1939 Christchurch South by-election

The 1939 Christchurch South by-election held on 3 June was caused by the death of Ted Howard during the term of the 26th New Zealand Parliament. The by-election in the Christchurch South electorate was contested by Robert Macfarlane for Labour and Melville Lyons for National, with Macfarlane winning the election. At the time, Macfarlane was Mayor of Christchurch.

1939 Christchurch South by-election

← 1938 general 3 June 1939 (1939-06-03) 1943 general →
Turnout11,905 (76.36%)
  Robert Macfarlane (crop).jpg Melville Lyons, 1930.jpg
Candidate Robert Macfarlane Melville Lyons
Party Labour National
Popular vote 7,900 4,005
Percentage 66.36% 33.64%

Christchurch South electorate 1938-46.png
Christchurch South electorate boundaries used for the by-election

MP before election

Ted Howard

Elected MP

Robert Macfarlane


Since the first election of Ted Howard in the 1919 general election, Christchurch South was held by the Labour Party.[1] At the last general election in 1938, Howard had polled 9,885 votes versus 3,890 votes for Gladstone Ward, the son of former Prime Minister Joseph Ward.[1][2] When Howard died on 26 April 1939,[3] the electorate was thus regarded as a safe seat for Labour.[1]

On nomination day, two candidates were put forward, Robert Macfarlane for the Labour Party and Melville Lyons for the National Party.[4] Mabel Howard, Ted Howard's daughter, had hoped to be put forward by the Labour Party, and she was endorsed by the local branch of the party.[5] The national executive of the Labour Party chose Macfarlane, and Howard believed that she was opposed by the party's hierarchy due to her connections to John A. Lee, who was seen as a radical within the party.[6] The chosen candidate, Macfarlane, had been Mayor of Christchurch since the previous year.[7]


Results of the Christchurch South general election held on 15 October 1938 were:[2]

Christchurch South general election, 1938
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Ted Howard 9,885 71.76
National Gladstone Ward 3,890 28.24
Majority 5,995 43.52
Turnout 13,775

Results of the by-election held on 3 June 1939 were:[8]

1939 Christchurch South by-election
Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Robert Macfarlane 7,900 66.36
National Melville Lyons 4,005 33.64
Majority 3,895 32.72 -10.80
Turnout 11,905 76.36[9]

There were 20 polling booths and Lyons obtained a majority at only two of those (at Kilmore Street and at the Provincial Chambers in Durham Street). Macfarlane could increase the Labour vote at one polling booth only (Antigua Street in Sydenham).[10] Macfarlane stated that in his belief, about 2,000 Labour Party supporters did not vote because the outcome of the election was a foregone conclusion.[11] This view was disputed in an editorial by The Evening Post, arguing that the reduced Labour support is due to Howard's popularity that Macfarlane does not possess despite many high-profile politicians having campaigned on Labour's behalf, and that it is more likely that National supporters have suffered from apathy, as Lyons never had any hope of winning the election.[12]

Macfarlane held the electorate until its abolition at the 1946 general election and subsequently Christchurch Central[13] until the 1969 general election, when he retired.


  1. ^ a b c "The By-Election". Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 128. 2 June 1939. p. 8. Retrieved 13 November 2011.
  2. ^ a b "General Election". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVI, no. 98. 22 October 1938. p. 10. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  3. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 115.
  4. ^ "City By-Election". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 118. 22 May 1939. p. 11. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  5. ^ "Labour Party Nomination". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 102. 3 May 1939. p. 7. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  6. ^ McAloon, Jim. "Howard, Mabel Bowden". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  7. ^ "Chairmen and mayors". Christchurch: Christchurch City Council. Archived from the original on 22 May 2010. Retrieved 15 November 2011.
  8. ^ "Official Count". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 134. 9 June 1939. p. 6. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  9. ^ "By-Election Result". Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette. 7 June 1939. p. 5. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  10. ^ "Seat Retained". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 130. 5 June 1939. p. 10. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  11. ^ "A Hard Fight". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 130. 5 June 1939. p. 10. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  12. ^ "A Straw Vote". The Evening Post. Vol. CXXVII, no. 130. 5 June 1939. p. 8. Retrieved 14 November 2011.
  13. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 122.


  • New Zealand Official Yearbook 1940 p926
  • Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer.