Joseph Ward

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The Right Honourable
Sir Joseph George Ward
Bt GCMG
Joseph George Ward.jpg
17th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
6 August 1906 – 28 March 1912
10 December 1928 – 28 May 1930
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Governor General William Plunket
Arthur Foljambe
Charles Fergusson
Charles Bathurst
Preceded by William Hall-Jones (1906)
Gordon Coates (1928)
Succeeded by Thomas Mackenzie (1912)
George Forbes (1930)
Constituency Awarua, Invercargill
Personal details
Born (1856-04-26)26 April 1856
Melbourne, Australia
Died 8 July 1930(1930-07-08) (aged 74)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Liberal, United
Spouse(s) Theresa Dorothea De Smidt (m. 1883)
Children 5
Profession Businessman
Religion Roman Catholic

Sir Joseph George Ward, 1st Baronet Bt GCMG MP (26 April 1856 – 8 July 1930) was the 17th Prime Minister of New Zealand on two occasions in the early 20th century.

Early life[edit]

Ward was born in Melbourne on 26 April 1856. His family was of Irish descent, and Ward was raised as a Roman Catholic. His father, who is believed to have been an alcoholic, died in 1860, aged 31 – Ward was raised by his mother, Hannah. In 1863, the family moved to Bluff (then officially known as Campbelltown), in New Zealand's Southland region, seeking better financial security – Hannah Ward established a shop and a boarding house.[1]

Ward received his formal education at primary schools in Melbourne and Bluff. He did not go to secondary school. He did, however, read extensively, and also picked up a good understanding of business from his mother. He is described by most sources as highly energetic and enthusiastic, and was keen to advance in the world – much of this attitude is attributed to his mother, who was very eager to see her children financially secure. In 1869, Ward found a job at the Post Office, and later as a clerk. Later, with the help of a loan from his mother, Ward began to work as a freelance trader, selling supplies to the newly established Southland farming community.

Early political career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1887–1890 10th Awarua Independent
1890–1893 11th Awarua Liberal
1893–1896 12th Awarua Liberal
1896–1897 13th Awarua Liberal
1897–1899 13th Awarua Liberal
1899–1902 14th Awarua Liberal
1902–1905 15th Awarua Liberal
1905–1908 16th Awarua Liberal
1908–1911 17th Awarua Liberal
1911–1914 18th Awarua Liberal
1914–1919 19th Awarua Liberal
1925–1928 22nd Invercargill Liberal
1928–1930 23rd Invercargill United

Ward became involved in local politics very quickly. He was elected to the Campbelltown (Bluff) Borough Council in 1878, despite being only 21 years old – at age 25 he became Mayor, the youngest in New Zealand. He also served on the Bluff Harbour Board, eventually becoming its chairman.

In 1887, Ward stood for Parliament, winning the seat of Awarua. Politically, Ward was a supporter of politicians such as Julius Vogel and Robert Stout, leaders of the liberal wing of Parliament – Ward's support was unusual in the far south. Ward became known as a strong debater on economic matters.

In 1891, when the newly founded Liberal Party came to power, the new Prime Minister, John Ballance, appointed Ward as Postmaster General. Later, when Richard Seddon became Prime Minister after Ballance's death, Ward became Treasurer (Minister of Finance). Ward's basic political outlook was that the state existed to support and promote private enterprise, and his conduct as Treasurer reflects this.

Ward's increasing occupation with government affairs led to neglect of his own business interests, however, and his personal finances began to deteriorate. In 1896, a judge declared Ward "hopelessly insolvent". This placed Ward, as Treasurer, in a politically difficult situation, and he was forced to resign his portfolios on 16 June. In 1897, he was forced to file for bankruptcy, which legally obligated him to resign his seat in Parliament. A loophole meant that there was nothing to stop him contesting it again, and in the resulting by-election he was elected with an increased majority. Ward gained considerable popularity as a result of his financial troubles – he was widely seen as a great benefactor of the Southland region, and public perceptions were that he was being persecuted by his enemies over an honest mistake.

Gradually, Ward rebuilt his businesses, and paid off his creditors. Seddon, still Prime Minister, quickly reappointed him to Cabinet where he served as Minister of Railways and Postmaster-General. In June 1901, on the occasion of the visit of TRH the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall and York (later King George V and Queen Mary) to New Zealand, he was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) for overseeing the introduction of the Penny Post throughout New Zealand.[2][3]

Ward gradually emerged as the most prominent of Seddon's supporters, and was seen as a possible successor. As Seddon's long tenure as Prime Minister continued, some suggested that Ward should challenge Seddon for the leadership, but Ward was unwilling. In 1906, Seddon unexpectedly died. Ward was in London at the time. It was generally agreed in the party that Ward would succeed him, although the return journey would take two months – William Hall-Jones became Prime Minister until Ward arrived. Ward was sworn in on 6 August 1906.

First premiership[edit]

Ward was not seen by most as being of the same calibre as Seddon. The diverse interests of the Liberal Party, many believed, had been held together only by Seddon's strength of personality and his powers of persuasion – Ward was not seen as having the same qualities. Frequent internal disputes led to indecision and frequent policy changes, with the result being paralysis of government. The Liberal Party's two main support bases, left-leaning urban workers and conservative small farmers, were increasingly at odds, and Ward lacked any coherent strategy to solve the problem – any attempt to please one group simply alienated the other. Ward increasingly focused on foreign affairs, which was seen by his opponents as a sign that he could not cope with the country's problems.

