Charles Mackie and the National Peace Council (NPC)

Charles Mackie with bicycle

Charles Mackie

‘We believe that the forcing of conscience by whatsoever authority is contrary to Divine revelation and amounts to persecution of the grossest kind’.[1]


This statement was included in a resolution that Charles Mackie put forward in 1917, to be sent to the Prime Minister. Twelve people supported the resolution, 13 were against.[2] As a Baptist lay preacher Charles Mackie was one a group of pacifists whose beliefs on the issue of conscientious objection split his church’s congregation and, according to a later report, threatened the church’s existence.

A founding member of the National Peace Council in 1911, Charles Mackie became Secretary in 1912 and remained in this position for more than 30 years.[3]

Mr C R N Mackie ca 1907

A portrait of Mackie taken in about 1907.

Charles Robert Norrie Mackie was born in Christchurch in 1869 the son of a sheep farmer who belonged to one of the original run-holding families in Canterbury. His father had sold his share in the farm ‘Lavington’ in 1884 and retired to England, and it seems that the proceeds of this sale supported Charles Mackie for the rest of his life. [4]

After returning to live in New Zealand in 1903 Charles Mackie devoted his life to voluntary work. His interests included the New Zealand Society for the Protection of Women and Children, the New Zealand Howard League for Penal Reform, and the Canterbury Workers' Educational Association. He married Ethel Maude Manttan, nee Nuttall, in 1914 but the couple did not have any children.[5]

Their home, which they called ‘Lavington’, was on Rolleston Street in Linwood (later renamed England Street) and they attended the Linwood Avenue Baptist Church, where Mackie was appointed chairman of the first Board of Control.[6]

Charles Mackie's involvement in the peace movement was sparked by the Defence Department sending a letter to every Ministers’ Association in New Zealand asking churches to provide lists of names of boys eligible for military training. When this letter was read in the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church a member protested, and led to Mackie calling a meeting of the Baptist Lay Preachers’ Association and the Ministers’ Association of Christchurch where a resolution was passed calling upon people to ‘passively resist’ the Government.

William and Sarah Annie Ensom

William and Sarah Annie Ensom

Flyer for Kaiapoi Public Meeting, June 1912

Kaiapoi Public Meeting Notice, June 1912

Following a larger meeting on 26 May, Charles Mackie and Louis Christie, a local printer who had founded the Anti-Militarist League in 1910, convened a meeting of sympathisers in the YMCA Buildings on 10 June. At that meeting the two groups were amalgamated as The National Peace Council (NPC) and Anti-Militarist League (AML).[7]

In November 1911 a national anti-militarist conference was held in Wellington attended by 25 delegates from Anti-Militarist Leagues and other supportive organisations. The conference decided to organise a campaign advocating repeal of the compulsory clauses of the Defence Act to be conducted by the NPC from its Christchurch office where Charles Mackie took over from Louis Christie as secretary in May 1912.[8] 

Over the next few years the NPC printed or distributed 650, 000 leaflets, pamphlets and circulars.

Charles Mackie's work as Secretary of the NPC also included calling and organising public meetings including open air meetings in Cathedral and Victoria Squares. In 1913 Mackie was issued a summons and convicted of obstructing traffic and enlisting the support of other organisations for the peace cause. In 1912, with William Ensom, he went on a tour to every town in the South Island between Invercargill and Christchurch speaking about the Defence Act.

When 14 young passive resisters to compulsory military training were detained on Ripapa Island Mackie raised money for legal fees or personal expenses, organised visits and wrote letters of protest about their treatment.[9]

After the declaration of war in August 1914 the work of the NPC was greatly restricted. They could no longer hold public meetings though small groups continued to meet in private homes and Mackie kept up his extensive correspondence with sympathisers throughout the country and peace organisations in England, Australia and the US. The work of the NPC was closely scrutinised by the military authorities, with Mackie reporting that all his letters were being opened by the military and some boxes of leaflets sent from England simply didn’t arrive.[10]

Charles Mackie on a tourist outing

Charlies Mackie on a tourist outing

It was a hostile environment for those who opposed the war and feeling against ‘shirkers’ ran high.

Post war, Charles Mackie continued to work faithfully as secretary of the NPC until shortly before his death in 1943 his main contribution being to maintain international contacts and an international outlook for the NZ peace movement.

