William Massey

Last updated

William Ferguson Massey
William Ferguson Massey 1919.jpg
William Massey in 1919
19th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
10 July 1912 10 May 1925†
Monarch George V
Governor-General John Dickson-Poynder
Arthur Foljambe
John Jellicoe
Charles Fergusson
Preceded by Thomas Mackenzie
Succeeded by Sir Francis Bell
5th Leader of the Opposition
In office
11 September 1903 10 July 1912
Deputy James Allen
Preceded by William Russell
Succeeded by Joseph Ward
Personal details
Born(1856-03-26)26 March 1856
Limavady, County Londonderry, Ireland, UK
Died10 May 1925(1925-05-10) (aged 69)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political partyNone until February 1909
Children7, including Walter and Jack
ParentsJohn Massey
Marianne Ferguson
Relatives William Goosman (nephew)

William Ferguson Massey PC (26 March 1856 – 10 May 1925), commonly known as Bill Massey, was a politician 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.

Prime Minister of New Zealand head of the New Zealand government

The Prime Minister of New Zealand is the head of government of New Zealand. The incumbent Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, leader of the New Zealand Labour Party, took office on 26 October 2017.

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.


Massey was born in County Londonderry in Ireland (now Northern Ireland). After migrating to New Zealand in 1870, Massey farmed near Auckland (earning his later nickname, Farmer Bill) and assumed leadership in farmers' organisations. He entered parliament in 1894 as a conservative, and from 1894 to 1912 was a leader of the conservative opposition to the Liberal ministries of Richard Seddon and Joseph Ward. Massey became the first Reform Party Prime Minister after he led a successful motion of no confidence against the Liberal government. Throughout his political career Massey was known for the particular support he showed for agrarian interests, as well as his opposition to organised labour. He pledged New Zealand's support for Britain during the First World War.

County Londonderry Place in Northern Ireland, United Kingdom

County Londonderry, also known as County Derry, is one of the six counties of Northern Ireland. Prior to the partition of Ireland, it was one of the counties of the Kingdom of Ireland from 1613 onward and then of the United Kingdom after the Acts of Union 1800. Adjoining the north-west shore of Lough Neagh, the county covers an area of 2,074 km² and today has a population of about 247,132.

Northern Ireland Part of the United Kingdom lying in the north-east of the island of Ireland, created 1921

Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom in the north-east of the island of Ireland, variously described as a country, province or region. Northern Ireland shares a border to the south and west with the Republic of Ireland. In 2011, its population was 1,810,863, constituting about 30% of the island's total population and about 3% of the UK's population. Established by the Northern Ireland Act 1998 as part of the Good Friday Agreement, the Northern Ireland Assembly holds responsibility for a range of devolved policy matters, while other areas are reserved for the British government. Northern Ireland co-operates with the Republic of Ireland in several areas, and the Agreement granted the Republic the ability to "put forward views and proposals" with "determined efforts to resolve disagreements between the two governments".

Auckland Metropolitan area in North Island, New Zealand

Auckland is a city in the North Island of New Zealand. The most populous urban area in the country, Auckland has an urban population of around 1,628,900. It is located in the Auckland Region—the area governed by Auckland Council—which includes outlying rural areas and the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, resulting in a total population of 1,695,900. Auckland is a diverse, multicultural and cosmopolitan city, home to the largest Polynesian population in the world. A Māori-language name for Auckland is Tāmaki or Tāmaki-makau-rau, meaning "Tāmaki with a hundred lovers", in reference to the desirability of its fertile land at the hub of waterways in all directions.

Massey led his Reform Party through four elections, although only the 1919 election was a decisive victory over all other parties. Following increasingly poor health in his fourth term, Massey died in office. After Richard Seddon, he is the second-longest-serving Prime Minister of New Zealand.

1919 New Zealand general election Election in New Zealand

The New Zealand general election of 1919 was held on Tuesday, 16 December in the Māori electorates, and on Wednesday, 17 December in the general electorates to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 20th session of the New Zealand Parliament. A total number of 560,673 (80.5%) voters turned out to vote.

