James McCombs

Last updated

James McCombs
James McCombs 1920s.jpg
James McCombs between 1920 and 1925
1st Deputy Leader of the Labour Party
In office
27 August 1919 7 February 1923
Leader Harry Holland
Succeeded by Michael Joseph Savage
1st President of the Labour Party
In office
7 July 1916 9 July 1917
Vice President Andrew Walker
Leader Alfred Hindmarsh
Succeeded byAndrew Walker
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Lyttelton
In office
16 December 1913 2 August 1933
Preceded by George Laurenson
Succeeded by Elizabeth McCombs
Personal details
Born(1873-12-09)9 December 1873
County Leitrim, Ireland
Died2 August 1933(1933-08-02) (aged 59)
Political party Labour
Other political
Social Democrat
Spouse(s) Elizabeth McCombs (married 1903)
ChildrenFour (two of which were adopted), incl. Terry McCombs

James (Jimmy) McCombs (9 December 1873 – 2 August 1933) was a New Zealand Member of Parliament for Lyttelton.



Early life and career

McCombs was born in Treanmore, Mohill, County Leitrim, Ireland, [1] the elder child of George McCombs, a farmer, and his wife, Kate Rourke. He came to New Zealand with his parents in 1876 as a three-year-old. He was educated at Sydenham School and Christchurch East School. [2] Initially he intended to join the ministry of the Anglican Church but later decided to cease theological studies and give his time to social work instead. He still remained involved in the Anglican Church and was an active member of the Church of England Men's Society and, inspired by his religious beliefs, he became a prohibitionist and would become a leading member of the prohibitionist movement in Canterbury. [3] He believed that the aims of the Christian Socialism in which he believed were better expressed via community and political activities. [4]

Through his community work McCombs met the like-minded Elizabeth Henderson. Henderson was the president of the Young People's No License League of which McCombs became a committee member of. On 25 June 1903 the two married and would have a son and daughter together. [5]

McCombs became a successful businessman, owning and operating a drapery in Christchurch. [5] He became a trade unionist and was elected president of the Drapers' Assistants Union. [3] Regarded as a moderate among the union movement, he was regarded by liberal newspapers as representing "sane labour". [6] McCombs also spent time speculating in property. In several areas in and around Christchurch he bought and sold land, the transactions that were not always profitable however and gradually the grounds of his family home in Fendalton were subdivided and sold to repay debts. [5]

Local political involvement

McCombs was involved in the temperance movement (with Tommy Taylor), the Progressive Liberal Association (with Harry Ell) and was a friend of George Laurenson. He became a member of the Liberal Party and in the 1890s he organised election campaigns for both Taylor and Ell. [3] McCombs served on the Christchurch City Council between 1913 and 1917 and again from 1931 until 1933. [7] During his second spell on the council (where Labour had a majority) McCombs chaired the finance committee. He reduced rates and protected council employees from any further wage cuts in an attempt to both dampen unemployment and stimulate the economy of the city. Neither outcome was successfully achieved however. [5]

McCombs twice stood for Mayor of Christchurch. He contested the 1917 mayoral election against the incumbent, Henry Holland, along the lines of win-the-war (Holland) and anti-conscription (McCombs). The result was a crushing defeat of McCombs; Holland received 12,177 votes and McCombs received 5,381. [8] Holland retired from the mayoralty in 1919; the election was contested by three candidates: Henry Thacker, John Joseph Dougall (Mayor of Christchurch 1911–1912) and McCombs (who at that time was MP for Lyttelton). Thacker won the contest, and McCombs came last. [9]

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
1913 1914 18th Lyttelton Social Democrat
1914 1916 19th Lyttelton Social Democrat
1916Changed allegiance to: Labour
1917Changed allegiance to: Independent Labour
19181919Changed allegiance to: Labour
1919 1922 20th Lyttelton Labour
1922 1925 21st Lyttelton Labour
19261928 22nd Lyttelton Labour
1928 1931 23rd Lyttelton Labour
1931 1933 24th Lyttelton Labour

In the 1908 election, McCombs stood in Christchurch East [5] as an Independent Liberal candidate; at the 1911 contest for Avon he was a Liberal-Labour candidate polling 2,817 votes to the official Labour candidate's 798 on the first ballot. [10] In the second ballot he was endorsed as the official Labour candidate, but lost to George Warren Russell. [11]

