John Ballance

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John Ballance
John Ballance 1880.jpg
14th Premier of New Zealand
In office
24 January 1891 27 April 1893†
Monarch Victoria
Governor William Onslow
David Boyle
Preceded by Harry Atkinson
Succeeded by Richard Seddon
1st Leader of the Opposition
In office
2 July 1889 23 January 1891
Deputy Richard Seddon
Succeeded by John Bryce
Personal details
Born(1839-03-27)27 March 1839
Glenavy, Ulster, United Kingdom
Died27 April 1893(1893-04-27) (aged 54)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s)Fanny Taylor (m. 1863, d. 1868)
Ellen Anderson (m. 1870)
Children1 (adopted)
ParentsSamuel Ballance
Mary McNiece
Awards New Zealand Medal
Signature John Ballance Signature.jpg
Military service
Allegiance New Zealand Army
Years of service1868–69
Rank UK Army OF1a.png Cornet
Battles/wars New Zealand Wars

John Ballance (27 March 1839 – 27 April 1893) was an Irish-born New Zealand politician who was the 14th Premier of New Zealand, from January 1891 to April 1893, the founder of the Liberal Party (the country's first organised political party), and a Georgist. [1] In 1891 he led his party to its first election victory, forming the first New Zealand government along party lines, but died in office three years later. Ballance supported votes for women and land reform, though at considerable cost to Māori.

The New Zealand Liberal Party was the first organised political party in New Zealand. It governed from 1891 until 1912. The Liberal strategy was to create a large class of small land-owning farmers who supported Liberal ideals, by buying large tracts of Māori land and selling it to small farmers on credit. The Liberal Government also established the basis of the later welfare state, with old age pensions, developed a system for settling industrial disputes, which was accepted by both employers and trade unions. In 1893 it extended voting rights to women, making New Zealand the first country in the world to enact universal female suffrage.

Womens suffrage in New Zealand Womens voting rights in New Zealand

Women's suffrage in New Zealand was an important political issue in the late nineteenth century. In early colonial New Zealand, as in European societies, women were excluded from any involvement in politics. Public opinion began to change in the latter half of the nineteenth century, however, and after years of effort by women's suffrage campaigners, led by Kate Sheppard, New Zealand became the first self-governing colony in the world in which all women had the right to vote in parliamentary elections.

Māori people Indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand

The Māori are the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand. Māori originated with settlers from eastern Polynesia, who arrived in New Zealand in several waves of canoe voyages some time between 1250 and 1300. Over several centuries in isolation, the Polynesian settlers developed a unique culture, with their own language, a rich mythology, and distinctive crafts and performing arts. Early Māori formed tribal groups based on eastern Polynesian social customs and organisation. Horticulture flourished using plants they introduced; later, a prominent warrior culture emerged.


Early life

Ballance in around 1870 John Ballance, ca 1870.jpg
Ballance in around 1870

The eldest son of Samuel Ballance, a tenant farmer, and Mary McNiece, Ballance was born on 27 March 1839 in Glenavy in County Antrim in Ireland. [2] He was educated at a national school, then apprenticed to an ironmonger in Belfast. He later became a clerk in a wholesale ironmonger's house in Birmingham, where he married. Ballance was highly interested in literature, and was known for spending vast amounts of time reading books. [3] He also became interested in politics, mostly due to the influence of his parents – his father was active in conservative circles, while his mother was a liberal. It was from his mother that Ballance gained many of the ideas he was later to promote. Having witnessed religious rioting when in Belfast, he became committed to the principle of secularism.

Glenavy village in the United Kingdom

Glenavy is a village and civil parish in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, 17 kilometres north west of Lisburn on the banks of the Glenavy River. In the 2011 Census it had a population of 5,697 people. In early documents it was known as Lenavy.

