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Conscription ballot box, World War I

Ballot Box
Ballot Box 1916, Maker unknown, New Zealand. Gift of the New Zealand Immigration Service, 1989. Te Papa

Lottery of death

This ballot box was used in New Zealand when the government introduced conscription (compulsory military service) in 1916. World War I had been raging for 2 years, and numbers of volunteers were no longer keeping pace with the losses.

Conscription became known as 'the lottery of death'. The ballot box was filled with numbered marbles, matching numbers on men's enrolment cards. If your numbers came up and you were judged medically fit, you were in the army.

Maori participation

Maori were initially excluded from volunteering because the government considered the conflict a 'white man's war' and not for 'natives'. When they were permitted to join, large numbers did so.
But some iwi (tribes) did not support the war. Tainui, whose fertile Waikato land the Crown had confiscated in the 1860s, refused to take part. In 1917, Tainui men were singled out for conscription. Other iwi had 'done their bit' voluntarily, the government argued.

Many Tainui who resisted were imprisoned, though they were never sent to fight.

© Copyright Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington, New Zealand.