Tommy Taylor


Tommy Taylor

Tommy Taylor was one of the most colourful figures in the political life of his day. He spent his life campaigning for the prohibition of alcohol.

Thomas Edward Taylor was born in Lincolnshire, England, and emigrated with his family from London to Christchurch in 1873, aged 11. At 14 he went through a crisis of conscience, and converted to Methodism. Soon he was teaching Sunday school, and debating society in the Church. He began preparing to enter the ministry, but his minister dissuaded him, deeming him too argumentative.

Instead, Taylor turned his attention to prohibition. Along with Leonard Isitt, he founded the Sydenham Prohibition League, followed by the weekly magazine the Prohibitionist.

In 1891 Taylor became a member of the Sydenham Borough Council, the beginning of his political career. Here he focussed on liquor licensing and the plight of the unemployed. In 1896 he contested and won a City of Christchurch seat in the House of Representatives. In Parliament Taylor continued to campaign against alcohol, and in 1898 became a vice-president of the New Zealand Alliance, the main prohibitionist organisation.

Taylor’s other political objectives included abolition of the Legislative Council, enhanced hospital conditions, technical education in schools and the right of women to hold public office. In 1899 he lost his seat due to his opposition to the South African War. He was able to regain it in 1902, choosing to align himself with campaigners for labour reform. He would lose his seat again in 1905, only to win one in Christchurch North in 1908.

His work on labour reform came to his aid in 1911 when he was elected mayor of Christchurch, with the support of organised labour. The rigours of the position may have had a harsh effect on his slight frame and, later that year, he died of a gastric ulcer. Some 50,000 people lined the streets of Christchurch for his funeral procession. 

Adapted by Patrick Whatman from the DNZB biography by A. R. Grigg

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