Harry Holland

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For the Reform Party politician and Mayor of Christchurch see Henry Holland
Harry Holland
Harry Holland (1925).jpg
Harry Holland in 1925
10th Leader of the Opposition
In office
16 June 1926 – 18 October 1928
Preceded by George Forbes
Succeeded by Joseph Ward
In office
22 September 1931 – 8 October 1933
Preceded by Gordon Coates
Succeeded by Michael Joseph Savage
1st Leader of the Labour Party
In office
1919 – 8 October 1933
Deputy James McCombs (1919-23)
Michael Joseph Savage (1923-33)
Preceded by Alfred Hindmarsh
Succeeded by Michael Joseph Savage
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Buller
In office
1919 – 1933
Preceded by James Colvin
Succeeded by Paddy Webb
Personal details
Born 10 June 1868
Queanbeyan, New South Wales, Australia
Died 8 October 1933
Huntly, New Zealand
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Annie McLachlan (m. 1888)

Henry Edmund "Harry" Holland (10 June 1868 – 8 October 1933) was a New Zealand politician and unionist. He was the first leader of the New Zealand Labour Party.

Early life[edit]

Harry Holland in circa 1896–1900

Holland was born near Queanbeyan, a town in New South Wales located quite close to modern Canberra. Initially, he worked on his parents' farm, but later was apprenticed as a compositor for the Queanbeyan Times. Holland did not receive an extensive education, but developed an enthusiasm for reading. He also became highly religious, joining the Salvation Army.[1]

In 1887, Holland left Queanbeyan to work in Sydney. Shortly afterwards, on 6 October 1888, he married Annie McLachlan, whom he had met at a Salvation Army meeting.[1] The two were to have five sons and three daughters. In 1890, however, Holland found himself unemployed, putting the family in a poor financial position. Holland left the Salvation Army at this point, believing that its response to poverty was inadequate. He remained, however, quite strongly religious. Gradually, his political views became attuned to socialism, although this was probably more an emotional decision than a theoretical one — Holland was deeply dedicated to the elimination of poverty, but had little use for complicated economic models.

Political activity in Australia[edit]

Holland joined the small Australian Socialist League in 1892. Later, he and a friend began to publish a socialist journal — in 1896, he was convicted of libelling the superintendent of the New South Wales Labour Bureau, and served three months in prison. Upon his release, the journal was moved to Newcastle for a time, but eventually returned to Sydney.

In 1901, Holland stood as a candidate for the Australian Senate and the state seat of Lang. He was standing for the Socialist Labor Party, having rejected the Labor Party as too moderate.[1] He did not make any significant impression. Later, in 1907, he stood in the New South Wales state elections, but was caught up in strong infighting between socialist groups. Holland had acquired a reputation of arrogance and egotism, and was convinced beyond all doubt that his views were correct.

In 1909, Holland was convicted of sedition, having advocated violent revolution against capitalism during the miners' strike at Broken Hill. He was jailed for two years. He received little sympathy from the socialist movement, which considered his actions during the strike to be provocation and posturing. This embittered Holland considerably, and he suffered from serious depression.

In 1912, after his release from jail, Holland soon found himself in trouble with the law again. This time, it resulted from his refusal to register his son for compulsory military training. Rather than pay a fine, Holland left Australia and travelled to New Zealand, accepting an invitation from the Waihi branch of the New Zealand Socialist Party.

Political activity in New Zealand[edit]


At the time of Holland's arrival, Waihi was descending into chaos. A bitter miners' strike, the most significant industrial action that New Zealand had yet seen, was underway, and the conservative government of William Massey was responding with strong measures. The strike eventually led to the death of a miner in a shoot-out with police. Holland was encouraged by the strike, believing that it was the beginning of "class war" against capitalism. This view was not shared, however, by the New Zealand Socialist Party, which, when the strike broke out, had actually asked Holland not to come to Waihi. The New Zealand socialists, for the most part, saw socialism as a means to an end, and distrusted Holland's view that socialism was a goal in and of itself. Many New Zealand socialists resented Holland's arrogance, seeing him as a self-opinionated outsider meddling in a precarious situation that he did not fully understand.


Gradually, however, Holland's militancy decreased. His co-authorship of a pamphlet The Tragic Story of the Waihi Strike on the strike gained him a certain amount of prestige, as did his editorship of the Federation of Labour's newspaper, the Maoriland Worker 1913-18. In 1913, a candidate of the Social Democratic Party (which the Socialist Party had merged into) was elected to Parliament with backing from the mainstream Liberal Party, and Holland was happy — at one stage, he would have condemned co-operation with any non-socialist organisation. Holland himself, however, still ran into difficulties with the law. In the 1913 waterfront dispute, he was charged with sedition, and served time in jail. This time, however, he was widely seen as a martyr, and gained considerable support.[1]

Labour Party[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1918–1919 19th Grey Labour
1919–1922 20th Buller Labour
1922–1925 21st Buller Labour
1925–1928 22nd Buller Labour
1928–1931 23rd Buller Labour
1931–1933 24th Buller Labour

With the gradual unification of the labour movement in New Zealand, the (second) Labour Party was founded in 1916. Holland was one of the founding members, although his opinions about the direction of the party were not identical to some of the party's other leaders. Holland believed that the Labour Party would lay the foundations for socialism, while the more moderate members of the party simply wanted to improve the wages and conditions of workers.

