Joseph Ward

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Sir Joseph George Ward, 1st Bt

Joseph Ward c. 1906.jpg
17th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
6 August 1906 28 March 1912
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Governor William Plunket
Arthur Foljambe
Preceded by William Hall-Jones
Succeeded by Thomas Mackenzie
In office
10 December 1928 28 May 1930
Monarch George V
Governor-General Charles Fergusson
Charles Bathurst
Preceded by Gordon Coates
Succeeded by George Forbes
17th Minister of Finance
In office
1 May 1893 16 June 1896
Prime Minister Richard Seddon
Preceded by John Ballance
Succeeded byRichard Seddon
In office
6 August 1906 28 March 1912
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded by William Hall-Jones
Succeeded by Arthur Myers
In office
12 August 1915 21 August 1919
Prime Minister William Massey
Preceded by James Allen
Succeeded byJames Allen
In office
10 December 1928 28 May 1930
Prime MinisterHimself
Preceded by William Downie Stewart, Jr.
Succeeded by George Forbes
6th Leader of the Opposition
In office
11 September 1913 27 November 1919
Prime Minister William Massey
Preceded byWilliam Massey
Succeeded by William MacDonald
In office
4 December 1928 10 December 1928
Prime Minister Gordon Coates
Preceded by Harry Holland
Succeeded byGordon Coates
Personal details
Born(1856-04-26)26 April 1856
Melbourne, Victoria Colony
Died8 July 1930(1930-07-08) (aged 74)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Liberal (1890–1928)
United (1928–1930)
Theresa Dorothea de Smidt
(m. 1883;died 1927)
Children5, including Vincent
ParentsWilliam Ward
Hannah Ward
Relatives Joseph Ward (grandson)

Sir Joseph George Ward of Wellington, 1st Baronet, GCMG , PC (26 April 1856 – 8 July 1930) was a New Zealand politician who served as the 17th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1906 to 1912 and from 1928 to 1930. He was a dominant figure in the Liberal and United ministries of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

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.

The United Party of New Zealand, a party formed out of the remnants of the Liberal Party, formed a government between 1928 and 1935, and in 1936 merged with the Reform Party to establish the National Party.


Ward was born into an Irish Catholic family in Melbourne, Victoria. In 1863, financial hardship forced his family to move to New Zealand, where he completed his education. Ward established a successful grain trade in Invercargill in 1877 and soon became prominent in local politics. He became a Member of Parliament in 1887. Following the election of the Liberal Government in 1891, Ward was appointed as Postmaster-General under John Ballance; he was promoted to Minister of Finance in the succeeding ministry of Richard Seddon.

Melbourne City in Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Its name refers to an urban agglomeration of 9,992.5 km2 (3,858.1 sq mi), comprising a metropolitan area with 31 municipalities, and is also the common name for its city centre. The city occupies much of the coastline of Port Phillip bay and spreads into the hinterlands towards the Dandenong and Macedon ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. It has a population of approximately 4.9 million, and its inhabitants are referred to as "Melburnians".

Victoria (Australia) State in Australia

Victoria is a state in south-eastern Australia. Victoria is Australia's smallest mainland state and its second-most populous state overall, thus making it the most densely populated state overall. Most of its population lives concentrated in the area surrounding Port Phillip Bay, which includes the metropolitan area of its state capital and largest city, Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city. Victoria is bordered by Bass Strait and Tasmania to the south, New South Wales to the north, the Tasman Sea to the east, and South Australia to the west.

Invercargill Place in South Island, New Zealand

Invercargill is the southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand, and one of the southernmost cities in the world. It is the commercial centre of the Southland region. The city lies in the heart of the wide expanse of the Southland Plains on the Oreti or New River some 18 km north of Bluff, which is the southernmost town in the South Island. It sits amid rich farmland that is bordered by large areas of conservation land and marine reserves, including Fiordland National Park covering the south-west corner of the South Island and the Catlins coastal region.

Ward became Prime Minister on 6 August 1906, following Seddon's death two months earlier. In his first period of government, Ward advocated greater unity within the British Empire, led New Zealand to Dominion status, and increased New Zealand's contribution to the Royal Navy. His government faced strong opposition from the Reform Party and the newly-formed socialist parties. He led the Liberal Party to two election victories, in 1908 and 1911, albeit with a one-seat majority in the latter. He resigned as head of government on 28 March 1912.