County Antrim Place in Antrim, Northern Ireland

County Antrim is one of six counties that form Northern Ireland. Adjoined to the north-east shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 3,046 square kilometres (1,176 sq mi) and has a population of about 618,000. County Antrim has a population density of 203 people per square kilometre or 526 people per square mile. It is also one of the thirty-two traditional counties of Ireland, as well as part of the historic province of Ulster.

Belfast City in the United Kingdom, capital of Northern Ireland

Belfast is a city in the United Kingdom, the capital city of Northern Ireland, standing on the banks of the River Lagan on the east coast of Ireland. It is the largest city in Northern Ireland and second-largest on the island of Ireland. It had a population of 333,871 as of 2015.

In 1866, Ballance and his wife migrated to New Zealand, intending to start in business as a small jeweller. After settling in Wanganui, however, he took an opportunity to found a newspaper, The Wanganui Herald . [4] He became the editor, and remained chief owner for the rest of his life. During the fighting with the Māori chief Titokowaru in 1867, Ballance was involved in the raising of a volunteer cavalry troop, in which he received a commission. He was later deprived of this owing to the appearance in the Herald of articles criticising the management of the campaign. [3] He behaved well in the field, and, in spite of his dismissal, was awarded the New Zealand Medal.

<i>The Wanganui Herald</i> New Zealand newspaper

The Wanganui Herald, originally published as The Evening Herald, was a daily newspaper in Wanganui published from 1867 to 1986 when it was replaced by a community newspaper of the same name.

New Zealand Medal

The New Zealand Medal was a campaign medal awarded to Imperial and Colonial troops in the New Zealand Wars of 1845–47 and 1860–66. The New Zealand Wars were previously known as the Māori Wars, Anglo-Māori Wars or Land Wars.

Following the conflict, Ballance's status in Wanganui grew. He was respected for his management of the Herald, particularly his forthright and direct approach to reporting. He became increasingly involved in the affairs of the town, establishing a number of societies and associations. Perhaps the least important to Wanganui but among the most important to him was the chess club – he became a skilled player. In 1868 his wife Fanny died of illness, aged only 24. Two years later, he married Ellen Anderson, daughter of a Wellington architect.

Chess Strategy board game

Chess is a two-player strategy board game played on a checkered board with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 grid. The game is played by millions of people worldwide. Chess is believed to be derived from the Indian game chaturanga sometime before the 7th century. Chaturanga is also the likely ancestor of the Eastern strategy games xiangqi, janggi, and shogi. Chess reached Europe by the 9th century, due to the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The pieces assumed their current powers in Spain in the late 15th century; the modern rules were standardized in the 19th century.

Wellington Capital city of New Zealand

Wellington is the capital city and second most populous urban area of New Zealand, with 418,500 residents. It is located at the south-western tip of the North Island, between Cook Strait and the Remutaka Range. Wellington is the major population centre of the southern North Island, and is the administrative centre of the Wellington Region, which also includes the Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa. Its latitude is 41°17′S, making it the world's southernmost capital of a sovereign state. Wellington features a temperate maritime climate, and is the world's windiest city by average wind speed.

Member of Parliament

New Zealand Parliament
1875 1876 5th Rangitikei Independent
1876 1879 6th Rangitikei Independent
1879 1881 7th Wanganui Independent
1884 1887 9th Wanganui Independent
1887 1890 10th Wanganui Independent
1890 1893 11th Wanganui Liberal

Ballance first contemplated moving into national politics in 1872, putting his name forward as a candidate for the seat of Egmont in a parliamentary by-election. However, Ballance withdrew from the ballot before the vote was held. [2] In 1875, Ballance entered Parliament, having won Rangitikei in a by-election. He campaigned on two major issues – the abolition of the provinces (widely regarded as incompetent, petty, and obstructive) and the provision of free education. Ballance soon made his presence felt in Wellington. The abolition of the provinces occurred in 1876 under Julius Vogel—after which Ballance turned his attention to promoting closer land settlement, considering it the main political issue of the day. [2]

Egmont is a former New Zealand electorate, in south Taranaki. It existed from 1871 to 1978.

