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The Shadow of Lionel Terry, Part 4

[1]1,239 words

Part 4 of 4

Terry in Context

Two years after Terry’s incarceration a White Race League was formed. As far back as 1857 an Anti-Chinese League had been set up and continued activities until at least 1896,[1] although the first Chinese did not arrive in noticeable numbers until the 1860s, when they were invited by the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce, prompting the Arrow District Miners’ Association to organize opposition in the 1870s. Other organizations included the Anti-Asiatic League, ca. 1909.[2]

However the White Race League was of an ideological and social reform orientation, and even had a world perspective, aiming to extend the League to other countries.[3] Its supporters included Premier Joseph Ward, who telegrammed a League meeting in Dunedin: “my sympathies are intensely with the cause you support.” The League was also greeted favourably by the press, The Star stating that the organizing secretary, A. W. Lloyd “is commendably moderate in his proposals,” which would ensure wide support.[4]

New Zealand’s most iconic statesmen were determined opponents of Chinese immigration. In 1879 Premier George Grey presented a letter to Parliament stating threat the good of the entire South Pacific depends on New Zealand preserving an “unmixed Anglo-Saxon population,” the civilization of which would be injured by a large number of Chinese.

Premier Richard Seddon, long remembered in New Zealand as the architect of pioneering social and labor reforms, was the most avid of opponents of Chinese immigration among politicians, stating to Parliament in regard to the Asiatic Restriction Bill 1896 that there would not be anyone in the House who doubted that the Bill should be passed on the “higher ground of race purity.”

In the same debate Robert Stout stated that he objected to Asiatics coming to new Zealand on two grounds: that of race primarily, and secondly, that of the impact on civilization. Stout was the Chief Justice who nine years later sat in judgment on Terry and sentenced him to death. He was of course duty-bound to uphold the law, as it applied to all residents of New Zealand, despite Terry’s eccentric contention, but the very year Stout pronounced sentence, he spoke of the rise of Japan in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese war, and wondered whether the Japanese might not seek to expand their burgeoning population beyond their islands, and saw an increasing danger coming from both China and Japan. In comparing the high education, public spirit, and self-sacrifice of the Japanese, Stout stated that Australasia “must in our social life abandon everything that leads to race degeneration and inefficiency,” including alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. Stout believed that social reform was a prerequisite for a healthy race, including shorter hours, healthy environment and food, and leading a “simple life.”[5]

Just how virulent opposition to Asiatics was in New Zealand is shown by a collection of caricatures compiled in the book Aliens At My Table, which includes dozens of illustrations from the popular press depicting the issue of Asisatic immigration,[6] indicating just how much more “extreme” – in today’s context – the popular image of Asiatics was in comparison to the considered views expressed by Terry within an historical context.

Given the widespread support for Terry’s basic views in regard to immigration, what was the problem that Terry felt needed to be so urgently addressed? Premier Ward, in replying to suggestions from the Anti-Chinese League, stated that while the self-governing Colonies had control over their internal affairs, a racially restrictive immigration policy would not get Royal assent. The matter had been historically dealt with by imposing poll taxes and language tests, but even an attempt to increase the poll tax to a suggested £500 would be opposed by the Imperial Government. Besides which an aspiring immigrant would seek to borrow from a moneylender in China and spend longer in New Zealand trying to recover the loan.[7]

The situation from the viewpoint of a Colony attempting to retain a European identity in the face of monopolistic demands for coolie labor was then quite hopeless, whether Terry had shot a Chinaman to draw attention to views already felt by most people, or whether he had stayed within the law to become a formidable organizer for a group such as the White Race League. His answer was ultimately that of “revolution,” because the real problem Terry recognized was not the “alien races” per se, but the plutocracy that had taken over the Empire and operated behind the flag, throne, and guns of Britain, just as today the neo-imperialists of international finance that took the place of the old Empires operate behind the flag and the weaponry of the USA. In essence, what Terry was saying then, was what the Left-liberal guru Noam Chomsky has stated of today:

Capitalism basically wants people to be interchangeable cogs, and differences among them such as on the basis of race, usually are not functional.  Over the long term you can expect capitalism to be anti-racist – just because it’s anti-human. And race is in fact a human characteristic – there’s no reason why it should be a negative characteristic. So therefore identifications based on race interfere with the basic ideal that people should be available just as consumers and producers, interchangeable cogs who will purchase all the junk that’s produced …[8]

What existed within the British Empire was a dichotomy: the valor of the soldiers at Rorke’s Drift contra the concentration camps set up for Afrikaans women and children during the Anglo-Boer War; the incorruptible British administrator dispensing justice contra the war to secure the opium trade in China for David Sassoon under the protection of the British Flag; the pioneers who set out from the slums of Britain to the colonies in pursuit of a better life contra the money-lenders who charged them usury on loans to secure miserable plots of land. As Terry indicated, the Empire expressed both the best and the worst of intentions, the imperial ideals of a Rhodes or a Kipling corrupted by the lords of finance.

Soon after, plutocracy had outgrown the confines of the old imperialism. So the old empires were scuttled after the death blow wrought by World War II. Then, in the name of “anti-imperialism,” a new order was imposed upon the world: a moneyed lordship more total, and a worship of Mammon more pervasive, than anything in Terry’s era. As for New Zealand, there is now an official commitment to becoming part of Asia, all in the name of “Free Trade.”


1. “Anti-Chinese League,” Wellington meeting advisement, Evening Post, Volume LII, Issue 92, September 9, 1896, p. 6.

2. “The Anti-Chinese Movement,” Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XLIII, February 6, 1909, p. 2.

3. Dr. T. F. MacDonald, “Reasons for a White Race Movement,” White Race Pamphlets No. 1, White Race League, ca. 1907.

4. “The White Race League,” The Star, Christchurch, Issue 8981, July 15, 1907, p. 2.

5. “The Brown and Yellow Peril. Views of Sir Robert Stout,” Nelson Evening Mail, Volume XL, July 18, 1905, p. 2.

6. Manying Ip and Nigel Murphy, Aliens At My Table: Asians as New Zealanders See Them (Auckland: Penguin Books, 2005).  The book, printed in bi-lingual English-Chinese, is of course intended as a program in guilt inducement for New Zealand’s traditional bigotry in regard to the “Yellow Peril,” which makes it plain is still manifested by, for example, Winston Peters and the New Zealand First Party. In alluding to Terry, Manying and Murphy describe The Shadow as “a novel” (sic), p. 17.

7. “Again the Asiatic,” Evening Post, Wellington, Volume LXXVI, Issue 63, September 11, 1908, p. 6.

8. Noam Chomsky, Understanding Power (New York: The New York Press, 2002), pp. 88–89.