British Empire States and dominions ruled by the United Kingdom

The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom and its predecessor states. It originated with the overseas possessions and trading posts established by England between the late 16th and early 18th centuries. At its height, it was the largest empire in history and, for over a century, was the foremost global power. By 1913, the British Empire held sway over 412 million people, 23% of the world population at the time, and by 1920, it covered 35,500,000 km2 (13,700,000 sq mi), 24% of the Earth's total land area. As a result, its political, legal, linguistic and cultural legacy is widespread. At the peak of its power, the phrase "the empire on which the sun never sets" was often used to describe the British Empire, because its expanse around the globe meant that the sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

Dominion of New Zealand former dominion of the British Empire

The Dominion of New Zealand was the historical successor to the Colony of New Zealand. It was a constitutional monarchy with a high level of self-government within the British Empire.

The Reform Party, formally the New Zealand Political Reform League, was New Zealand's second major political party, having been founded as a conservative response to the original Liberal Party. It was in government between 1912 and 1928, and later formed a coalition with the United Party, and then merged with United to form the modern National Party.

During the First World War, Ward led his party in a coalition with the Reform Party. As co-leader of the government, Ward had a strained working relationship with Prime Minister William Massey. The coalition was dissolved in 1919 and Ward resigned as Liberal leader.

William Massey Prime Minister of New Zealand

William Ferguson Massey, commonly known as Bill Massey, was an Irish-born politician in New Zealand who served as the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand from May 1912 to May 1925. He was the founding leader of the Reform Party, New Zealand's second organised political party, from 1909 until his death.

After a six-year absence from national politics, Ward returned to parliament in 1925. He became Prime Minister on 10 December 1928, as leader of the United Party, which had formed from the remnants of the former Liberal Party. Ward attempted to rejuvenate liberal support in New Zealand but his party lost ground to the New Zealand Labour Party. Failing health forced his retirement from leadership on 28 May 1930.

Liberalism is a political and moral philosophy based on liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but they generally support limited government, individual rights, capitalism, democracy, secularism, gender equality, racial equality, internationalism, freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of religion.

The New Zealand Labour Party, or simply Labour, is a centre-left political party in New Zealand. The party's platform programme describes its founding principle as democratic socialism, while observers describe Labour as social-democratic and pragmatic in practice. It is a participant of the international Progressive Alliance.

Early life

Ward and his family, around 1905 Joseph George Ward and family.jpg
Ward and his family, around 1905

Ward was born in Melbourne on 26 April 1856 to a Roman Catholic family of Irish descent. His father, William, 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]

Bluff, New Zealand human settlement

Bluff, previously known as Campbelltown and often referred to as "The Bluff", is a town and seaport in the Southland region, on the southern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is the southernmost town in mainland New Zealand and, despite Slope Point and Stewart Island being further south, Bluff is colloquially used to refer to the southern extremity of the country. According to the 2006 census, the resident population was 1,850, a decrease of 85 since 2001.

Southland, New Zealand Region of New Zealand in South Island

Southland is New Zealand's southernmost region. It consists mainly of the southwestern portion of the South Island and Stewart Island / Rakiura. It includes Southland District, Gore District and the city of Invercargill. The region covers over 3.1 million hectares and spans over 3,400 km of coast.

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. 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. [1]

Early political career

New Zealand Parliament
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
1928Changed allegiance to: United
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.[ citation needed ]

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. [2]

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, however. 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.[ citation needed ]

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. On 19 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. [3] [4]

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. [1]

The New Zealand Observer (1907) shows Ward as a pretentious dwarf beneath a massive "dominion" top hat. The caption reads: The Surprise Packet:
Canada: "Rather large for him, is it not?"
Australia: "Oh his head is swelling rapidly. The hat will soon fit." Dominion-of-new-zealand.gif
The New Zealand Observer (1907) shows Ward as a pretentious dwarf beneath a massive "dominion" top hat. The caption reads: The Surprise Packet:
Canada: "Rather large for him, is it not?"
Australia: "Oh his head is swelling rapidly. The hat will soon fit."

