09 December 2017

First women in the world to be enfranchised - New Zealand 1893

As in other European societies, New Zealand women were excluded from any involvement in politics in early colonial times. Most people accepted the idea that women were naturally suited for domestic affairs i.e home and children. Only men were fitted for public life and the hurly-burly of politics. New Zealand History has provided the first half of this post.

Some women began to challenge this narrow view. New opportunities were opening up for women, especially those from upper or middle-class families, in education, medicine, church and charities. Attention soon turned to women’s legal and political rights.

The suffrage campaign in New Zealand began as part of a broad late C19th movement for women’s rights that spread through Britain and its Empire, the USA and northern Europe. This movement was shaped by two main themes: a] equal political rights for women and b] a desire to use them for the moral reform of society eg through prohibition.

New Zealand’s pioneering suffragists were inspired both by equal-rights arguments of philosopher John Stuart Mill and British feminists, and by the American-based missionary efforts of Women’s Christian Temperance Union - WCTU.

Some of New Zealand’s leading male politicians, including John Ballance, supported women’s suffrage. In 1878, 1879 and 1887 bills or amendments extending the vote to female ratepayers only narrowly failed to pass in Parliament.

Outside Parliament the movement gathered momentum from the mid-1880s, especially following the establishment of a New Zealand WCTU in 1885. Led by Kate Sheppard, WCTU campaigners and others organised huge petitions to Parliament: in 1891, in 1892 and finally in 1893 tens of thousands of signatures were obtained, a quarter of New Zealand’s adult European female population.

By the early 1890s opponents of women’s suffrage were mobilising. They warned that any disturbance to the natural gender roles might have terrible consequences. The liquor industry, fearful that women would support growing demands for Prohibition, lobbied sympathetic Members of Parliament and organised counter-petitions.

The suffragists’ arch-enemy was Henry Smith Fish, a boorish Dunedin politician who hired canvassers to circulate anti-suffrage petitions in pubs. But this tactic backfired when some signatures proved to be false or obtained by trickery.

The Liberal government came to office in 1891 and was divided over the issue. Premier John Ballance supported women's suffrage in principle, but he was anxious that women would vote for his Conservative opponents. Many of his Cabinet colleagues, including friends of the liquor trade, strongly opposed women’s suffrage.

In 1891 & 92 the House of Representatives passed electoral bills that would have enfranchised all adult women. But on each occasion opponents sabotaged the legislation in the conservative upper house, the Legislative Council.

In Ap 1893 Ballance died and was succeeded by Richard Seddon. Suffragists groaned, but following the presentation of the massive third petition, another bill easily passed in the House. Once again, all eyes were on the Legislative Council. Liquor interests petitioned the council to reject the bill. Suffragists responded with mass rallies and telegrams to members. They also gave their supporters in Parliament white camellias to wear in their buttonholes.

Voting in Auckland, 1899
photo credit: Ministry for Culture and Heritage

For the women of New Zealand, Sept 1893 was a special time. Seddon and others again tried to torpedo the bill by underhand manoeuvres, but this time their interference backfired. Two opposition councillors, who had previously opposed women's suffrage, changed their votes to embarrass Seddon. The bill was passed by 20 votes to 18.

The battle was still not over. New anti-suffrage petitions were circulated, and some members of the Legislative Council petitioned the governor to withhold his consent. In a buttonhole battle, anti-suffragists gave their parliamentary supporters red camellias.

Lord Glasgow finally signed the bill into law in Sept. Women celebrated throughout the country, and congratulations poured in from campaigners in Australia and overseas: New Zealand’s achievement gave new hope to women struggling for emancipation across many countries.

Not everyone in New Zealand rejoiced at the outcome. For some men at least, the prospect of such activists influencing politics was an evil thought. Men opposing female suffrage could only call in the aid of the women who would prefer to leave the game of politics to men.

Suffrage opponents had warned that delicate lady voters would be jostled and harassed in polling booths by ‘boorish and half-drunken men’. But the 1893 election was actually described as the ‘best-conducted and most orderly’ ever held in New Zealand.


Invigorated by the New Zealand suffrage victory in 1893, Mary Lee and Elizabeth Nicholls, like many other WCTU activists, travelled all over the South Australian colony to obtain signatures for a suffrage petition. The WCTU suffragists were critical to the success of the campaign, first in South Australia and, eventually, nationally. So it is not surprising that in Australia, women were first able to vote in the State elections of South Australia in 1894.