New Zealand Parliament legislative body of New Zealand

The New Zealand Parliament is the legislature of New Zealand, consisting of the Queen of New Zealand (Queen-in-Parliament) and the New Zealand House of Representatives. The Queen is usually represented by her governor-general. Before 1951, there was an upper chamber, the New Zealand Legislative Council. The Parliament was established in 1854 and is one of the oldest continuously functioning legislatures in the world.

Rangitīkei (New Zealand electorate) New Zealand parliamentary electorate

Rangitīkei is a New Zealand parliamentary electorate, returning one Member of Parliament to the New Zealand House of Representatives. The current MP for Rangitīkei is Ian McKelvie of the National Party. He has held this position since 2011.

Grey Ministry

In 1877, Ballance entered the cabinet of Sir George Grey, a former Governor who was then Premier. Grey's policies were not closely aligned with those of Ballance, but Ballance believed that he could nevertheless accomplish something worthwhile. He was Minister of Customs, Minister of Education, and later Colonial Treasurer. His appointment to head the treasury was a surprise to most, giving a high office to a relative newcomer on the political stage. [2]

George Grey Premier of New Zealand (1877–1879)

Sir George Grey, KCB was a British soldier, explorer, colonial administrator and writer. He served in a succession of governing positions: Governor of South Australia, twice Governor of New Zealand, Governor of Cape Colony, and the 11th Premier of New Zealand.

Governor-General of New Zealand representative of the monarch of New Zealand

The Governor-General of New Zealand is the viceregal representative of the monarch of New Zealand, currently Queen Elizabeth II. As the Queen is concurrently the monarch of 15 other Commonwealth realms, and lives in the United Kingdom, she, on the advice of her Prime Minister of New Zealand, appoints a governor-general to carry out her constitutional and ceremonial duties within the Realm of New Zealand.

Minister of Education (New Zealand) minister in the government of New Zealand

The Minister of Education is a minister in the government of New Zealand with responsibility for the country's schools, and is in charge of the Ministry of Education.

On 6 August 1878, Ballance delivered a financial statement, which was seen as the most significant since the public works announcement by Julius Vogel in 1870. [2] Ballance set about reforming the tariff system by removing duties on basic necessities and introducing a modest though somewhat symbolic land tax, an idea he later revisited. His alliance with Grey ended with a notorious and very painful quarrel. Ballance found Grey far too controlling and authoritarian, resigning his portfolios yet still gave him confidence in the house. [2]

From 1879 Ballance represented Wanganui, but in 1881 he lost by just four votes (393 to 397), and it was reported that seven of his supporters were too late to vote as their carriage broke down. [5] He returned to Parliament for Wanganui in 1884.

Stout Ministry

Ballance in around 1880 John Ballance (Photo).jpg
Ballance in around 1880

On re-election as an Independent in 1884, Ballance became a minister in the Cabinet of Robert Stout, a fellow liberal. He was Minister of Lands and Immigration, Minister of Defence and Minister of Native Affairs (relations with Māori). In his role as Minister of Lands he encouraged intensive settlement of rural areas, aiming to increase the number of people leaving the cities to "work the land", which he believed was essential to increase productivity and self-sufficiency. His system of state-aided "village settlements" - small holdings were leased by the Crown to farmers and money lent them to make a beginning of building and cultivation - was generally successful. [6]

Despite this desire for increased settlement of colonist-held land, he strongly supported the rights of Māori to retain the land they still held – many other politicians of his time believed that acquisition of Māori land was essential for increasing settlement. He reduced military presence in areas where strong tensions with Māori existed, and made an attempt to familiarise himself with Māori language and culture. In 1887 Stout's government lost the general election, but Ballance remained popular. Illness initially prevented his full participation in politics, but with his recovery in July 1889 he became Leader of the Opposition. [7]


A statue of John Ballance outside the Parliamentary Library in Wellington JohnBallanceCrop gobeirne.jpg
A statue of John Ballance outside the Parliamentary Library in Wellington

