Wellington City Libraries

Te Matapihi Ki Te Ao Nui

Search options

 The Old Waterfront, p 48 The Streets of my city, Wellington New Zealand,
by F. L. Irvine-Smith. (1948).

Part Two : Chapter Ten
Premier Streets

Contents: a letter | Part One chapters: 1 | 2 | Part Two chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 15
Part Three chapters: Intro | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | Appendix

I love capitals. Everything is best at capitals.(1)
Lord Chesterfield's letters.

There is nothing like the colonial grindstone for putting an edge on good steel.
W. P. Reeves

THE YEAR 1865 sealed the fate of the northern capital. It was Alfred Domett, then member for Nelson, who in November, 1863, succeeded in carrying through the House a resolution to the effect that it had become necessary for the seat of government to be transferred to "some suitable locality in Cook Strait." No mention was made of "the fishing village" in Cook Strait, but it was a foregone conclusion that the commission sent forth to view "Cook Strait localities" would make the only choice possible. Wellington smiled. It had been a long wait. They smile broadest who smile last.

The transference over, the city became the headquarters of much additional administration and not the least important was that of the Central Parliament and its executive. It is therefore but logical to find in our midst streets commemorating the very pinnacles of parliamentary pre-eminence, to wit, the Premiers of the Colony, or as we should say, since the change of status (September 10th, 1907) the Prime Ministers of the Dominion.

The following are vice-regal names:-,

Sir E. Stafford1840-1842
Stafford St (E. 1)
Sir F. Whitaker1863-4 Whittaker St(C.2)
Sir F. Weld1864-5 Weld Street (N. 2)
Sir J. Vogel1873-5, 1876. Vogel Street (E. 1)
Sir G. Grey1877-79 Grey St (C. 1)
Sir J. Hall1879-1882 Hall St (S. 1)
Sir R. Stout1884-1887 Stout Street (C. 1)
Hon J. Ballance1891-1893 Ballance Street (( C.1)
Hon R. J. Seddon1893-1906 Seddon Terrace (S. 1)
Hon W. F. Massey1912-1925 Massey Road (E. 1)
Sir F. H. D. Bell1925 Bell Road (S.W. 1)
Hon G. W Forbes1930-1 Forbes Street (W. 3)

A goodly list. (for complete list see Appendix). Big men for a big job. It is difficult to particularise. Sir Frederick Weld (1823-1891) and Sir George Grey (1812-1898) share the resemblance of serving both their adopted land as Premiers and the Empire at large as Colonial Governors. In many ways Sir Frederick Weld is unique among colonial statesmen. His genealogy reads like an excerpt from the AngloSaxon Chronicle, beginning with Alfric, whose wife was a daughter of King Ethelred. Alfric was killed in the Battle of Assendun in A.D., 1016, fighting for Edmund Ironside against the invader Canute. Alfric's son, Edric, also shared the parental prejudice against invaders and became one of the chief Saxon thorns in the side of the invading Normans, whence his name of Wylde. Down through the centuries the Wyldes, become Welds, of Lulworth Castle, were active in history and gave of their best to the service of the state. Not least among them was Frederick Weld, who landed in New Zealand in 1844, a youth of twenty, and left it at the age of fortyfour, a man of ripe judgment and experience, to serve his country as Governor of West Australia (1869), Governor of Tasmania (1875) and Governor of the Straits Settlements (1880), "chevalier sans peur et sans reproche," says his biographer, Lady Lovat, to which may be added, "a man whose word was never doubted, whose honour was never questioned, whose advice was always sought and whose counsel was never refused in cases of public difficulty." Of few can more or as much be said.