Western Australia followed in 1899. But it was only in 1902 that the newly federated nation allowed white women to both vote and stand for Federal elections on a universal and equal basis with white men. This dual right, the complete electoral franchise AND eligibility to sit in parliament, was what political philosopher John Stuart Mill called perfect equality. In New South Wales women gained the vote for State government in 1902, in Tasmania it happened in 1903, in Queensland in 1905 and Victorian women gained the vote for state government in 1908. Indigenous Australians were excluded from Federal elections for decades more.

The Christchurch Memorial, made by sculptor Margriet Windhausen, 
3.3 x 2m bronze bas-relief.  Unveiled 1993.
The camellia and white ribbons were symbols of the suffrage campaign. 

In the same year, 1902, Vida Goldstein was in Washington DC as Australia and New Zealand’s sole delegate to the International Woman Suffrage Conference. She addressed huge American audiences on one of the most pressing global issues of the day: Votes for Women. Alas by 1908 only Finland and Norway had joined New Zealand and Australia in enfranchising women.

05 December 2017

Raoul Wallenberg: a great biography

Ingrid Carlberg’s book RAOUL WALLENBERG: The Biography has 3 parts: the early years; Budapest heroism; and the family’s post-war attempts to get him home. I have concentrated on the first two parts, backed up by Jan Larsson’s journal article. And from my mother in law who lived in Budapest in 1944-5; she would have loved this book.

Raoul Wallen­berg (1912-?) was born near Stockholm. The family had been lead­ing bankers and diplomats for many years. His father was a naval of­ficer and a cousin of two of Sweden’s best-known C20th financiers and indust­rialists. But dad died just before the baby’s birth.

After compulsory mil­itary service, in 1931-5 Raoul studied archit­ecture the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Then grand­pa sent him to Cape Town to train in a Swedish building mater­ials firm. Finally grandpa arranged another job at a Dutch bank in Haifa where Wallenberg met German Jewish exiles for the first time.

After returning to Sweden in 1936, Wallenberg went into inter­nat­ional trade. Through the Wall­en­berg network of business world links, he was introd­uced to a Hungarian Jew, Koloman Lauer, who ran a Swedish based food import-export firm. Wallenberg spoke fluent Swedish, Russian, Eng­lish and German, and could travel freely around Europe, so he was a per­fect business partner for Lauer. Wallenberg was soon a major shareholder and the international manager of the Hungarian firm, making frequent trips to Hungary.

Wallenberg’s diplomatic passport, 1944 
Photo credit: Stockholm Jewish Museum 

Beginning in 1941 Hungary had joined forces with Germany, against the Soviet Union. When the Germans lost the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, Hungary wanted to follow Italy’s example and ask for a sep­­­­arate peace. At that point, Hitler summoned the Hungarian Head of State, Miklós Horthy, and demanded solidarity with Germ­any.

By early 1944 Hitler’s plan to annihilate the entire Jewish popul­ation in German-occupied countries was finalised. Only Hun­gary still had its 700,000 Jewish residents alive! Then the Fascists started putting Jews from the Hungarian rural areas into deportation trains to death camps in Poland.

USA's government-backed War Refugee Board/WRB wanted to send an emissary, under Swedish diplomatic cover, to save Hungary’s Jews. The choice of Raoul Wallenberg as the WRB’s emis­s­ary proved inspir­ed. In June 1944 he wrote to the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs, ask­ing for dec­ision-making independence from Budap­est’s Swedish ambas­sador. Prime Minister Per Albin Hansson and King Gustav V agreed!

Even before Wallenberg arrived, the head of Swedish Red Cross Valdemar Langlet was assisting the Swedish Legation. Langlet rented buildings for the Red Cross and named the buildings Swedish Library or Swedish Research Institute. They were then used as hiding places for Jews.

Horthy hadn't started deportations of Bud­ap­est Jews, but the city's residents knew that their deaths would follow. Many of them sought help from the embassies of neutral states who did issue temporary passports to Jews who already had spec­ial ties with these countries. But it was too few, and too late. Wall­enberg personally intervened to secure the release of bearers of protect­ion documents from the columns of marching people.

Horthy received a letter from Swedish King Gustav V in Mar 1944 with an app­eal to stop Jewish deportations. Horthy bravely attempted to assure that justice prevailed and the deportation trains were can­celled. Horthy even discussed making peace with the Allies, to halt the inev­it­able assault from the East.

