In May 1852 when the New Zealand Constitution came into effect there were only three permanent houses in the district we now know as the Hibiscus Coast – two at Waiwera and the Hatfield home about half way along what we call Pine Valley. John and Emma Hatfield had lived there for five or six years raising animals, crops and children, but they had neglected to complete their purchase of the land from the government. In August they were shocked when Maurice and Mary Kelly began building about a mile away up on the hill they thought was their own. The Kellys had a thriving timber business with at least 100 employees so by the time the first countrywide elections were held the following year there could have been a population of at least two hundred in the area between the Weiti and Horseshoe Bush. There was still no universal suffrage. Women of course had no vote and men over 21 had to own property or to be married men with an established household.
With so few options the Kelly homestead was chosen as the district’s first polling place. It was probably already operating as a hotel and as both the Kellys were virtually illiterate they employed a tutor for their children who could have acted as ‘poll’ clerk. In those days, he literally counted heads. There was no secret ballot then. A man would present himself, give his name and the name of the candidate he favoured and the poll clerk would write it down. But as Maurice quickly realised, nobody was checking that the heads were human ones. He gave his bullocks the names of bona fide voters and voted on their behalf. Maurice was not a man who believed in taking life seriously. He loved practical jokes and elections gave him glorious opportunities.
His wife however was more than a match for him. By his own standards he was an honest man. ‘He always voted straight and only took one man’s money, telling him right out whether he would vote for him or not’ (NZ Herald 24/3/1888). In the first election for the provincial superintendency in 1853 Maurice favoured the colonel of the 58th Regiment, Henry Wynyard but Mary Kelly received a letter asking for her support for Wynyard’s opponent William Brown, the business partner of John Logan Campbell. According to Maurice ‘she came out with vengeance in her countenance, and gave me a kick in the centre of gravity, which sent me head over heels under the staircase. By the time I had picked myself up she had 22 polled for Brown.’
On another occasion, when the Returning Officer came to oversee proceedings, Maurice persuaded him that the polling place was at Wainui. Before the officer became aware he had been misled Maurice had polled 45 bullocks. In a hut near his house he kept suits of clothes that gumdiggers could change into in order to vote more than once. A number of gumdiggers’ wives voted several times and in later elections some young women cut their hair short and voted not only at the Wade but at Mahurangi and Waiwera as well. Doubtless they signed the petition for women’s suffrage twenty years later. It was all good clean fun.