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William Ferguson Massey

(1856—1925) prime minister of New Zealand


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(b. 26 Mar. 1856, d. 10 May 1925).

Prime Minister of New Zealand 1912–25

Early career

Born in Limavady, Ulster (Ireland), he emigrated to New Zealand with his family in 1870 and settled at Tamaki. He leased a farm at Mangere in 1877, became active in the local masonic lodge, and in 1890 became president of the Mangere Farmers' Club. Massey became president of the Auckland district of the National Association, and in 1894 entered parliament. He became prominent in parliamentary opposition to Sedden's government, and was a champion of farming interests. He became leader of the conservative opposition in 1903, which in 1909 emerged as the Reform Party. He worked hard at party organization, and created the first disciplined parliamentary party in New Zealand politics. These organizational efforts, his propagation of farming interests through demanding the private purchase (freehold) of state (Crown) lands, as well as his graphic warnings about the threats of an advancing Labour Party, resulted in his narrow victory in the 1911 elections.

In office

Ward's Liberal Party was able to hang on to government until 6 July 1912, when Massey became Prime Minister. His government forcefully suppressed a militant dockers' and coalminers' strike in 1912–13, one of the most bitter industrial disputes in New Zealand history. He was a committed supporter of the British Empire thoughout World War I, though from 1915 the Ulster Protestant was forced to form a national government in coalition with the Catholic Ward, whom he disliked intensely. He emerged from the 1919 elections for the first time with a convincing majority, though he spent most of his time trying to stave off a decline in the prosperity which the farming community had enjoyed during the war. However, the political balance started to shift to the cities with the growth of urbanization, and he only just won the 1922 elections. His marginal majority in parliament made his last administration over-reliant on the particular concerns of individual MPs. He died in office.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).


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