A Swedish Schutz-Pass/protective passport 
identifying this Hungarian woman as a Swedish citizen 
August 1944

Hitler occupied Hungary, and the Fascist Arrow Cross seized power in March 1944. The new govern­ment resumed the dep­ort­ation of Hung­arian cit­izens on trains to the exter­min­ation camps. Note that the Hun­garian Nazis were feared at least as much as the German Nazis. [Post-war, all Arrow Cross commanders bar one were exec­ut­ed].

When Wallenberg arrived in Budapest in July 1944, time was run­ning out. As first secret­ary of the Swedish dip­lom­atic mission with few resources, he quickly built up a team of helpers. Luckily his office was in the same building as the American Embassy. The WRB rescue mis­sion was an initiative from American authorities, created as an unoff­icial cooper­ation with the neutral Swedish government.

Under Adolf Eichmann, the Germans had already deported 400,000+ Jews in freight trains; there were only c200,000 Jews left in the capital. Eich­mann’s plans to exterm­inate Hungarian Jews were rel­entless. So Wallen­berg issued Swedish schutz-pass/protection certif­icates to enab­le Hungarian Jews to claim immunity from persecution as “foreign citiz­ens". He interv­ened in Nazi and Arrow Cross raids to save Jews from tran­sport­ation to the death camps. He rented buildings and made them Swedish territory, to give hiding spaces.

When conditions were desperate, Wallenberg issued a simplified version of his protective Swedish passport, a mimeographed page with his sig­nature! The new Hungarian Nazi government immediately ann­ounced that all prot­ect­ive passports were invalid. But Baroness El­izabeth Liesel Kemény, wife of the foreign minister, allowed Wall­enberg to get his protective passports reinstated. As the freight cars full of Jews stood in the railway station, he heroically climbed on top of them, ran along the roof of the cars and handed bundles of protective pass­ports to the occup­ants. He then demanded that those Jews who received his protective passports be allowed to leave the train!

Hungarian Jews rescued from deportation trains by Wallenberg, 
Nov 1944 
Photo credit: US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Wallenberg successfully used every tech­nique available to him, including forged docum­ents, bribery and blackmail. Yet in Jan 1945 friends urged Wallenberg to seek shelt­er, especially since the Hungarian Arrow Cross were sear­ching for him. He had been responsible for saving the lives of 30-40,000 Hungarian Jews.

In Jan, Wallenberg approached the advancing Soviet troops, saying he was the Swedish chargé d’affaires for the parts of Hungary liber­ated by the Soviets. En route to Soviet military headquarters in Debrecen, Wallenberg stopped at the Swedish houses, to say goodbye for the last time.

In the end Wallenberg had to place his faith in the Rus­sians; thankfully the Soviet troops did heroically free 100,000+ Jews in the seal­ed Budapest ghetto.


When reports showed that Wallenberg had disappeared, the Rus­sians first claim­ed he’d been murdered by the Hungarian Arrow Cross. Later the Russians admitted that he’d been swallowed up by the Moscow prison sys­tem in 1945. Worse still, the Swedish government did not help the Wall­enberg family get their son returned to Sweden, and they stop­ped the Wallenberg story appearing in Swedish news­papers. Sofar the Russian files have not yet been opened to historians :(

The Raoul Wallenberg memorial 
Linköping, Sweden.

Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Memorial, erected 1953, stands to the Jews murd­ered by German, Hung­arian, Ukrainian and other Fascists. The Avenue of the Righteous has 600 trees planted to honour the memory of Gentiles who risked their lives to save Jews. Wallenberg is the best known hero there. In 1981 the late Raoul Wall­en­berg was dec­lared an honorary cit­izen of the USA, Canada in 1985, Israel in 1986 and Australia in 2013.

02 December 2017

Golden Temple in Amritsar - stunning religious architecture and art

Sacred sites in India have long been associated with water; the Golden Tem­ple at Amritsar seems almost to float in a vast shimmering pool. The pool was created from a forest lake, which the Buddha himself is said to have visited and at which the founder of Sikhism, Guru Nanak, meditated.

When the site later became the main shrine of Sikhism, the lake was enlarged and given the name Amritsar/nectar of immortality pool. Building of the Sri Harmandir Sahib/abode of God, began in the late C16th for the fifth Sikh guru.

Golden Tem­ple at Amritsar and causeway,
surrounded by a large pool

Pure gold urns that line the terrace

This Sikh place of worship welcomed those of all faiths and of all levels of society. It was constructed so that the architecture itself suggested openness and reflected the central tenets of Sikhism. Once inside, visitors had to observe respect by removing their shoes and washing their feet, covering their heads and refraining from smoking, eating meat or drinking alcohol. 100,000 people visit daily, especially for the huge canteen that serves free food. Sharing meals with strangers is important in Sikhism, being bound up with the principle of equality.

