Labour History

“A Petty and Spiteful Spirit on the Part of the Company”: The 1881 Cromwell Company Strike at Bendigo, Otago

Labour History (2013), 105, (1), 187–210.


The historic reserve at the goldfields-era ghost town of Bendigo is a spectacularly beautiful place of stone ruins, abandoned cottages and mining detritus scattered across a quintessential Central Otago landscape. The archaeological landscape features one atypical ruin, the remains of a very substantial house. Unlike similar structures which have crumbled naturally through years of exposure to the extreme Bendigo climate, it was deliberately wrecked during a bitter industrial dispute in 1881. This conflict tore the community apart. In scenes reminiscent of Highland Clearances and Irish Land League battles, armed police oversaw the employer-decreed destruction of homes and the eviction of families in what was the only New Zealand dispute to escalate into this sort of extreme behaviour. Contemporaneous local and regional newspaper reports have been used to examine the events of the strike and discuss the profoundly polarised parties in the dispute, highlighting the unique aspects of the events in New Zealand’s labour history.

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*The author would like to thank Professor Erik Eklund (Monash University) for alerting me to the events at Minmi, and the two anonymous referees ofLabour Historyfor their comments and suggestions, especially the suggestion that I re-examine the Maori land confiscations as a part of this study. Google Scholar

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Author details

Carpenter, Lloyd