Bob Semple

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The Honourable
Bob Semple
Bob Semple, 1929.jpg
Bob Semple in 1929
14th Minister of Railways
In office
12 December 1941 – 12 December 1949
Prime Minister Peter Fraser
Preceded by Dan Sullivan
Succeeded by William Goosman
7th President of the Labour Party
In office
Vice President Jim Thorn (1926-7)
John Archer (1927-8)
Leader Harry Holland
Preceded by Tom Brindle
Succeeded by John Archer
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Wellington South
In office
1918 – 1919
Preceded by Alfred Hindmarsh
Succeeded by George Mitchell
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Wellington East
In office
1928 – 1946
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Miramar
In office
1946 – 1954
Succeeded by Bill Fox
Personal details
Born 21 October 1873
Sofala, New South Wales, Australia
Died 31 January 1955(1955-01-31) (aged 81)
New Plymouth, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Margaret Semple

Robert "Bob" Semple (21 October 1873 – 31 January 1955) was a union leader and later Minister of Public Works for the first Labour Government of New Zealand.

Early life[edit]

He was born in Sofala, New South Wales, Australia. He started working at an early age as gold miner in Australia. In 1903 he was involved in a miner's strike in Victoria Australia. The strike was defeated and Semple ended up being blacklisted.[1]

To avoid the blacklist Semple moved to the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. By 1907 he was president of the Runanga Miner's Union and earned himself nickname 'Fighting Bob Semple'.

He was jailed in 1913 for supporting the general strike and again in 1916 after fighting conscription for overseas service during World War I. Semple served as the President of the Labour Party from 1926 to 1928.[2]

Parliamentary career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1918–1919 19th Wellington South Labour
1928–1931 23rd Wellington East Labour
1931–1935 24th Wellington East Labour
1935–1938 25th Wellington East Labour
1938–1943 26th Wellington East Labour
1943–1946 27th Wellington East Labour
1946–1949 28th Miramar Labour
1949–1951 29th Miramar Labour
1951–1954 30th Miramar Labour

Semple was elected to the seat of Wellington South Parliament for Labour in a 1918 by-election, but lost the seat in the 1919 general election. In 1928 he won the Wellington East seat, and held it until 1946, when it was renamed Miramar. He then held Miramar until 1954, when he retired.[3]

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[4]

During his term in Parliament, Semple held many important infrastructure portfolios, such as Minister of Public Works (1935–1941, 1942–1943) and Minister of Railways (1941–1949).[5] Semple was seen by many as the public face of the first Labour government's infrastructure investment. During World War II he designed and had built the 'Bob Semple tank', made from corrugated iron and a tractor base. The tank had numerous design flaws and other practical problems and was never put into production, although it was and continues to be regarded with affection by many New Zealanders.

He did not seek re-election in the 1954 election, and died in New Plymouth in January 1955.

His wife Margaret was a Wellington City Councillor from 1938 to 1941.[6]

External links[edit]

"1938, photo of presentation to Bob Semple". Papers Past. 1 December 2015. 


  1. ^ Richardson, Len. "Semple, Robert". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 30 December 2013. 
  2. ^ Paul, J.T. (1946). Humanism in Politics: New Zealand Labour Party in Retrospect. Wellington, NZ: New Zealand Worker Printing and Publishing. p. 192. 
  3. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 233.
  4. ^ "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 30 August 2013. 
  5. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 82f.
  6. ^ Wellington: Biography of a city by Redmer Yska (Reed, Auckland, 2006) page 159 ISBN 0-7900-1117-4


Political offices
Preceded by
Dan Sullivan
Minister of Railways
Succeeded by
William Goosman
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Alfred Hindmarsh
Member of Parliament for Wellington South
Succeeded by
George Mitchell
Vacant Member of Parliament for Wellington East
Constituency abolished
New constituency Member of Parliament for Miramar
Succeeded by
Bill Fox
Party political offices
Preceded by
Tom Brindle
President of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
John Archer