Sectarian violence in Canterbury

26 December 1879

Barretts Hotel, Manchester St, Christchurch
Barretts Hotel, Manchester St, Christchurch (Zoe Roland, Heritage New Zealand)

In Christchurch, 30 Catholic Irishmen attacked an Orange (Protestant) procession with pick-handles, while in Timaru, 150 men from Thomas O’Driscoll’s Hibernian Hotel surrounded Orangemen and prevented their procession taking place.

Ireland’s struggles for land reform, home rule and then independence were major issues in British politics throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. The influx of British and Irish immigrants to New Zealand meant these debates and crises were followed closely in this country.

The trouble in Christchurch began when a group of Catholic railway workers confronted a procession of Orangemen marching down Manchester St. Police resources were stretched because a 21-strong contingent had already left for Timaru in anticipation of the riot that occurred there the same day. The few police present, aided by a Catholic priest, managed to separate the two groups, but not before several Orangemen were injured. When the police attempted to arrest one of the Catholics, the ancient Irish battle cry ‘Faugh a ballagh’ (‘Clear the way’) rang out as supporters rushed to free him. The police eventually made three arrests.