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"Trouble Makers" - Anarchism and Syndicalism.
The early years of the Libertarian Movement in Aotearoa / New Zealand

Arthur Desmond

One person not mentioned by Nettlau is Arthur Desmond. Desmond is cast as a rather flamboyant and eccentric character. He was born in Hawke's Bay of English / Irish parents in about 1859, although his background and date of birth has never been confirmed. Throughout his life he made a point of covering his tracks. He worked as a cattle drover and unsuccessfully contested the general elections of 1884 and 87 on a platform of land reform and single taxation. Single tax was the name given by the economist Henry George to his proposal that taxation should be confined to land rent; land being, in his view, the real source of wealth. Desmond received considerable support during the 87 campaign, and obtained a majority of votes in Taradale the second largest town in the electorate. He bitterly attacked the local establishment describing bank directors as "scoundrels", estate owners as "blood-sucking leeches", and of course the local press as "hirelings of monopoly".

After his defeat in the election he realised that there wasn't much of a future for somebody with his vindictive talents in Hawkes Bay. Not to mention work. He found employment in the timber mills of Poverty Bay and on farms in the Waikato. He later wrote.

Arthur Desmond was a supporter of Te Kooti the leader of the Hau Haus, and probably met him. He was attracted to the Communism of the Maori people, and especially their communal land ownership. When Te Kooti announced his intention to visit Gisborne in 1889, Desmond was the only person who spoke in his support. The settlers organised a meeting to prevent Te Kooti's visit. Five hundred people packed into a school-room at Makaraka and there was talk of bloodshed and massacres. They decided to arm themselves and stop Te Kooti. Desmond spoke on behalf of Te Kooti. He told the meeting that he was acquainted with many of Te Kooti's followers, and that Te Kooti meant them no harm. All he wished was to visit the place of his birth. The meeting erupted in an uproar, and he was thrown out.

Desmond had lived with the Maoris at Te Karaka, who were members of Te Kooti's Ringatu church. He had moved there to study the songs and stories of the Maori people. The real reason the colonists feared the visit was that they thought Te Kooti would prevent the sale of Maori land. A few days later on the 21st Feb another large meeting took place, this time in Gisborne. Eight hundred people attended and passed a resolution to stop Te Kooti by any means necessary. Again Desmond spoke in favour of Te Kooti's visit. He told the assembly that he had a message from the Maori leaders at Te Karaka, and informed them that they had no right to interfere in what was to be a peaceful visit. Again the settlers wouldn't listen, and a fight broke out. Desmond, slightly out numbered, had to be "escorted" from the meeting by the police. He was described as the "pakeha emissary from the Hau Hau's" in the NZ Herald, and, according to the paper, was lucky to get out of the meeting alive. By this stage Poverty Bay was in a panic. The government stepped in and arrested Te Kooti and his seventy followers, many of them women and children, at Waiotahi. Te Kooti was charged with unlawful assembly and despatched to Mount Eden gaol. He was later released and returned to the Waikato. Arthur Desmond deeply admired Te Kooti and wrote a poem dedicated to him. (See Desmond's poem: Song of Te Kooti)

After this Desmond moved to Auckland. He was an active member of the Timber Workers Union and represented the union on the Auckland Trades Council. He also toured Northland organising for the newly formed Gum Diggers Union. During the Maritime strike he published a paper called the "Tribune", and became one of the militant leaders of the strike in Auckland. In the "Tribune" he said

In the midst of the strike he was extremely vocal in his condemnation of the employers, and especially the small group who had a strangle hold on commerce in the Auckland region. The Bank of New Zealand was the spearhead of this capitalist domination. However the "Bank" also had it's own problems not dissimilar from todays. Corruption and bribery were rife, and Desmond didn't waste any space in the "Tribune" in his condemnation. He squatted an office belonging to the Auckland Employers Association. After three weeks the employers discovered the identity of their unwanted guest and promptly demanded that he vacate the office and hand over the key. In retaliation perhaps, Desmond forged a confidential letter from a cabinet minister to the Auckland Employers Association. From an election platform he accused the Association of corruption and conspiracy. The letter was obviously a forgery and the cabinet minister Mr E Mitchelson took proceedings against Desmond for criminal libel. The Tribune ceased publication and Desmond was once again on the move this time to Wellington where he worked on the waterfront.

