William Massey

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All we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British Government.

Cable from Massey to the British Government, 1914 [12]
On 29 June 1918, Massey and Ward began a visit to New Zealand troops in France. This photo shows them on their arrival in Boulogne, 1918. William Massey & Joseph Ward arriving in Boulogne, 1918 (19130690381).jpg
On 29 June 1918, Massey and Ward began a visit to New Zealand troops in France. This photo shows them on their arrival in Boulogne, 1918.

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 Paris Peace Conference in 1919 and signed the Treaty of Versailles on behalf of New Zealand. [13] 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. [14]

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

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." [15]

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. [16]

1922 election

Portrait of Massey by Sir William Orpen. Undated. William Ferguson Massey by Sir William Orpen.jpg
Portrait of Massey by Sir William Orpen. Undated.

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. [5]



His widow, Christina, was awarded the GBE in 1926, one year after his death. [17]

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. [18]

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  1. "Port of Onehunga". Daily Southern Cross . Vol. XVIII, no. 1638. 21 October 1862. p. 2.
  2. 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. Obituary William Ferguson Massey Londonderry Sentinel 12 May 1925
  4. "Oxford DNB". Oxford DNB. 10 May 1925. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Gustafson, Barry. "Massey, William Ferguson". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 10 December 2011.
  6. "Massey, William Ferguson – Biography – Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand". Teara.govt.nz. Retrieved 29 March 2016.
  7. Reynolds, David (12 May 2014). The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century. W. W. Norton & Company (published 2014). p. 108. ISBN   9780393088632 . Retrieved 18 January 2016. Massey's British Israelite philosophy was extreme, not to say eccentric[...].
  8. Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 126.
  9. Wilson 1985, p. 279.
  10. Wilson 1985, p. 282.
  11. "The Reform Party". The Evening Post . Vol. LXVVII, no. 36. 12 February 1909. p. 8. Retrieved 23 March 2016.
  12. 1 2 Allen, Sam (1985), To Ulster's Credit, Killinchy, UK, p. 116
  13. "New Zealand Prime Minister signs Treaty of Versailles". NZHistory. 30 April 2019. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  14. 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.
  15. New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, 14 September 1920, p. 905.
  16. 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.
  17. "DPMC - New Zealand Honours: History of Royal Honours". Archived from the original on 4 August 2011. Retrieved 20 May 2014.
  18. 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

  • Constable, H.J. (1925), From ploughboy to premier: a new life of the Right Hon. William Ferguson Massey, P.C, London: John Marlowe Savage & Co.
  • Farland, Bruce (2009), Farmer Bill: William Ferguson Massey & the Reform Party, Wellington: First Edition Publishers.
  • Gardner, William James (1966), "MASSEY, William Ferguson", An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, retrieved 24 April 2008
  • Gardner, William J. "The Rise of W. F. Massey, 1891–1912", Political Science (March 1961) 13: 3–30; and "W. F. Massey in Power", Political Science (Sept. 1961), 3–30.
  • Gustafson, Barry, "Massey, William Ferguson 1856–1925", Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, retrieved 24 April 2008
  • Massey, D. Christine (1996), The life of Rt. Hon. W.F. Massey P.C., L.L.D. : Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1912–1925, Auckland, [N.Z.]: D.C. Massey
  • Scholefield, Guy H. (1925), The Right Honourable William Ferguson Massey, M.P., P.C., Prime Minister of New Zealand, 1912–1925: a personal biography, Wellington, [N.Z.]: Harry H. Tombs
  • Watson, James, and Lachy Paterson, eds. A Great New Zealand Prime Minister? Reappraising William Ferguson Massey (2010), essays by scholars
  • Watson, James. W.F. Massey: New Zealand (2011), short scholarly biography; emphasis on Paris Peace Conference of 1919 excerpt
William Ferguson Massey
William Ferguson Massey 1919.jpg
Massey in 1919
19th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
10 July 1912 10 May 1925†
Government offices
Preceded by Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Minister of Railways
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Police
Succeeded by
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Waitemata
Succeeded by
Richard Monk
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Franklin
Succeeded by