First elections in Queenstown and Arrowtown – A Tale of Two Towns

First elections in Queenstown and Arrowtown – A Tale of Two TownsQueenstown about 1867 (All photos are courtesy of the Lakes District Museum)

The gold rush in 1862 created new settlements where the action was. Queenstown clustered at the bay where boats from Kingston landed. Arrowtown’s shanty town was close to the river and the gold.

After several years the inhabitants petitioned the Otago Provincial Council to create boroughs, Queenstown in 1866 and Arrowtown in 1874. This meant that they could run their own affairs through mayors and borough councils. The first elections were major events which created strangely different situations.

Only men who owned land could vote. Tough luck for the large proportion of the male population who were goldminers not landowners. Women who owned land in their own names could not vote until 1879.

Courteous in the Queen’s Town, 1866

The process for nomination for mayor was that lists of supporters put open letters in the Lake Wakatip Mail, petitioning in their favoured person to agree to be nominated. Those petitioned then responded in the newspaper. It is said that leading businessmen, James W Robertson and Bendix Hallenstein, having both been petitioned, tossed a coin to decide which of them would stand for mayor and which for council rather than compete with each other. Hallenstein then declined nomination for the mayoralty, and supported Robertson. (Hallenstein became the second mayor in 1872.) Another candidate, D G MacDonnell, withdrew from the race in favour of William Fuller, thus leaving two contestants. This was all accomplished in a most gentlemanly and transparent manner through the newspaper.

first elections in queenstown arrowtown blog 4Mayor James W Robertson

Polling day sounds more like a sports event than an election. The polling booths were at two hotels, Eichardt’s Queen’s Arms and McLarn’s Prince of Wales, with a room in each set aside for secret voting. Rival groups of supporters campaigned and thirsts were quenched at the bars. The Lake Wakatip Mail reported: ‘Both parties exerted themselves to the utmost. Bets were freely made and a considerable amount of money changed hands. Though feeling was so strongly imported, everything passed off remarkably smoothly, almost wonderfully, as the election had verged into consideration of the personal qualifications of the candidates.‘ The result was J W Robertson 40, W Fuller 29. Mr Fuller was more than gracious, stating that he ‘rejoiced in his defeat.’ The councillors were elected two weeks later, and the new borough was off to a strong start.

Chaotic in Arrowtown, the Wild East, 1874

Even the process of having Arrowtown declared a borough was difficult as there was dispute over where the boundaries of the town should be. Doesn’t that sound familiar? One meeting dissolved in disorder. The borough was eventually formed in 1874.

The first mayoral election campaign was marked by personal attacks from both sides, and resulted in a dead heat between Samuel Goldston and Robert Pritchard with 30 votes each. A second vote was required, and Goldston won by 42 to 41. (Pritchard was elected a councillor, and served as mayor in 1875 and 1876.)

first elections in queenstown arrowtown blog 3Arrowtown in 1875. Note the mining in the foreground and the Catholic Church

It immediately became apparent that the first council had little knowledge of meeting procedure or governance. Even appointing a Town Clerk proved contentious as their first appointee, James F Healey (my great-grandfather), promptly asked for a rise from £15 to £25 plus a percentage of rates and other fees. This was granted, but there was a public outcry, and it was found that the council had not abided by the legislation. The job was re-advertised with the pay and conditions Healey sought, but he was not appointed. (Tough luck, but two years later he did become Town Clerk.)

Public dissatisfaction with the council continued. The reporter for the Lake County Press described behaviour at a meeting as ‘disgraceful’ including ‘personal abuse and insinuations of selfish, mercenary motives .... It would be wearisome and anything but edifying to reproduce all the nonsense and abuse indulged in during a three hour sitting.’ The mayor left one meeting when all the councillors disagreed with him on a minor matter. They carried on without him. In fact, the council had become so unruly that the Sergeant of Police was asked to attend future meetings to keep order.

We trust that our newly-elected 21 st -century mayor and councillors hold dignified and productive meetings for the benefit of us all.

Marion Borrell

Lake Wakatip Mail and Lake County Press accessed from PapersPas, Clayton, Neil, ‘A stormy start at Arrowtown’, Queenstown Courier Issue 15 available on

For more information visit:

About the author

Queenstown Historical Society

For 50 years this feisty society has been protecting, promoting and celebrating our vibrant history.


© 2018