Sir James Carroll the Voice of the People
The little known story of the charismatic Irish-Maori politician and New Zealand Wars volunteer, Sir James Carroll’s visit to the Somme in 1916 is retold in the New Zealand Listener.
Carroll, born to a Maori chieftainess and a Sydney-born Irishman, was one of 33 delegates invited to visit England to discuss the war in June 1916. But with Dublin still smouldering after the Easter Rising, the twice acting New Zealand prime minister is about to find himself at the centre of events that will bring down empires.
Carroll travelled on board the White Star Line ship The Baltic, which docked in Liverpool in the early hours of the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army. On 1 July, 19,000 British soldiers were slaughtered as the Battle of the Somme began. That was just the first day; by the time it was over, there were a million dead and wounded on all sides.
Carroll was welcomed to the Western Front with a haka led by Lieutenant Henare Kohere. He knew Kohere and many of the New Zealand Pioneer Battalion boys from the Gisborne area, including members of his own family.
Away from the front lines, the delegates visited munitions factories and war hospitals. They were wined and dined and met the King and Queen. The war tour was an elaborate public relations exercise to shore up support in the far-flung nations of the Empire and show them how strong the Mother Country was. But Carroll had a rebellious streak.
After the official programme of events was over, Carroll made an unofficial trip to Ireland, the land of his paternal ancestors. He and some of the other delegates arrived in a poor, slum-ridden Dublin in August 1916, amid the tense aftermath of the Easter Rising, a six-day rebellion by armed republicans.
As a leader with Irish roots who’d long fought to stem the tide of Maori land sales, Carroll, hardly surprisingly, campaigned for the rights of Irish Catholics. He recognised and encouraged a close relationship between Maori and Irish Catholics in New Zealand.
Carroll’s outspokenness was well known in Gisborne. He’d represented the area for many years, winning the Eastern Maori seat in 1887 before becoming the first Maori to win a general seat in 1893. Gisborne supporters had cabled British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith suggesting Carroll resolve the Irish question. “I think the Gisborne admirers have been altogether too modest in their request, and should have asked the Premier to send Carroll over to see the Kaiser and insist upon peace being declared at once,” a reader responded.
“Carroll was telling us, as we plied him with questions,” wrote a Dublin Evening Mail correspondent, “about Irishmen in the Overseas Dominions – what good men they were and what good colonists. As we were coming away, an English colleague of mine, who had been rather silent, told me he had only asked Carroll one question: if there were any Englishmen in the Empire. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘what did he reply?’ ‘Oh,’ he answered, ‘his reply was quite cheering. He said he knew of several.’”
Original article by Lydia Monin, New Zealand Listener, October 18, 2016.