Alphonsus Parsons, seditious utterances

Alphonsus Parsons, seditious utterances

Sawmill hand Alphonsus Hugh Parsons was among the men who ran afoul of the military authorities for trying to opt out of the conscription system.

His first brush with the law came in March 1917, when he sat down for dinner at a New Plymouth restaurant and informed his fellow diners that ‘King Edward was a poofter’ and that ‘Kitchener was only a bloody German.’ The restaurant owner slipped out to fetch the constable as Parsons ranted on:

when H.M.S. New Zealand came to New Zealand they were all bloody Germans looking round on board … don’t be silly and go to the front, that bloody Kitchener will starve you … I would sooner be hung than fight for the British.

Arrested and brought before the magistrate, Parsons denied his comments, despite the presence of numerous witnesses – one of whose eyes he threatened to poke out in the courtroom. The magistrate concluded that though the comments were ridiculous they were clearly seditious, and sentenced him to two months in prison. The constable also noted that Parsons – then aged 35 – had not enrolled for the conscription ballot as the law demanded.

Released in May 1917, Parsons was immediately brought before New Plymouth magistrate once again for failing to enrol for the ballot. He was sentenced to another month in prison, at the end of which he slipped the authorities’ clutches before he could be sent to camp. Legally, Parsons was now a defaulter.

Eight months later a constable stopped Parsons in Hamilton, demanding to see his registration card to prove he was legally enrolled. He could not produce one, and inquiries revealed that he was already wanted in Taranaki. He was immediately called up under section 34 of the Military Service Act, which allowed the authorities to send men deliberately evading enrolment straight to camp. The Defence Department also prosecuted two men who had employed him during his months at large.

Parsons was rapidly despatched to Trentham Camp, where he was medically inspected and found fit for military service. Standing true to his remarks in New Plymouth, Parsons refused to accept his military kit or to serve with the allied forces. He was court-martialled in February 1918 and sentenced to one year and 11 months in prison, much of which he served at Featherston Camp.

The Religious Advisory Board interviewed him at Waikeria Prison in early 1919, concluding that he had ‘a weak intellect’ and found themselves unable to identify his reasons for refusing service.

He was finally released on 14 August 1919, and found himself on the defaulters list and thereby unable to vote or hold government employment for a decade.

Sources: Andrew Parsons personnel file, AABK 18805 W5549 120 90424, Archives NZ; Taranaki Daily News, 30 March 1917, p.6; Waikato Times, 4 January 1918, p.4; list of imprisoned conscientious objectors; convictions for sedition 1915-18; military defaulters list; report of the religious advisory board 

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