Early life

Massey was born in 1856 into a Protestant farming family, and grew up in Limavady, County Londonderry in Ireland. His father John Massey and his mother Marianne (or Mary Anne) née Ferguson were tenant farmers, who also owned a small property. His family arrived in New Zealand on 21 October 1862 on board the Indian Empire [1] as Nonconformist settlers, [2] although Massey remained in Ireland for a further eight years to complete his education. After arriving on 10 December 1870 on the City of Auckland, Massey worked as a farmhand for some years before acquiring his own farm in Mangere, south Auckland, in 1876. [3] In 1882 Massey married his neighbour's daughter, Christina Allan Paul. They had seven children. [4]

Limavady market town in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland

Limavady is a market town in County Londonderry, Northern Ireland, with Binevenagh as a backdrop. Lying 17 miles (27 km) east of Derry and 14 miles (23 km) southwest of Coleraine, Limavady had a population of 12,043 people as of the 2001 Census—an increase of some 17% since 1991. In the 30 years between 1971 and 2011, Limavady's population nearly doubled. Limavady is within Causeway Coast and Glens Borough.

Early political career

Massey gradually became more prominent in his community. This was partly due to his civic involvement in the school board, the debating society,and farming associations. Because of his prominence in these circles, he became involved in political debate, working on behalf of rural conservatives against the Liberal Party government of John Ballance. [ citation needed ] William Massey was a member of the Orange Order, Oddfellows, and freemasons, [5] and espoused British Israelite ideas. [6]

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.

John Ballance 14th Premier of New Zealand

John Ballance 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, and a Georgist. 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.

In 1893 Massey stood as a candidate in the general election in the Franklin electorate, losing to the Liberal candidate, Benjamin Harris. [4] In early 1894 he was invited to contest a by-election in the neighbouring electorate of Waitemata, and was victorious. In the 1896 election he stood for the Franklin electorate, which he represented until he died in 1925. [7]

1893 New Zealand general election

The New Zealand general election of 1893 was held on 28 November and 20 December in the European and Māori electorates, respectively, to elect 74 MPs to the 12th session of the New Zealand Parliament. The election was won by the Liberal Party, and Richard Seddon became Prime Minister.

Franklin was a rural New Zealand parliamentary electorate. It existed from 1861 to 1996 during four periods.

Benjamin Harris was a 19th-century Member of Parliament in New Zealand. In 1893 he appears to have been a Liberal Party supporter.


New Zealand Parliament
1894 1896 12th Waitemata Independent
1896 1899 13th Franklin Independent
1899 1902 14th Franklin Independent
1902 1905 15th Franklin Independent
1905 1908 16th Franklin Independent
1908 1909 17th Franklin Independent
19091911Changed allegiance to: Reform
1911 1914 18th Franklin Reform
1914 1919 19th Franklin Reform
1919 1922 20th Franklin Reform
1922 1925 21st Franklin Reform

Massey joined the ranks of the (mostly conservative) independent MPs opposing the Liberal Party, led by Richard Seddon. They were poorly organised and dispirited, and had little chance of unseating the Liberals. William Russell, the Leader of the Opposition, was able to command only 15 votes. Massey brought increased vigour to the conservative faction and became opposition whip. [8]

By June 1900, following a heavy defeat at the 1899 general election, the opposition strength fell considerably. The conservative MPs could not agree on a new leader after holding their first caucus of the session. For over two years the conservatives were virtually leaderless and many despaired of ever toppling the Liberal Party. Massey, as chief whip, informally filled the role as leader and eventually succeeded Russell as Leader of the Opposition formally in September 1903. [9]

As leader, the conservatives rallied for a time, though support for the Liberals increased markedly during the Second Boer War, leaving the conservatives devastated at the 1902 general election. Massey's political career survived the period: despite a challenge by William Herries, he remained the most prominent opponent to the Liberal Party. [4]

After Seddon's death the Liberals were led by Joseph Ward, who proved more vulnerable to Massey's attacks. In particular, Massey made gains by claiming that alleged corruption and cronyism within the civil service was ignored or abetted by the Liberal government. His conservative politics also benefited him when voters grew concerned about militant unionism and the supposed threat of socialism. [4]

Reform Party

In February 1909, [10] Massey announced the creation of the Reform Party from his New Zealand Political Reform League. The party was to be led by him and backed by his conservative colleagues.