Sir Edward Stafford (1819-1901), whence Stafford Street, was another unusual Premier, more at home in the saddle than anywhere else. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, came to the Colony in 1843, and three years later married Emily Charlotte, the only daughter of Colonel William Wakefield. An Irishman, with all his countrymen's love of a good horse, Stafford had the reputation of being one of the best jockeys and judges of horseflesh in New Zealand and almost invariably rode his own horses on the course. From 1853 to 1856 he was Superintendent of Nelson, but after entering the Central Parliament in 1856, dropped Provincial Council interests and became leader of the Centralist party. His parliamentary record is one of the finest in the colony - Premier 1856 to 1861, again from 1865 to 1869, and yet again, for a short time in 1872. He returned to England for his retirement.

Looking at the list we note fresh names filtering in. The years were passing, and ushering in a newer type - a type with scarcely the academic ballast of the Wakefield days, but with honours in that philosophy that comes from living near to life itself. For good or ill the new land was moulding its people inescapably to its shape. The Homeland and its traditions, so all-pervading in the early decades, were meaning less and less of what was fundamental. Finer graces of life might be less in evidence, but deeper qualities - resource, initiative, independence of thought, equality of opportunity - were rising from the ruins and colouring colonial policy and legislation.

For this the greatest opportunity came with the returning wave of prosperity after the depression of the eighties. New-born liberalism rode in on the crest. Never had the world seen such daring experimental legislation as that which Richard Seddon, boldest of all, and his co-operating cabinet, in the closing years of the century place upon the Statute Book. The goal was inspiring - no unemployment, no illiteracy, no dire ills of either poverty or wealth. A wider world looked on and applauded.

Not that, as a people, we can claim to have escaped the Western World's besetting danger. The motto of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand University, "Sapientia magis auro desideranda," (Wisdom is more to be desired than gold) has at times been cynically, and not wholly untruthfully, rendered, "Wisdom is to be desired for the sake of more gold." No room in the western world for the poor, wise man. If wise, why poor? Poor in what? Surely the real wealth of any man lies in the affluence of his understanding.

It seems superfluous to comment upon the Colony's later parliamentary leaders. Their work belongs to recent history and is known to all. The Colossus was undoubtedly Richard John Seddon (1845-1906), big in body, big in mind and big in spirit, whose epitaph, if left to himself, would surely have been, "Write me as one who loved his fellow-men," especially if those fellow-men chanced to be of the poor, the sorrowing and the infirm. It is therefore right and fitting that the beautiful pulpit of St. Paul's ProCathedral, contributed by his Lancashire compatriots, should commemorate this great high priest of humanitarianism, whose noblest enactment must ever remain the Old Age Pensions Act (1898), the first of its kind in the English-speaking world.

John Ballance was cast in the same mould, but was cut off on the very threshold of his career as Parliamentary leader of his adopted land. Like Sir Edward Stafford, Mr. Pollen and Mr. Massey, he was of Irish descent, and shared the predilection of his race for politics. Sir Robert Stout, who hailed from the Shetland Isles, was for long the best Parliamentary debater of his day, as might have been expected from the leading advocate in New Zealand (Chief Justice from 1899 to 1926) and will ever be gratefully remembered for his interest in higher thought and education as Chancellor of the University of New Zealand from 1903 to 1922, as well as for his unwearying championship of Prohibition principles. His long, worthy life-span drew to a close in 1930, as did also those of two other ex-Premiers, Sir Thomas Mackenzie and Sir Joseph Ward.

Another of the Colony's Premiers who, like Seddon, reached New Zealand from the Old World via the Australian goldfields, was Sir Julius Vogel (1835,1899) who possessed all his race's ability and proverbial flair for finance. He thought in millions, and between 1870 and 1880 borrowed no less than twenty million pounds, a colossal venture for those days, to make the country's wheels go round. They just did. New Zealand went shopping with open purse. Imperial Federation! Forest Conservation! New Zealand Shipping Company! Union Steam Ship Company! Ocean cable! New local industries! New State administration! New immigrants! The largest wooden building in the world! Thousands of miles of roads! Hundreds of miles of railways! Whir-r-r-r-r!

Flower seller, Lambton Quay etching from page 147

Part Two : Chapter Eleven : Mainly women

Heritage Links (Local History)