James McCombs represented the Lyttelton electorate for 20 years from the 1913 by-election (following the death of George Laurenson). McCombs found it difficult to support a family and maintain homes in Wellington and Christchurch on a MP's salary of £8.10.0 a week. Once when rushing to get the ferry home, his suitcase flew open and several rolls of toilet paper fell out. Subsequently, Parliament got toilet paper in paper squares instead of rolls. [12]

McCombs was part of the committee which drafted the founding constitution and programme of the New Zealand Labour Party in 1916. He then became inaugural president of the Labour Party. [13] The following year, he resigned the presidency and his membership of the Labour Party over the state control of liquor issue. [5] After rejoining the party in 1918, McCombs served as Labour's deputy leader from 1919 until 1923. [5] When Labour's caucus leader Alfred Hindmarsh died during the Influenza epidemic, Labour's leadership was open. McCombs made claim to the title but was opposed by the more militant Harry Holland. The caucus held an election to decide between the two. The result was a tie. After drawing lots, Holland was successful. [5] During the 1920s McCombs with Dan Sullivan led the opposition to Harry Holland within the Parliamentary Labour Party caucus attempting several leadership challenges, all of which were unsuccessful. [5]

After the confusion following the 1922 general election McCombs was nominated by Holland (partly for political reasons) for the role of speaker, though lost to Reform's candidate Charles Statham 61 votes to 17. [14] The 1925 general election was contested by Melville Lyons and the incumbent, McCombs. [15] The original count resulted in a tie of 4,900 votes each. The returning officer gave his casting vote to Lyons and declared him elected. A recount was demanded, and on 3 December 1925, an amended result of 4,890 votes for Lyons and 4,884 votes for McCombs was determined, with the differences in the counts explained by counting informal votes in a different way. [16] Lyons' election was declared void on 13 March 1926, and McCombs was restored as the holder of the electorate. [15]

The 1931 election had a close result, with McCombs just 32 votes ahead of the Reform Party candidate, Christchurch civil engineer Frederick Willie Freeman. [17] [18]

McCombs held the electorate until 1933, when he died in office. [19] The electorate was then held by his wife Elizabeth McCombs [19] [20] from 1933 to 1935, and his son Terry McCombs from 1935 to 1951. [21]


He died at Christchurch on 2 August 1933 from heart failure, [2] and was buried in Waimairi Cemetery. [22]


  1. "General Registrar's Office". IrishGenealogy.ie. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  2. 1 2 "Obituary". The Evening Post . CXVI (28). 2 August 1933. p. 9. Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 Gustafson 1980, p. 160.
  4. Gustafson 1980, pp. 79-80.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Garner, Jean. "McCombs, James". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 28 January 2011.
  6. Gustafson 1980, p. 80.
  7. "Councillors of the City of Christchurch". Christchurch: Christchurch City Council. Archived from the original on 20 July 2011. Retrieved 25 October 2013.
  8. "Christchurch Mayoralty". Otago Daily Times (16988). 26 April 1917. p. 5. Retrieved 23 October 2013.
  9. "Thacker's Triumph" (725). NZ Truth. 10 May 1919. p. 6. Retrieved 17 March 2010.
  10. NZ elections 1905-43
  11. "Labour Party's Support". Wairarapa Daily Times. LXIV (11219). 9 December 1911. p. 5. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  12. Hurley, Desmond (2000). A Dictionary of New Zealand Political Quotations. Oxford University Press. p. 27. ISBN   0-19-558-4287.
  13. Gustafson 1980, p. 93.
  14. Bassett 1982, p. 32.
  15. 1 2 Wilson 1985, p. 213.
  16. "Lyttelton Recount". The Evening Post . CX (135). 4 December 1925. p. 9. Retrieved 9 November 2011.
  17. The General Election, 1931. Government Printer. 1932. p. 3. Retrieved 2 November 2014.
  18. "General Election, 1931". Akaroa Mail and Banks Peninsula Advertiser. LV (5635). 27 November 1931. p. 2. Retrieved 22 November 2014.
  19. 1 2 Scholefield 1950, p. 121.
  20. "A Woman M.P." The Evening Post . CXVI (65). 14 September 1933. p. 12. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  21. Wilson 1985.
  22. "Cemeteries database". Christchurch City Council. Retrieved 23 November 2014.

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New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
George Laurenson
Member of Parliament for Lyttelton

Succeeded by
Melville Lyons
Preceded by
Melville Lyons
Succeeded by
Elizabeth McCombs
Party political offices
New political party President of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Andrew Walker
Preceded by
Andrew Walker
Senior Whip of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Dan Sullivan
New title Deputy-Leader of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Michael Joseph Savage