In the 1911 election the Reform Party won more seats than the Liberal Party but did not gain an absolute majority. The Liberals, relying on support from independents who had not joined Reform, were able to stay in power until the following year, when they lost a vote of confidence.

Prime Minister

Massey was sworn in as Prime Minister on 10 July 1912. Two days later it was reported in the press on 12 July that he had accepted the appointment of Honorary Commandant of the Auckland District of the Legion of Frontiersmen. Some members of the Reform Party grew increasingly frustrated at Massey's dominance of the party. He earned the enmity of many workers with his harsh response to miners' and waterfront workers' strikes in 1912 and 1913. The use of force to deal with the strikers made Massey an object of hatred for the emerging left-wing, but conservatives (many of whom believed that the unions were controlled by the far left) generally supported him, saying that his methods were necessary. His association with the Legion of Frontiersmen assisted him greatly during this period as a number of mounted units, including Levin Troop, rode to Wellington in mufti and assisted as Special Constables. In the Levin Troop was a young Bernard Freyberg, who would shortly earn the Victoria Cross near Beaumont Hamel.

Amongst the first Acts enacted by Massey's government was one that "enabled some 13,000 Crown tenants to purchase their own farms." [11]

First World War

The outbreak of the First World War diverted attention from these matters. The 1914 election left Massey and his political opponents stalemated in parliament, with neither side possessing enough support to govern effectively. Massey reluctantly invited Joseph Ward of the Liberals to form a war-time coalition, created in 1915. While Massey remained Prime Minister, Ward gained de facto status as joint leader. Massey and Ward travelled to Britain several times, both during and after the war, to discuss military co-operation and peace settlements. During his first visit, Massey visited New Zealand troops, listening to their complaints sympathetically. This angered some officials, who believed that Massey undermined the military leadership by conceding (in contrast to the official line) that conditions for the troops were unsatisfactory. The war reinforced Massey's strong belief in the British Empire and New Zealand's links with it. He attended the Peace Conference in 1919 and signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of New Zealand. Although turning down knighthoods and a peerage, he accepted appointment as a Grand Officer of the Order of the Crown (Belgium) from the King of Belgium in March 1921 and a Grand Officer of the Legion of Honour by the President of France in October 1921. [12]

Coalition with the Liberals

Massey addressing New Zealand machine gunners at Bois-De-Warnimont, France, 30 June 1918 NZ Prime Minister William Massey addressing New Zealand machine gunners at Bois-De-Warnimont, France, June 1918 (16650304790).jpg
Massey addressing New Zealand machine gunners at Bois-De-Warnimont, France, 30 June 1918
Massey and Ward, c. 1920 Massey and Ward.jpg
Massey and Ward, c.1920

Partly because of the difficulty in obtaining consensus to implement meaningful policies, the coalition government had grown increasingly unpopular by the end of the war. Massey was particularly worried by the rise of the Labour Party, which was growing increasingly influential. Massey also found himself fighting off criticism from within his own party, including charges that he was ignoring rural concerns. He dissolved the coalition in 1919, and fought both the Liberals and Labour on a platform of patriotism, stability, support for farmers, and a public works program. He successfully gained a majority.


