Feature Ballot Film

Ballot at the Government Statistician’s Office 1916

Production company

NZ Government; Department of Agriculture, Industries and Commerce


Sydney Benjamin Taylor

The First Gamble in Human Life

Reported by the New Zealand Truth as 'the first gamble in human life' the first conscription ballot was held at Routh’s Building on the corner of Featherston and Johnston streets in central Wellington.

The occasion was filmed by the Government’s cinematographer, Sydney Taylor, for historical purposes only - it was not intended for public screenings.

There were very few film makers working in New Zealand at the turn of the 20th century and conditions were tough. Equipment was scarce, as were personnel – there was no industry to speak of. Film cameras were large and bulky; zooms, pans or tracking shots were almost impossible. The film maker was likely to complete every aspect of a project from filming to developing and editing.

The unedited nitrate negatives of the Ballot at the Government Statistician’s Office were stored with the Department of Agriculture and transferred to the Dominion Museum in 1920. In 1981, when the New Zealand Film Archive was established, they were transferred again and the preservation process began. Sixty-four years later, in 1984, the film was able to be seen by a curious public.


Ballot Box

Ballot box, 1916, New Zealand, maker unknown. Gift of the New Zealand Immigration Service, 1989. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH003641/1-5)

A fair draw 

Sydney Taylor filmed the Government Statistician drawing marbles from a hexagonal wooden box – one of two spun to ensure that conscription was fair. 

The two boxes served the same purpose during WWII. Then, from 1949 until 1972, they were used to ballot men for compulsory military training. 
In 1989, the New Zealand Immigration Service donated one of the WWI ballot boxes to the National Museum – now Te Papa, where it remains today.