First premiership

The Seddon Ministry in 1900. Ward is second from the right in the bottom row Seddon Ministry, 1900.jpg
The Seddon Ministry in 1900. Ward is second from the right in the bottom row

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. [1]

In 1901, Ward established the world's first Ministry of Health and Tourism, and became the British Empire's first Minister of Public Health. [1] 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

A portrait of Ward by Sir William Orpen. Sir Joseph George Ward, 1st Bt by Sir William Orpen.jpg
A portrait of Ward by Sir William Orpen.

On 11 September 1913, however, Ward finally accepted the leadership of the Liberal Party once again. [7] 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 following a decision made by caucus to do so two months earlier. [8]

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. [9] 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

Official portrait for the 1928 election campaign Sir Joseph Ward, 1928.jpg
Official portrait for the 1928 election campaign

Ward accepted an offer from Albert Davy and became leader of the new United Party, fighting off three other contenders. [10] 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. He also briefly served as Minister of External Affairs in 1929. [11] Ward was also attempting to rejuvenate liberal support in New Zealand. His cabinet was rather youthful, with only two MP's (Thomas Wilford and Āpirana Ngata), other than himself, having held ministerial portfolios before. [12]

Health and death

Statue of Ward in Bluff Joseph Ward Statue Cropped.jpg
Statue of Ward in Bluff

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. [13]

Ward died shortly afterwards, on 8 July. He was given a state funeral with a Requiem Mass celebrated on 9 July at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Hill St, Wellington. Ward had been an active worshipper there (and at its destroyed predecessor, St Mary's Cathedral) for all of his thirty-seven years as an MP. [14]

The Mass was celebrated by Bishop O'Shea (the Coadjutor Archbishop of Wellington), and Archbishop Redwood, 1st Archbishop of Wellington, delivered the panagyric.

Ward was buried with considerable ceremony in Bluff. His son Vincent was elected to replace him as MP for Invercargill. [1]

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Bassett, Michael. "Ward, Joseph George". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 26 November 2011.
  2. Foster 1966.
  3. "No. 27325". The London Gazette . 21 June 1901. p. 4182.
  4. Profile,; accessed 21 October 2014.
  5. "Joseph Ward proclaims Dominion status – 26 September 1907". New Zealand History online. Archived from the original on 5 November 2012.
  6. "No. 28577". The London Gazette . 2 February 1912. p. 797.
  7. Bassett 1993, p. 219.
  8. Bassett 1993, p. 243.
  9. Bassett 1993, p. 255.
  10. Bassett 1993, p. 264.
  11. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 223 (1929).
  12. Bassett 1993, p. 271.
  13. Bassett 1993, p. 282.
  14. Bassett 1993, p. 283-4.


Government offices
Preceded by
William Hall-Jones
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Thomas Mackenzie
Preceded by
Gordon Coates
Succeeded by
George Forbes
Political offices
Preceded by
T.J. Warren
Mayor of Bluff
Succeeded by
J. Smith
Political offices
Preceded by
Patrick Buckley
Succeeded by
Richard Seddon
Preceded by
Richard Seddon
Succeeded by
Harry Ell
Preceded by
Heaton Rhodes
Succeeded by
Gordon Coates
Preceded by
James Donald
Succeeded by
James Donald
Preceded by
Patrick Buckley
Electric Telegraph Commissioner
Succeeded by
Richard Seddon
Preceded by
Richard Seddon
Position abolished
New title Minister of Telegraphs
Succeeded by
Harry Ell
Preceded by
Heaton Rhodes
Succeeded by
Gordon Coates
Preceded by
James Donald
Succeeded by
James Donald
New title Minister of Health
Succeeded by
George Fowlds
Preceded by
Alfred Cadman
Minister of Railways
Succeeded by
William Hall-Jones
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
James Parker Joyce
Member of Parliament for Awarua
Succeeded by
John Ronald Hamilton
Preceded by
Josiah Hanan
Member of Parliament for Invercargill
Succeeded by
Vincent Ward
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New creation
(of Wellington)

Succeeded by
Cyril Ward