected conservative tendencies.  So it is therefore not surprising that the Graphic’s cartoons reflect similar right-wing concerns about the socialist taint of the Liberal Government.

The first cartoon we’re looking at was published on 21 January 1893 and was captioned ‘When a Little Farm we keep.’ Liberal land policy was to break up large estates so that they could relocate the urban unemployed on small farms. Simple, huh? Like killing two birds with one stone? So in the cartoon’s background a Liberal cowboy lassoes a hapless member of the unemployed, while in the foreground the leaders of the Liberal Government are working one of the farms they prepared earlier. The cartoon’s implication is that John Ballance has been milking taxes from the New Zealand public milch cow to give Richard Seddon the funds to sow seed in his fields. Meanwhile William Pember Reeves, the architect of state socialism, ladles dollops from his bowl of socialism to New Zealand voting geese (who’ve already been ‘goosed’ by the Liberals.)

'When a little farm we keep'. From: The New Zealand Graphic, 21 January 1893

Next month’s cartoon, published on 18 February 1893, alludes to Seddon’s imperial aspirations in the Pacific. Little New Zealand is urging his father, John Bull (Britain), to interfere as the United States annexes Hawai’i. John Bull is walking with British Prime Minister William Gladstone. The cartoon’s ironic implication is that Gladstone supported independent Home Rule and was not interested in acquiring more colonies.

'I say Dad don’t you think me and you ought to interfere?' From: The New Zealand Graphic, 18 February 1893. 

During April 1893, Graphic cartoonist Ashley Hunter returned to his criticism of the state socialism growing because of Liberal support for workers and unions. The cartoon for 22 April shows a well-dressed union boss using a New Zealand worker as the fulcrum to move the world into anarchy using strikes as the lever, and the strike funds he has bled from the workers as his counterweight.

'The Modern Archimedes Upsetting The World'. From: The New Zealand Graphic, 22 April 1983.

The Liberal Government walked a tightrope and performed a fine balancing act placating its supporters. Next week’s cartoon, published on 29 April 1893, suggests that Ballance, Seddon and Reeves are selling soft soap, surprise packages and water crackers to confuse and pacify the workers and women who supported them.

'A Large Order'. From: The New Zealand Graphic, 29 April 1893.

The next cartoon, published on 17 June 1893, suggests that the Liberals had very little of substance in their election manifesto to offer the New Zealand voting public. The cartoon shows William Pember Reeves gingerly crossing the Liberal Ass(n)’s weak plank, representing the policies that the Liberals were advocating in the 1893 election. Behind him, Richard Seddon reveals to Joseph Ward that he knows how weak their plank is.  The bemused public is represented by the donkey in the background.

'The Liberal Ass’s Bridge'. From The New Zealand Graphic, 17 June 1893.

On 9 September 1893, Hunter returned to his criticism of the new industrial relations environment William Pember Reeves had created in New Zealand. Reeves’s Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act established his ‘arbitrary’ Arbitration Court where all employers and unions had to go, and which ‘united Labour and Capital in the silken bonds of Industrial Conciliation.’ However the non-appealable Court Awards favour the workers, while arch-angel Reeves keeps the employer on his knees.

'Compulsory Conciliation'. From: The New Zealand Graphic, 9 September 1893.

Next month Hunter chose to focus on Seddon’s personal empire-building proclivities. During his career, the Premier aggrandised many ministries and departments unto himself, and in the cartoon for 7 October 1893 he is shown as the greedy little boy Alexander who always wants more …

'Alexander The Great sighing for new worlds to conquer'. From: The New Zealand Graphic, 7 October 1893.

Finally, the Liberals relied on popular support for their policy of helping the unemployed and other town dwellers onto the land to underpin their hold on power. The cartoon published on 4 November 1893 shows Seddon and Ward as two wheeling and dealing land agents whose business premises are now threatened by the conflagration of the General Election, with Seddon beginning to wonder if their usual electoral insurance policy will work this time…

'The Devouring Element'. From: The New Zealand Graphic, 4 November 1893. 

Over 35,000 images from The New Zealand Graphic and Ladies' Journal are now available on Heritage Images.

Author: Chris Paxton, Heritage Collections


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