Undesirable Bill’s Undesirables Bill: William Pember Reeves and Eugenics in Late-Victorian New Zealand
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John Stenhouse explores the eugenic views of William Pember Reeves, a Fabian socialist politician in New Zealand’s Liberal government of the 1890s. The main architect of its progressive industrial and labour laws, Reeves aimed to build an exemplary modern nation that overcame class, religious and racial differences. His eugenically-inspired Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Bill of 1894 aimed to protect his model democracy from undesirables: paupers, mental defectives, the diseased, cripples, drunkards, criminals and Asians. It sparked criticism not only from conservatives and capitalists but also from many liberals and white workers who attacked the pauper clause, in particular, as illiberal, authoritarian and elitist. Church groups already critical of Reeves as a doctrinaire secularist joined the chorus, encouraging the Premier to kick Reeves upstairs to London as New Zealand’s Agent-General.