One example of this commitment is the letter Charles Mackie wrote in 1920 on behalf of the NPC to the Editor of Pax et Libertas, published by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. The letter expressed deep sympathy with the nations with whom New Zealand had been at war and great disappointment at the terms that had been agreed at the Treaty of Versailles:

We had hoped that when the termination of hostilities arrived some equitable and just arrangement would have been concluded which could at least have formed the nucleus of a lasting peace between the nations of the earth; but we deeply regret to see that the Treaty of Versailles makes no pretence at cementing the bonds of friendship and goodwill or of placing upon the true basis of justice and right the constitution of a World Federation…. We want you to believe that at least a considerable body of men and women here, and we are sure the same applies to all other portions of the Empire, view with detestation a Treaty which if adhered to would not only bring ruin to thousands of innocent persons, but would make a future alliance of the People for mutual good of all almost impossible.[11]

 Charles Mackie’s correspondence as Secretary of the NPC reveals him to be reliable and methodical in his practice of pacifism both locally and internationally. This correspondence which he tidily organised into “series” is in the keeping of the Canterbury Museum and has been an invaluable resource for historians of the peace movement.

Yet post-war there was a new generation of pacifists and organisations leading the peace movement, in new directions. According to John Cookson: ‘The new generation of pacifists in the inter-war period regarded the NPC as a spent force. The gentlemanly Mackie, whose bearded elegance earned him the ironical sobriquet of ‘Royal Navy’ Mackie, was regarded with friendly tolerance.’[12]

Charles Mackie died in October 1943 shortly after having refused to vote for Labour in the 1943 general election. ‘Church and party, in the end, had betrayed him on war and conscription’ said Cookson.[13]

Margaret Lovell-Smith


[1]Wal Harris and Gerald Tisch, The Linwood Harvest: Linwood Baptist Church 1912 – 1987, (Christchurch: The Church,1987), pp.10-11.

[2]Harris and Tisch, The Linwood Harvest: Linwood Baptist Church 1912 – 1987, pp.10-11.

[3]'Obituary: Mr C.R.N. Mackie', Press, 16 October 1943, p.6.

[4]J.E. Cookson. ‘Mackie, Charles Robert Norrie’, from the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 12 -Nov-2013.

[5]J.E. Cookson. ‘Mackie, Charles Robert Norrie’.

[6]Harris and Tisch, The Linwood Harvest: Linwood Baptist Church 1912 – 1987, p.7.

[7]R.L. Weitzel, ‘Pacifists and Anti-Militarists in New Zealand, 1909 – 1914’, The New Zealand Journal of History 1973, Volume 7, Issue 2, p.130.

[8]Report of work of National Peace Council from its inception to 1915, p. 5, Mackie Papers, Series 41, Box 5, Folder 20, Canterbury Museum Christchurch.

[9]List of Court Cases under the Defence Acts in which the National Peace Council has rendered assistance, August 1912 – July 1913, Mackie Papers, Series 17, Box 2, Folder 9; Correspondence between Charles Mackie and P.J. O’Regan, Mackie Papers, Series 8, Box 2, Folder 7; Charles Mackie to Officer in Command of Fort Jervois, 16 July, 22 July 1913, Mackie Papers, Series 351, Box 12, Folder 44, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

[10]Charles Mackie to Canterbury Women’s Institute and Socialist Party, 3 December 1915, Mackie Papers, Series 41, Box 5, Folder 22; Charles Mackie to Postmaster General, 12 April 1916, 15 March 1917, Mackie Papers, Series 58, Box 7, Folder 27, Canterbury Museum, Christchurch.

[11]Charles Mackie to the editor, Pax et Libertas, 4 June 1920, WILPF Series III, Folders 11-13, 1915-1925, Archives and Special Collections, University of Colorado, Boulder.

[12]J.E. Cookson, ‘Mackie, Charles Robert Norris’. According to David Grant the National Peace Council was ‘barely alive’ in the late 1920s. David Grant, A Question of Faith: A History of the New Zealand Christian Pacifist Society (Wellington: Philip Garside Publishing, 2004) p.11.

[13]J.E. Cookson, ‘Mackie, Charles Robert Norris’.

Charles Mackie and the National Peace Council (NPC)