In 1890 Ballance led a loose coalition of liberal politicians to victory in the general election. The more liberal minded candidates at the election fared well as there was public discontent with the sitting administration. The background of the election was filled with strikes and an economic recession. Harry Atkinson, the Premier who had defeated Stout, was forced to resign, but not before stacking the Legislative Council with his supporters. This was a serious problem for Ballance's premiership but he was able to overcome it, partly by reducing the life-tenure of legislative councillors to one term of seven years. [7] His successful battle with the Governor over changes to the Legislative Council helped define the relationship between the elected Premier and the appointed Governor, mostly in the Premier's favour. [3]

Ballance was actively involved in the advocacy of women's suffrage, declaring to Parliament that he believed in the "absolute equality of the sexes." This was a cause he had partially inherited from his colleague in the Stout government, Julius Vogel, and in which he was influenced by his politically astute wife. Ballance was also responsible for the establishment, in 1891, of the progressive land tax and progressive income tax. He was widely praised for his handling of the economy, which expanded greatly during his term. [7]

First Liberal Government

As leader of Parliament's liberal faction, he brought his allies and colleagues into the Liberal Party, New Zealand's first political party, intended to embody the liberal ideas of Stout, Vogel, and Ballance himself. The next four premiers were from the party, although some (such as Richard Seddon) did not live up to the ideals that Ballance tried to establish. Quiet and unassuming in manner and well read, Ballance always seemed fonder of his books and his chessboard than of public bustle. He has been described as "unassuming and unpretentious", and was quiet, polite, and extremely patient. [3]

After handpicking a cabinet of men of considerable talent, Ballance led the government through two difficult years of economic reform. He appointed himself as Treasurer, and in this capacity he implemented new land and income taxes, similar to that of the taxes introduced under Grey, though more radical. [2] Several other notable pieces of legislation were passed by Ballance in this period, such as the Land Act 1892 and the Land for Settlements Act 1892. Despite initial outcry, the tax was seen as equitable by the people, who eventually found themselves better off as a result of such a great decrease in direct taxations. [8]


Ballance's gravestone in Whanganui John Ballance Gravestone Whanganui.jpg
Ballance's gravestone in Whanganui

In 1893, at the height of his success and popularity, he died in Wellington of an intestinal disease after a major surgical operation. He is believed to have supported Stout as his successor, but the rapid onset of his illness prevented him from securing that outcome and he was followed by Seddon. He was the first New Zealand Prime Minister to die in office.

A statue was erected to his memory in front of Parliament House, Wellington, in front of the library – Parliament has since moved to a bigger, adjacent building. A statue was erected in Moutoa Gardens in Wanganui.


  1. Daunton, M. J. State and market in Victorian Britain : war, welfare and capitalism. Woodbridge, UK Rochester, NY: Boydell Press, 2008. Quote: "In the election of 1890 he campaigned for radical land reform, arguing for a tax on the 'unearned increment', and advocated the programme of Henry George as a means of 'bursting up the great estates'."
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 McIvor, Timothy L. "Ballance, John". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Ross 1966.
  4. "Wanganui Herald". Papers Past. National Library of New Zealand . Retrieved 12 January 2013.
  5. McIvor 1989, p. 105.
  6. McIvor 1989, p. 112-4.
  7. 1 2 3 Reeves 1901.
  8. McIvor 1989, p. 219.

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Further reading

Government offices
Preceded by
Harry Atkinson
Premier of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Richard Seddon
First Minister of Education
Succeeded by
William Rolleston
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
William Fox
Member of Parliament for Rangitikei
Succeeded by
William Jarvis Willis
Preceded by
William Fox
Member of Parliament for Wanganui
1879–1881 (serving alongside John Bryce)
Succeeded by
William Hogg Watt
Preceded by
William Hogg Watt
Succeeded by
Archibald Willis
Party political offices
First Leader of the Liberal Party
Succeeded by
Richard Seddon