Catholic Bishop found not guilty of sedition

17 May 1922

Cartoon about the Liston sedition trial (Auckland Libraries, New Zealand Observer, 27 May 1922)

James Liston, the assistant bishop of Auckland, was found not guilty of sedition following a high-profile court case. He was in the dock because of a St Patrick’s Day address in which he questioned the Anglo-Irish treaty and described the Irish rebels of 1916 as having been ‘murdered’ by ‘foreign’ (meaning British) troops.

Many New Zealanders staunchly loyal to Britain took offence at these comments. The New Zealand Welfare League believed that the speech had engendered ‘bitterness and strife amongst our people’ and encouraged ‘those whose efforts are directed to the destruction of the Empire’.

New Zealand’s Irish Catholic community rallied to the bishop’s defence. In the end, an all-Protestant jury found Liston not guilty of sedition, with the rider that he had committed a ‘grave indiscretion’.

Following Liston’s acquittal, much of the bitterness surrounding the ‘Irish issue’ in New Zealand gradually dissipated. In 1929 Liston became bishop of Auckland, a role he was to hold for more than 40 years.

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