By late 1892 he was in Sydney. He was involved with the anarchist Active Service Brigade, and a paper called "Hard Cash". The 1890's was a time of depression and saw the collapse of many weak financial institutions. Desmond was arrested for chalking on a bank "Going Bung". The Active Service Brigade's aim was to "change the present competitive system into a co-operative and social system". The government and press tried to implicate the Active Service Brigade and Desmond in various dynamite plots and intrigues. By late 1894 he was in Britain, and then he worked in the United States. What happened to him after this is a mystery. According to some he was killed in World War 1; others say he was killed during a rebellion in Mexico. Arthur Desmond never described himself as an anarchist, but because of his association with anti-authoritarian ideas and groups he is often regarded as such. He was an individualist anarchist along the lines of Max Stirner.

The Song of Te Kooti
Arthur Desmond

Te Kooti was a veritable Maori Robin Hood - an outlaw, who for years fought the invaders of his country, and outmanoeuvred their generals by his knowledge of the bush. The translator has done his best to turn the savage force and poetic fervour of a wild Maori chant into the rhythmic swing of ordinary English verse. In doing so he has faithfully preserved the meaning, but has been compelled to take some liberties with construction and metaphor.

    Exult for Te Kooti! Te Kooti the bold;
    So fierce in the onset, so dauntless of old,
    Whose might was resistless-when battle-wars rolled,
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    The Pakehas came with their rum and their gold,
    And soon the broad lands of our fathers were sold,
    But the voice of Te Kooti said: Hold the land! Hold!
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    They falsely accused him, no trial had he,
    They carried him off to an isle in the sea;
    But his prison was broken, once more he was free-
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    They tried to enslave us, to trample us down
    Like the millions that serve thern in field and in town;
    But the sapling that's bended when freed will rebound-
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    He plundered their rum stores, he ate up their priests,
    He robbed the rich squatters to furnish him feasts -
    What fare half so fine as their clover-fed beasts?
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    In the wild midnight foray whose footsteps trod lighter?
    In the flash of the rifle whose eyeballs gleamed brighter?
    What man with our hero could clinch as a fighter?
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    They say it was murder; but what, then, is war?
    When they slaughtered our kin in the flames of the pa,
    0 darker their deeds and more merciless far!
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    They boast that they'll slay him -they'll shoot him at sight,
    But the power that nerves him's a giver of might;
    At a glance from his eye they shall tremble with fright -
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    When the darkness was densest he wandered away
    To rejoice in the charge of the wild battle-fray;
    Now, his limbs they are feeble, his beard it is grey -
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    The Eternal's our father, the land is our mother,
    The forest and mountains our sister and brother;
    Who'd part with his birthright for gold to another?
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    We won't sell the land - 'tis the gift of the Lord -
    Except it be bought with the blood-drinking sword;
    But all men are welcome to share in its hoard -
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    Yet 'mid the rejoicing forget not the braves
    Who, in glades of forest, have found lonely graves,
    Who welcomed cold Death, for they scorned to be slaves -
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

    Exult for Te Kooti, Te Kooti the bold,
    So sage in the council, so famous of old,
    Whose war-cry's our motto -- 'tis Hold the land! Hold!
    Exult for Te Kooti, yo-hoo!

From the Bulletin (Sydney) Of 23 March 1889. Desmond had probably met Te Kooti. In February 1889, when Te Kooti's announced intention to visit Gisborne caused a panic among local settlers, Desmond, who was described as 'a pakeha emissary from the Hauhaus', attended a protest meeting at Gisborne and attempted to read a message but was ejected amid scenes of great uproar.

Frank Prebble

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Last modified: August 16, 1999

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