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Attempting to divide
the municipality in 1877

Keith Tankard
Updated: 14 October 2009
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The 2nd Triennial Council was elected in February 1877. It was a disaster. The 1st Council had procrastinated its time away but the 2nd almost destroyed the municipality.

It had a problematic start. The outgoing Council had decided in November 1876 to expand to ten members, with five for each ward and only five to form a quorum. This theoretically meant that decisions could be taken more speedily.

Nothing was done to speed the amended regulation till January 1877 when time was already running out. The Town Clerk was then instructed to wire a telegram to Government but he neglected to do so. Luckily the Colonial Secretary acted on his own initiative and published the amendment in time.

John Gately did not stand for re-nomination, citing pressing business engagements. The result was the election of Amelius Vincent to the Chair. Not only was he inexperienced but he also placed personal interests ahead of Municipal needs.

The challenge was the river which divided the two wards. Half the councillors needed to cross in order to attend meetings, and this had to be done either by ferry or pontoon -- not a pleasant prospect in the chill of an evening.

The railway line to Queenstown was by now also well under construction. Because its terminus was at Panmure to save the cost of bridging the river, it meant that Ward 2 was beginning to outstrip the original village on the West Bank.

It was clear that the centre of the town would soon move there, but not yet. There were still far too many sensitive West Bankers who were clinging to the past and would have their feathers ruffled by any injudicious Council decisions.

Vincent, however, ran rough-shod over their feelings. He chose an opportunity -- when Charles Nicholls proposed that all councillors' qualifications should be examined -- to propose an amendment to transfer the municipal offices to the East Bank. This unleashed a hornet's nest.

In the vote which followed, Nicholls' motion was defeated while Vincent's amendment was stalemated. It revealed a divided Council, with the East Bank favouring the move and the West Bank opposing it. That meant a Chairman's casting vote, and Vincent favoured the move.

Because he was himself an East Banker, he was accused of bias. The West Bank councillors immediately resigned en bloc, and Vincent used their absence to call for another vote which naturally gained unanimous support.

A very determined struggle then ensued to divide the municipality in two. The public meeting which followed, however, brought forth a strongly worded counter-proposal by John Gately which very bluntly called on the Councillors to stop playing games and start doing some work.

At this point, Amelius Vincent stepped down as Chairman, quoting business commitments. At the same time, William Fuller resigned, giving John Gately the opportunity to stand for office once more. He was immediately re-elected to the Chair.

With Gately's return, level-headedness was restored. At last, after almost a year of destructive wrangling, the Council was able once more to pursue its objective of promoting town interests.

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