1907: Taxes Spent on State Weather Control Scheme
November 13, 2018
New Zealand Government Experiments in Weather Control
In the 1906/07 drought the people of North Otago were getting pretty desperate for the rains to return. Scientists well understood that condensation depended upon cooling, not percussive blasts. Today we can daily witness jet planes overhead compressing the air with sharp wings but even this produces the faint mist of vapour trails, not rainfall. However, a few naive Otagoians looked not to science fact but to superstition and The State for their salvation. As usual, the later nourished the former.
“It is hard to understand politics if you are hung up on reality. Politicians leave reality to others. What matters in politics is what you can get the voters to believe, whether it bears any resemblance to reality or not.”- Thomas Sowell
America, Europe, India, and Australia had all fallen for the same craze and expended huge resources in return for no rain. Selling snake oil and rain is a legendary American con with a long and glorious tradition. The incredulous largely owed their Selection Bias Error to the notion that artillery bombardment during warfare often preceded rains, time and time again. Even so, why did they suppose the North Otago community’s little fundraiser toward a moderate fireworks display would compare to Waterloo or Gettysburg? And why not suppose that it was rain that paused bombardments rather than bombardments that started up rain? Post hoc ergo propter hoc, guys!
The Liberal ‘Rain Makers’
In 1891 the Liberal Government first came to power led by John Ballance, aka “The Rainmaker”. He earned that nickname in August 1891 by shifting the burden of taxation off the people who voted for his own party, “working storemen, mechanics, labourers, shepherds, miners, sailors etc.” (ref. Goldsmith, 2008.) The metaphore comes from the fact that, in 1891, actual rain-making was in the national consciousness already in what was also a year of drought. Otago experiments were mooted but not carried out. Not until 1907 did they really do it.
Bullet the Blue Sky Until it Bleeds Rain!
Oamaru Council refused to be involved but would not take a stand on the dubious undertaking. Thus, a Rain-Making Committee formed of private citizens on August 6th, 1907 and blasted their first test only 10 days later. Subscriptions had been taken up in the community of some £200 which The State matched. This £400 was spent on dynamite which was also subsidised by The State, and administered by five Defence Force artillerymen, and three meteorologists on Government pay including Rev. Daniel Bates (pictured.) No result.
On the second day it was raining anyway, before the experiment even started up. What the blasts did accomplish was to frighten the heck out of nearby coalminers who thought they might be killed in an earthquake bringing their mine down on them! The experimenters obliged by moving their test sites elsewhere.
Politics and Superstition, not Meteorology
After all was said and done, Rev. Bates reported back to The House of Representatives at the behest of opposition leader Massey. He was kind to the well-meaning Otago Muggles and enjoyed playing Edwardian Mythbuster but condemned the useless exercise. Massey and his lot did too, asking why Government was on the one hand promoting mysticism in Europeans while striving to shut it down in the Maori community?
“if the Government is going in for tohungarism in this way, and is going to teach the people a mystic manner in which to produce rain, the Natives are bound to follow in the same direction”- Seymour George (Hansard)
My answer is that on August 6th, 1907, the same day the Rain-Making Committee formed, the new Prime Minister Joseph Ward started his first term. Never has a Prime Minister of New Zealand been more voracious in draping himself in glory by public ceremonies; Bridges, railways, buildings, battleships…he was non-stop when it came to spending your ancestor’s stolen money. As John ‘The Rainmaker’ Ballance was the first of this Liberal Government, Ward was the last and I believe he wanted to remind the people he was Ballance’s heir and a Rainmaker too. Of course, this parasitism entirely relies upon there being enough willing dupes to exploit. In 1907, and today, New Zealand is at no risk of there being a superstition drought.
Note: The reports state there are numerous photographs of the experiment. I couldn’t find them
Image ref. Rev. Bates; NZ Truth, 1910
Image ref. Sheep in drought; Te Ara
Image ref. Ward in May 1907; Sir George Grey Special Collections
Ref. Climate, Science, and Colonization: Histories from Australia and New Zealand, Emily O’Gorma et al (2014)