November 11, 2002
Frederick George Evans, miner and staunch unionist, was clubbed to death 90 years ago tomorrow (November 12).
He died on November 12 after police and scabs invaded the Waihi Miners’ Hall in the culmination of a brutal and bitter industrial dispute. No-one was ever charged with his murder.
The Waihi Gold Miners’ Strike began in May 1912, and was one of the most dramatic events in New Zealand history. It was triggered by the long struggle of gold miners to secure decent wages and conditions. Their employer, the British-owned Waihi Gold Mining Company, made good profits but tried to impose miserly pay.
It ended in defeat for the unionists. Evans was murdered; more than 60 strikers were jailed; the remaining unionists and their families were driven out of town by the scabs. Many of their houses were trashed.
But Evans’ death was to become a rallying force for unionists around the country. The brutality with which the miners had been treated by the employer (backed by the Massey government) outraged workers across the country. Remember Waihi! became their rallying cry.
Harry Holland, who was later to become leader of the Labour Party, and two other activists wrote a passionate and detailed record of the miners’ struggle. Called The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike, it is still available in many public libraries. Maryan Street wrote about the role of women in Waihi in her book The Scarlet Runners.
Miners are now part of the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union, which will tomorrow be remembering the fate of Frederick George Evans and the Waihi miners.
“Waihi was an defining moment in the history of New Zealand workers,” said EPMU national secretary Andrew Little.
“Evans was one of the outstanding activists of labour movement and we will not forget what he stood for.”
March workers, March!
Look straight ahead.
For what is life with Hope denied?
In Labour’s cause our comrade died…
March, workers, March!
Though death may stun,
He liveth still, brave champion.
- Harry Holland’s poem for Frederick George Evans.