28 Sep 1921


Bruce Mason, one of New Zealand's most significant playwrights, is born. Mason wrote over thirty plays, with The Pohutukawa Tree and End of the Golden Weather being two of his most well-known. Although Mason married in 1945, it wasn't until a book by John Smythe in 2015, that Mason's homosexuality became widely known. Smythe reflected on this more private side, "we can only wonder what else he might have written in a parallel universe or a more accepting era." Reviewer Dean Parker noted that Mason and his wife had an open relationship, "he was happily married with three children, but seemed to have had many male lovers." These are documented in surviving letters. One of his "pick-ups" in Christchurch later vindictively wrote to Mason's wife, "Do you know that your husband is an old lecherous pansy, well known all over NZ for it? The whole of Christchurch is laughing about you."

14 Oct 1922


"Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth." - Katherine Mansfield

9 Jan 1923


One of New Zealand's most famous writers, Katherine Mansfield, dies in France from tuberculosis. After her death, husband John Middleton Murry edited and published a journal of her writings - intentionally omitting material dealing with Mansfield's sexuality. This included information relating to Edith Kathleen Bendall and Maata Mahupuku - both of whom had relationships with Mansfield while she was in New Zealand. At the time Mansfield wrote in her journal "I want Maata - I want her as I have had her." Later she would begin work on Maata, a semi-autobiographical novel. She wrote "There was not very much light in the room and Maata's skin flamed like yellow roses. The scent of her, like musk and spice, was on the air."

23 Feb 1924


The NZ Truth newspaper published a story about the growth of degeneracy and sex crime. Under the headline "Sterilisation Proposed" the newspaper reported the increase of sex crimes from 1919 to 1922. Included in the figures was an increase in convictions for indecent assaults on a male (from 14 to 43). This involved, but was not necessarily limited to, consensual sexual activity between consenting male adults. The newspaper article noted "recent utterances from the Supreme Court bench have called attention to the desirability of some more or less drastic method, such as sterilisation, and the time may not be far distant when such a course will be justified."

1 Aug 1924


Poet Ursula Bethell sets up home with Effie Pollen in Christchurch. Much of Bethell's poetry described their home, garden and life together. Bethell called Pollen her "little raven" and mourned deeply when Effie died suddenly in 1934. Pollen was memorialised in a set of six poems, written each year by Bethell on the anniversary of her death.

7 Feb 1925


New Zealand Truth reports on "The Dazzling Dandies" - a prisoners' extravaganza at New Plymouth Prison. Since 1917, the prison had been used for the segregation of sexual offenders - including what was termed homosexualists. At the time, men could be imprisoned for up to ten-years for consensual "indecent assault on a male", and life imprisonment for sodomy. In a report from that same year, Mr Hawkins, Inspector of Prisons said "The worst pervert of all is the one who flagrantly offers himself for the purposes of sodomy. Strange as it may seem, there are quite a number of such degenerates in our prisons today; middle-aged and elderly men being the chief offenders of this class. In my opinion segregation for life is the only course [as] no cure is possible in such cases."

28 Mar 1925


The New Zealand Truth newspaper reports that nearly 20 per cent of New Zealand's prison population consisted of sexual offenders. The paper said that the convictions probably only represented a small proportion of the offences that were actually taking place. It singled out "homosexualists" in high society and in the ranks of Bohemia "where it is claimed a great deal of deliberate perversion is practiced under the cloak of art." The report said "lengthy terms of hard labour and even severe floggings have failed to curb the sexual license of the unfortunate pervert." It went on to talk about eugenics and suggested various remedies - from segregation for life to surgical operation.

16 Jul 1925


A report titled Mental Defectives and Sexual Offenders was tabled in Parliament. According to Mr Hawkins, Inspector of Prisons, the "worst pervert of all", ahead of those who abuse women or children, "is the one who flagrantly offers himself for the purposes of sodomy." The committee considered castration, segregation and indefinite prison terms. They concluded, "New Zealand is a young country already exhibiting some of the weaknesses of much older nations...We ought to make every effort to keep the stock sturdy and strong, as well as racially pure... Surely our aim should be to prevent, as far as possible, the multiplication of [weaklings]."

