Joseph Ward

For other people named Joseph Ward, see Joseph Ward (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Sir Joseph George Ward, 1st Bt
17th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
6 August 1906  28 March 1912
Monarch Edward VII
George V
Governor-General 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 by Richard Seddon
In office
6 August 1906  28 March 1912
Prime Minister Himself
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 by James Allen
In office
10 December 1928  28 May 1930
Prime Minister Himself
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 by William Massey
Succeeded by William MacDonald
In office
4 December 1928  10 December 1928
Prime Minister Gordon Coates
Preceded by Harry Holland
Succeeded by Gordon Coates
Personal details
Born (1856-04-26)26 April 1856
Melbourne, Australia
Died 8 July 1930(1930-07-08) (aged 74)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political party Liberal (1890-1928)
United (1928-1930)
Spouse(s) Theresa Dorothea (née de Smidt), Lady Ward (1866-1927; m. 1883-1927; her death)
Children 5
Profession Businessman
Religion Roman Catholic

Sir Joseph George Ward, 1st Baronet GCMG PC MP (26 April 1856 – 8 July 1930) was the 17th Prime Minister of New Zealand on two occasions in the early 20th century.

Early life

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, who is believed to have been an alcoholic, 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]

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

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
18871890 10th Awarua Independent
18901893 11th Awarua Liberal
18931896 12th Awarua Liberal
18961897 13th Awarua Liberal
18971899 13th Awarua Liberal
18991902 14th Awarua Liberal
19021905 15th Awarua Liberal
19051908 16th Awarua Liberal
19081911 17th Awarua Liberal
19111914 18th Awarua Liberal
19141919 19th Awarua Liberal
19251928 22nd Invercargill Liberal
1928 Changed allegiance to: United
19281930 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.

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.

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. In 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."

First premiership

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.

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

Statue of Ward in Bluff.

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 Apirana Ngata), other than himself, having held ministerial portfolios before.[12]

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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Joseph George Ward
  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. The London Gazette: no. 27325. p. 4182. 21 June 1901.
  4. Profile,; accessed 21 October 2014.
  5. "Joseph Ward proclaims Dominion status – 26 September 1907". New Zealand History online.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 28577. p. 797. 2 February 1912. Retrieved 15 July 2012.
  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
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
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