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"The first gamble in human life"

In 1916 the New Zealand Government introduced conscription (compulsory enlistment for military service), to reinforce the shrinking numbers of men volunteering to serve in WW1. All men eligible for service were then required to register their names and other details, such as age and marriage status. This silent film clip, shot by the government’s own cameraman, shows the first-ever ballot at the Government Statistician’s Office, to determine which registered men would be selected for war service. The registration cards are laid out in boxes on long tables. Their numbers are transferred onto wooden balls which are placed in a rotating tumbler and randomly selected.

Conscription was politically contentious, and the film shows a party of journalists invited to view and report on the first ballot. They include Harry Holland, reporting for the labour movement paper, the Maoriland Worker. He had been imprisoned for sedition, for speaking out against conscription two years ealier in 1914.

Year:1916

Location:Wellington, New Zealand

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"The first gamble in human life"

In 1916 the New Zealand Government introduced conscription (compulsory enlistment for military service), to reinforce the shrinking numbers of men volunteering to serve in WW1. All men eligible for service were then required to register their names and other details, such as age and marriage status. This silent film clip, shot by the government’s own cameraman, shows the first-ever ballot at the Government Statistician’s Office, to determine which registered men would be selected for war service. The registration cards are laid out in boxes on long tables. Their numbers are transferred onto wooden balls which are placed in a rotating tumbler and randomly selected.

Conscription was politically contentious, and the film shows a party of journalists invited to view and report on the first ballot. They include Harry Holland, reporting for the labour movement paper, the Maoriland Worker. He had been imprisoned for sedition, for speaking out against conscription two years ealier in 1914.


Year: 1916

Length: 05:31

Production Company: Department of Agriculture, Industries and Commerce

Credits: Filmed by: Sydney Taylor (Government Cameraman)

Source: Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: F9351 BALLOT AT THE GOVERNMENT STATISTICIAN’S OFFICE


People: Malcolm Fraser (Government Statistician), J. P. Luke (Mayor of Wellington), Harry Holland (Leader of Labour Party & Maoriland Worker representative)

Location: Wellington, New Zealand


This film was shot at Routh’s Building in Wellington on 16 November 1916 by Sydney Taylor, the Government Cameraman, for historical purposes and was never publicly screened. It also includes rare glimpses of two well known public figures from the time: Harry Holland, the leader of the Labour Party, who was at the Government Statisticians Office overseeing the ballot as press representative for the Maoriland Worker, and Wellington Mayor J. P. Luke, who also oversaw the ballot.

The Evening Post reported: “[t]he Government Statistician (Mr. Malcolm Fraser) was in charge of the operations, and the supervising magistrate was Mr S. E. McCarthy, S.M. The invited spectators were:-- The Mayor (Mr. J. P. Luke), the President of the Trades Council (Mr. M. J. Reardon), and six press representatives. No one else was present who had not work to do in connection with the ballot; save for two photographers and a cinematograph operator. Nowadays everything is recorded for the moving pictures, and the first ballot under the Military Service Act was no exception. The cinema came and was clicking away busily...” (Evening Post, 16 November 1916, p.7) The New Zealand Truth, in its typical style, described events in a more colourful way. The ballot was “An Epoch Making Event in New Zealand’s History” and “the first gamble in human life”. It was also pointed out that the women who are seen in the film drawing registration cards could possibly “draw their sweetheart’s cards as time goes on”. (Truth, 18 November 1916, p.6)