1 Oct 1925


New Zealander Peter Stratford marries Elizabeth Rowland in Missouri, USA. In 1929 the couple would make international news headlines when Stratford's death bed confession to a doctor was reported as "I am not a man. I am a woman." Stratford emigrated from Oamaru to the United States in 1905 and worked as a journalist and literary agent. It was only a few months before Stratford's death that he confided to his wife. Rowland would later tell media "I left her when I learned the truth." The news coverage was ruthless and cruel towards Stratford, while Rowland was portrayed as a victim (but not always). Newspapers reported Stratford’s life as a "nonentity", highlighting his burial in a pauper's grave with no mourners in attendance at the funeral.

1 Apr 1927


The Evening Post newspaper prints a number of stories about "masqueraders." One article reported that an unnamed person had been “going about as a girl” with the voice and appearance "typical of a Maori female." A second article reported that 18-year-old George Grace was charged in Napier with "being disguised." Grace had attended a local girl's college. At the sentencing, the Magistrate said "I will teach you to leave girls' clothing and girls' colleges alone in the future." Grace was sentenced to 3-months imprisonment. Newspapers from the early part of last century are peppered with reports of masquerading. It wasn't until 1966 when Carmen Rupe successfully challenged a similar charge and Justice McCarthy found that he was "quite unable to find anything in our law which says that it is unlawful for a male to attire himself in female clothing."

17 Mar 1928


Morals campaigner Patricia Bartlett is born in Napier. In 1950 she entered the convent of the Sisters of Mercy in Wellington. She left in 1969, with author Barbara Brookes noting that other Sisters "were shocked at her interest in pornography and disapproved of her passion to stem the moral decline of society." Bartlett's campaigning was not limited to pornography. She fought against abortion, sex education in schools and homosexual law reform. In 1970 she founded the Society for the Promotion of Community Standards. At its peak, it had over 22,000 members. In 1993 the Evening Post photographed Bartlett and Internal Affairs Minister Graeme Lee uncomfortably surveying banned pornographic videos. The image shows Lee looking at a video case for Every Inch a Lady while Bartlett inspects All Anal Cumshot Revue.

3 May 1929


Charles Mackay is shot dead by police in Berlin, Germany. It ended a remarkable decade in the life of Mackay. In May 1920, while still Mayor of Whanganui, Mackay was arrested for attempting to kill poet Walter D'Arcy Cresswell. Cresswell had tried to use Mackay's homosexuality to blackmail him out of public office. Mackay pleaded guilty to attempted murder and was imprisoned for fifteen years with hard labour. Mackay was reportedly released in 1926 on the condition that he would leave New Zealand immediately. He went to England and then to Berlin where he worked as a journalist. In May 1929, while covering a riot between communists and police, Mackay was shot and killed by the authorities.

22 Jul 1929


The Evening Post reports on a talk given by Dr Jessie Scott entitled The Adolescent Girl. Presenting to the Christchurch branch of the Parents' National Education Union, Dr Scott talked about how girls between the ages of 11 and 16 could experience a "homosexual stage" where they showed great affection for members of their own sex - often for women much older than themselves. This developmental stage was then closely followed by the heterosexual stage. Dr Scott warned that if these developmental stages were delayed it could cause abnormality, ill-health, weakness or instability of character in adult life.

1 Oct 1929


Artist Leonard Hollobon is arrested in Wellington and charged with indecently assaulting a male - Norris Davey (later to take the name Frank Sargeson). Davey applied for name suppression but this was refused. He then testified against Hollobon who received 5 years imprisonment. Davey received a suspended sentence, with the judge noting his offending was an isolated incident. In April 2018 Parliament unanimously passed a law that would allow this type of historic homosexual conviction to be expunged.