The 1913 Great Strike

Page 6 – The 1913 strike in the South Island

Although the 1913 strike had its biggest impact on Auckland and Wellington, the South Island’s cities and mining towns were also affected.


In Christchurch the strike was largely centred on Lyttelton. The wharves were quiet from 30 October until 18 November, when attempts to load the ships were thwarted by strikers who invaded the wharves. The next day special constables began enrolling and a camp was set up at Addington. Early on the morning of the 25th around 800 mounted and foot special constables made their way over the Port Hills and took the strikers by surprise. Once the specials controlled the wharves, ‘scab’ workers from a new arbitrationist union began loading and unloading ships.

During the strike the newsboys of Lyttelton, mostly sons of watersiders, struck in solidarity. They were well organised with their own pickets and strike fund.


Only the watersiders and shipwrights went on strike initially in Dunedin and Port Chalmers. They were later joined – reluctantly – by the seamen, who followed the strike call of their national executive. An arbitrationist union was set up on 7 November and specials began enrolling on the 17th.

Mounted specials from country districts were camped at Tahuna Park, but there were no violent clashes with strikers. The most dramatic incident was the arrest of the entire strike committee, all six members of which were charged with intimidation.

The West Coast

The coal-mining areas of the Grey Valley and the Buller district were the heartland of UFL support. Watersiders at Westport struck on 29 October, followed by their Greymouth counterparts on 3 November. Coal miners also went on strike. During November and early December the wharfies and coal miners had virtual control of the Grey Valley and Buller, including Westport and Greymouth. Supplies began running out, as shipowners refused to send in ships which could not load coal.

The miners’ flying column

On a number of occasions miners from surrounding settlements descended on Westport and Greymouth to ensure the strike was being maintained. Large numbers of miners from Runanga and Blackball also travelled by cycle, car and foot to Brunnerton when the strikers heard that the miners there were considering going back to work. The Brunner mine stayed closed.

In the first months of the strike authorities in Westport and Greymouth did not attempt to enrol specials. They realised that specials would be outnumbered by strike supporters. In late December 1913 large numbers of regular police were sent to the West Coast. Specials were now enrolled. In Greymouth fear of reprisals against volunteers meant specials had to be conscripted by order of the local magistrate.

In January 1914 some miners began forming arbitrationist unions with the mining companies’ support. By mid-January miners on the West Coast had voted to return to work.

How to cite this page

'The 1913 strike in the South Island', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 2-Sep-2014