In 1901, Ward established the world's first Ministry of Health and Tourism, and became the British Empire's first Minister of Public Health.[4] On 26 September 1907, Ward proclaimed New Zealand's new status as a Dominion.[5]

In the 1908 election the Liberals won a majority, but in the 1911 election Parliament appeared to be deadlocked. The Liberals survived for a time on the casting vote of the Speaker, but Ward, discouraged by the result, resigned from the premiership in March the following year. The party replaced him with Thomas Mackenzie, his Minister of Agriculture, whose government survived only a few more months.

Ward, who most believed had finished his political career, returned to the back benches and refused several requests to resume the leadership of the disorganised Liberals. He occupied himself with relatively minor matters, and took his family on a visit to England, where he was created a baronet by King George V on 20 June 1911.[6]

Leader of the Opposition[edit]

On 11 September 1913, however, Ward finally accepted the leadership of the Liberal Party once again. Ward extracted a number of important concessions from the party, insisting on a very high level of personal control – he felt that the party's previous lack of direction was the primary cause for its failure. He also worked to build alliances with the growing labour movement, which was now standing candidates in many seats.

On 12 August 1915, Ward and accepted a proposal by William Massey and the governing Reform Party to form a joint administration for World War I. Ward became deputy leader of the administration, also holding the Finance portfolio. Relations between Ward and Massey were not good – besides their political differences, Ward was an Irish Catholic, and Massey was an Irish Protestant. The administration ended on 21 August 1919.

In the 1919 election Ward lost the seat of Awarua, and left Parliament. In 1923, he contested a by-election in Tauranga, but was defeated by a Reform Party candidate, Charles MacMillan. Ward was largely considered a spent force. In the 1925 election, however, he narrowly returned to Parliament as MP for Invercargill. Ward contested the seat under the "Liberal" label, despite the fact that the remnants of the Liberal Party were now calling themselves by different names – his opponents characterised him as living in the past, and of attempting to fight the same battles over again. Ward's health was also failing.

In 1928 the remnants of the Liberal Party reasserted themselves as the new United Party, focused around George Forbes (leader of one faction of the Liberals), Bill Veitch (leader of another faction), and Albert Davy (a former organiser for the Reform Party). Forbes and Veitch both sought the leadership, and neither gained a clear advantage. Davy invited Ward to step in as a compromise candidate, perhaps hoping that Ward's status as a former Prime Minister would create a sense of unity.

Second premiership[edit]

Ward accepted the offer and became leader of the new United Party. His health, however, was still poor, and he found the task difficult. In the 1928 election campaign, Ward startled both his supporters and his audience by promising to borrow £70 million in the course of a year to revive the economy – this is believed to have been a mistake caused by Ward's failing eyesight. Despite the strong objections his party had to this "promise", it was sufficient to prompt a massive surge in support for United – in the election United gained the same number of seats as Reform. With the backing of the Labour Party, Ward became Prime Minister again, 22 years after his original appointment.

Ward's health continued to decline. He suffered a number of heart attacks, and soon it was Forbes who was effectively running the government. Ward was determined not to resign, and remained Prime Minister well after he had lost the ability to perform that role. On 28 May 1930, Ward succumbed to strong pressure from his colleagues and his family, and passed the premiership to Forbes.

Ward died shortly afterwards, on 8 July. He was given a state funeral with a requiem mass celebrated by Archbishop Redwood at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Hill St, Wellington. He was buried with considerable ceremony in Bluff. His son Vincent was elected to replace him as MP for Invercargill.

Trivia[edit]

  • On 6 November 1908 at Manganui-o-te-Ao, Ward drove the ceremonial 'last spike' on the North Island Main Trunk.
  • Lady Ward was President of Victoria League Wellington Branch from 1909 to 1912.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Bassett, Michael. "Ward, Joseph George". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 26 November 2011. 
  2. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27325. p. 4182. 21 June 1901.
  3. ^ Firstworldwar.com bio
  4. ^ Bassett, Michael. "Ward, Joseph George". Te Ara Encyclopeadia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 29 March 2013. 
  5. ^ New Zealand History online
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 28577. p. 797. 2 February 1912. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
Government offices
Preceded by
William Hall-Jones
Prime Minister of New Zealand
1906–1912
1928–1930
Succeeded by
Thomas Mackenzie
Preceded by
Gordon Coates
Succeeded by
George Forbes
Political offices
New title Minister of Public Health
1900–1906
Succeeded by
George Fowlds
Preceded by
Alfred Cadman
Minister of Railways
1900–1906
Succeeded by
William Hall-Jones
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
James Parker Joyce
Member of Parliament for Awarua
1887–1919
Succeeded by
John Ronald Hamilton
Preceded by
Josiah Hanan
Member of Parliament for Invercargill
1925–1930
Succeeded by
Vincent Ward
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
Baronet
(of Wellington)

1911–1930
Succeeded by
Cyril Ward