The most important shrine in the complex is the Harmindir, built by Arjan Dev to house the holy scripture of Sikhism. In the C19th, Maharaja Ranjit Singh covered the temple with gold. The dome, an inverted lotus, is decorated with gold and precious stones and the holy scripture rests on a throne. The complex also contains holy trees with special powers, planted by the first high priest.

The other sacred shrine is the Akal Takht, which symbolises God’s authority on earth.

The Guru is carried around on a golden throne

Guru Granth Sahib/central religious scripture of Sikhism, 
under a bejewelled canopy

All about Sikhs has provided all the following information on Hari Mandir Sahib’s Art and Architecture.  Major Cole described the Temple as an adaptation of Mohammadan styles, flavoured with a good deal of Hindu tradition. Once taken over by the Sikhs, this synth­esis of Hindu and Muslim influences evolved into the wonderful Indian rococo art often seen in the Punjab. Instead of building the temple on a high plinth in the Hindu style, Guru Arjan had it built in a depression so that worshippers had to go down the steps to enter. Also it had four entrances, sym­bolising the fact that it is open to all faiths and castes without distinction; it is not elevated, so people have to walk down into it; and it is surrounded by holy water. The Hari Mandir, the causeway and Darshani Deorhi were probably completed in 1776.

The main structure rises from the centre of the sacred pool, 150 metres square, approached by a 60 metres causeway. An archway on the western side of the pool opens on to the causeway, bordered with marble balustrades, and standard lamps set upon marble columns. The 52-metre square-based Hari Mandir, to which the causeway leads, stands on a 20-metre square platform. Its lower parts are of white marble, but the upper parts are covered with plates of gilded copper. Inside on the ground floor on a raised platform is the Guru Granth Sahib/scripture, placed under a gorgeous canopy and studded with jewels.

The interior of the Shish Mahal is ornamented with small pieces of mirror, skilfully inlaid in the ceiling, and walls richly embel­l­ished with mostly floral designs. Further above the Shish Mahal is again a small square pavilion, considerably small both at its base as well as in its elevation, surmounted by a low fluted golden dome, lined at its base with a number of smaller domes. The walls of the two lower storeys, forming parapets, terminate with several rounded pinnacles. There are four kiosks at the corners. The combination of several dozens of different domes of gilded copper create a unique and dazzling effect, enhanced by the reflection in the water below.

So the typical art and architectural features of the Golden Temple can be summed up as (1) chhatris-pavilions which ornament the parapets (2) use of fluted domes covered with gilded copper (3) balconised windows thrown out on bay-windows with corn­ices and (4) enrichment of walls, arches and ceilings by mural art.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh repaired the principal building in 1802. To roof the temple with sheets of gilded copper, he donated Rs. 500,000 and the first plate on the temple was fixed in 1803 and completed by 1823. The archway under the Darshani Deorhi was embellished with sheets of gilded copper by the Raja of Jind. Being the central shrine of the Sikhs, almost every Sikh leader of any pretension contributed to its architectural and decorative additions.

Amritsar's position on the Indian border with Pakistan

Modelled on the Golden Temple's dome, a mammoth gate now greets those entering the holy city of Amritsar.

The mural paint­ing decorations are floral patterns interspersed with animal motifs. There are about 300 different patterns on the walls, which look like hung Persian carpets. The only mural depicting human fig­ures is on the wall behind the northern narrow stairway leading to the top of the shrine, representing Guru Gobind Singh on horseback. The lower mural works were in embossed copper, ivory inlay and other materials, whereas the upper portions of the walls of the Golden Temple are covered with heavily gilded, beaten copper plates. The designs are Mughalish, but the introduction of human figures, never seen in Mughal decorations, reveals Sikh origin.

The ivory inlay work is to be seen only on the doors of the Darshani Deorhi. The gate is made of shisham wood, the front overlaid with silver, the back inlaid with ivory. The silver-plated front is ornamented only with panels. At the back are square and rectangular panels with geometrical and floral designs, and animals.

In June 1984, supporters of a militant Sikh were demanding the establishment of Khalistan, a separate homeland for Sikhs. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent in the army, but the supporters were well armed and hundreds of soldiers were killed. Event­ually the order was given to shell the sacred Akal Takht. Many more people died. Six months later, Indira Gandhi was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards.

The Golden Temple is a regularly renewed symbol, glowing in richness and colour. But as part of the essential machinery of a living faith, it is a shrine and not a museum.