On 1 July 1906 three thousand men and boys attended a meeting in the Wellington Town Hall to hear Mr. Bligh of the Australian White Cross League deliver a lecture on “The Perils of Impurity”. Lord Plunket introduced the speaker, and then Mr. Bligh took the stage:
“Give me manly boys, manly men! Men who will do right for right’s own sake and find sweet reward in it!” Applause broke forth. “There is a beautiful spirit of chivalry in every boy. I can still picture the scene as I stood before a class of boys recently and said: ‘Laddies, if you hear anyone insulting a girl, just give them a taste of that!'” – and the speaker advanced his clenched fist.
It is only later in the lecture that it becomes slightly clearer, although never explicitly stated, exactly which impurity men and boys are in peril of.
Where a youth had erred sympathy for the ignorance that led to his error should be expressed; guidance to a better standard of life, to a sane practice of bodily habits, should be given. Let any sufferer take cold baths, read pure literature, and pray God assistance to do right. Control of the passions should be aimed at…. Many a boy had spoilt the best of his bodily and mental powers because he did not understand himself.
Apparently Bligh’s call to purity had been a big hit with the boys of Wellington College, although it’s quite possible that a large portion of his audience hadn’t really penetrated the verbiage and picked up on the bit about masturbation. Probably they got the part about being the kind of laddie who would bash another laddie for insulting a girl.
Mr. Bligh condemned remedies for the condition sold by quacks, and instead advised a forthright discussion between father and son. In this he was joined by a prominent doctor:
Dr. Truby King, of Seacliff Lunatic Asylum, put the case in a sentence when he said: “These quacks are sending men here wholesale!”
Bligh closed his speech with the following thoughts:
God had so planned the body so that man would never bcome impotent through chastity, though through unchastity he frequently did so become.
Presumably God had also planned the body of man so that the impure act was possible. This seems a terrible blunder in the plan.
In 1906 Mr. Bligh also wrote a letter to the New Zealand Secretary of Education:
I respectfully urge that it would be a great help to many a lad under State Control, if the Government Medical Officers were granted full permission to perform the operation of circumcision whenever in their opinion it would be an advantage to the boy. Experience in White Cross work both in Australia & New Zealand has proved to me that many lads fall into the habit of self abuse, mainly through the fact that in their case it is impossible to remove the foreskin, so irritation is caused through lack of cleansing, young lives are spoilt. No doubt many of the Medical Officers have thought the same as myself but I believe that if the Department will give them liberty in this matter very much good will result. Parents are neglectful in acquainting themselves with the needs of their boys, especially concerning the sexual organs, so to many lads the State has to do that which is left undone by those who might have attended to this part of the boy’s life.
It’s very hard to read some of this with a straight face (“Son, I fear I have been neglecting your sexual organs”), but we should be clear about what Bligh is asking for: the circumcision of boys in the care of the state who have masturbated or “wet” their beds. Dr. King’s contribution to the lecture also suggests that masturbators were sent to his asylum. It is a peculiar age that fosters this kind of thinking and the crossover from morality into medicine is often an uncomfortable one. Of course we are also in a time where organisations like the state and the church had not lost their authority to invasively act upon the bodies of their citizens, a phenomenon that would begin to be looked on differently after the mechanism of the Nazi government was fully revealed.
Dr. King was back at the Wellington Town Hall on Thursday 9 August to deliver a lecture on the rearing of plants and animals with special reference to the feeding of infants. Mrs. King was to give a demonstration on the Friday, although it is unclear from the advertisement what she would be demonstrating; perhaps an animal rearing an infant.