The Immigration Restriction Amendment Act of 1920 aimed to further limit Asian immigration into New Zealand by requiring all potential immigrants not of British or Irish parentage to apply in writing for a permit to enter the country. The Minister of Customs had the discretion to determine whether any applicant was "suitable." Prime Minister William Massey asserted that the act was "the result of a deep seated sentiment on the part of a huge majority of the people of this country that this Dominion shall be what is often called a 'white' New Zealand." [13]

The Red Scare

According to New Zealand historian Tony Wilson, Massey was known for his anti-Bolshevik and anti-Soviet sentiments. He disliked domestic socialist elements like the "Red Feds", the predecessor to the New Zealand Federation of Labour, and the New Zealand Labour Party. As Prime Minister, Massey was opposed to Communist influence. He regarded the Red Terror (1919–20) in the Soviet Union, which followed the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, as proof of the "inherently oppressive orientation" of socialism. In response to the Red Scare the government passed the War Regulations Continuance Act, which continued wartime emergency regulations including censorship. This led to a ban on Communist-oriented literature, which continued to 1935. [14]

1922 election

Economic problems lessened support for Reform. In the 1922 election Massey lost his majority, and was forced to negotiate with independents to keep his government alive. He was also alarmed by the success of Labour, which was now only five seats behind the Liberals. He began to believe that the Liberals would eventually disappear, with their supporters being split, the socially liberal wing to Labour and the economically liberal wing to Reform. He set about trying to ensure that Reform's gain would be the greater.

In 1924 cancer forced him to relinquish many of his official duties, and the following year he died. The Massey Memorial was erected as his mausoleum in Wellington, paid for mostly by public subscription. Massey University is named after him, the name chosen because the university had a focus on agricultural science, matching Massey's own farming background. [4]



His widow, Christina, was awarded the GBE in 1926, one year after his death. [15]

Two of his sons became Reform MPs: Jack (1885–1964), who represented his father's Franklin electorate from 1928 to 1935, and from 1938 to 1957 for National; and Walter William (1882–1959), who represented Hauraki from 1931 to 1935.

His son Frank George Massey (1887–1975) enlisted in World War I, and transferred to the British Expeditionary Force where he commanded a battalion as a Major. [16]

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  1. "Port of Onehunga". Daily Southern Cross . XVIII (1638). 21 October 1862. p. 2.
  2. 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. "Oxford DNB". Oxford DNB. 10 May 1925. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Gustafson, Barry. "Massey, William Ferguson". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  5. "Massey, William Ferguson – Biography – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Teara.govt.nz. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  6. Reynolds, David (2014). The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 108. ISBN   9780393088632 . Retrieved 18 January 2016. Massey's British Israelite philosophy was extreme, not to say eccentric[...].
  7. Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 126.
  8. Wilson 1985, p. 279.
  9. Wilson 1985, p. 282.
  10. "The Reform Party". The Evening Post . LXVVII (36). 12 February 1909. p. 8. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  11. 1 2 Allen, Sam (1985), To Ulster's Credit, Killinchy, UK, p. 116
  12. M. Brewer, 'New Zealand and the Légion d'honneur: Officiers, Commandeurs and Dignites', The Volunteers: The Journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society, 35(3), March 2010, p.136.
  13. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 14 September 1920, p. 905.
  14. Wilson, Tony (2004). "Chapter 6: Defining the Red Menace". In Trapeznik, Alexander (ed.). Lenin's Legacy Down Under. Otago University Press. pp. 101–02. ISBN   1-877276-90-1.
  15. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 4 August 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2014.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  16. Harper, Glyn (2019). For King and Other Countries. North Shore, Auckland: Massey University University Press. p. 112. ISBN   978-0-9951029-9-6.

Further reading

Government offices
Preceded by
Thomas Mackenzie
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Francis Bell
Political offices
Preceded by
William Herries
Minister of Railways
Succeeded by
David Guthrie
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Richard Monk
Member of Parliament for Waitemata
Succeeded by
Richard Monk
Preceded by
Benjamin Harris
Member of Parliament for Franklin
Succeeded by
Ewen McLennan