In 1918, Paddy Webb, a Labour MP, was jailed for refusing military service. Holland stood in the resulting by-election to replace him, and was narrowly elected. Holland was delighted with his victory, but other members of the party were less enthusiastic — Holland's majority was far lower than Webb's had been. Holland dismissed this, saying that his victory, unlike Webb's, had been for pure socialism rather than mere reform. Holland represented the Grey electorate 1918-19, and then the Buller electorate from 1919 until he died.

Initially, in Parliament Holland was not a particularly strong performer. His aggressive oratory, while suitable for speeches, tended to oversimplify issues, and Holland was frequently criticised in Parliamentary debates as an impractical ideologue. Holland's opponents successfully characterised him as applying simplistic doctrines to complicated issues, and of failing to look at a problem from all sides.

Party leader[edit]

Shortly before the 1919 elections, the first contested by the Labour party as a united bloc, Holland contested for the leadership of the Labour party. His only opponent was James McCombs, who had more parliamentary experience than Holland. The result was a draw, though after a draw by lot, Holland won the parliamentary leadership of the party, becoming Labour's first leader in the modern sense.[2] Most historians see his victory as being due to his public profile rather than to his policies, which many in the Labour Party considered too extreme.

In 1922 there were movements towards a proposed alliance between the Labour and Liberal parties, similar to the Lib-Lab Pact in the UK.[3] This was in order to avoid vote splitting, particularly in marginal semi-urban electorates. Holland and the party executive began negotiations with Liberal leader Thomas Wilford about conducting a joint campaign and if successful, forming a coalition government which would set up a proportionally represented electoral system. However, the talks collapsed after Wilford demanded on holding on to office for a full term before holding an election under the new system, Holland thinking he would use this time to attempt to discredit Labour.[4]

As the Great Depression took hold, however, Holland began to doubt some of his convictions. At first, Holland had believed that the Depression marked the beginning of the end for capitalism, but as the economic problems continued, and many workers were cast into poverty, Holland began to question whether his theories were capable of solving the crisis. Suffering from depression, exhaustion, and ill health, Holland began to withdraw from the activities of leadership. Talk of a possible challenge to his leadership appeared, but there was not yet any willingness for an open confrontation.


Harry Holland's memorial in Wellington

In 1933, Holland unexpectedly died of a heart attack, attending the funeral of Te Rata Mahuta in Huntly. He was given a state funeral, and hailed by his friends as a "compassionate champion of the common people". His successor, the moderate Michael Joseph Savage, went on to lead the Labour Party to victory in the 1935 elections. He has a memorial in the Bolton Street Cemetery in Wellington, near to that of Richard Seddon, unveiled in 1937 by Savage with the inscription "THIS MONUMENT IS DEDICATED TO HENRY EDMUND HOLLANDLEADER OF THE LABOUR PARTY 1919-35 TO COMMEMORATE HIS WORK FOR HUMANITY. HE DEVOTED HIS LIFE TO FREE THE WORLD FROM UNHAPPINESS, TYRANNY AND OPPRESSION."[5]

Holland was an avid reader in his adult life due to his short time of schooling in his youth. In the South Island mining town of Seddonville, within Holland's Buller electorate, a library was named in his memory.[6]


  1. ^ a b c d O'Farrell, Patrick. "Holland, Henry Edmund - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 January 2016. 
  2. ^ Paul, J.T. (1946). Humanism in Politics: New Zealand Labour Party in Retrospect. Wellington, NZ: New Zealand Worker Printing and Publishing. p. 70. 
  3. ^ O'Farrell 1964, p. 126.
  4. ^ O'Farrell 1964, pp. 126-7.
  5. ^ Logan, Mary (2008). Nordy: Arnold Nordmeyer - A Political Biography. Wellington, NZ: Steele Roberts Publishers. pp. 36–37. ISBN 978-1-877448-33-1. 
  6. ^ "Harry Holland memorial library". NZHistory.net. Retrieved 2015-07-06. 


  • O'Farrell, P.J. (1964). Harry Holland: Militant Socialist. Canberra, Australia: Australian National University Press. 

External links[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Paddy Webb
Member of Parliament for Grey
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
James Colvin
Member of Parliament for Buller
Succeeded by
Paddy Webb
Party political offices
Preceded by
Alfred Hindmarsh
Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Michael Joseph Savage