Joseph Ward
Sir Joseph George Ward, 1st Baronet, GCMG
Order of St Michael and St George
The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George is an order of chivalry founded on 28 April 1818 by George, Prince Regent, later George IV of the United Kingdom, while he was acting as Prince Regent for his father, George III....

 (1856–1930) was the 17th Prime Minister
Prime Minister of New Zealand
The Prime Minister of New Zealand is New Zealand's head of government consequent on being the leader of the party or coalition with majority support in the Parliament of New Zealand...

 of New Zealand on two occasions in the early 20th century.

Early life

Ward was born in Melbourne on 26 April 1856. His family was of Irish descent, and Ward was raised as a Roman Catholic. His father, who is believed to have been an alcoholic, died in 1860, aged only 31 – Ward was raised by his mother, Hannah. In 1863, the family moved to Bluff
Bluff, New Zealand
Bluff is a town and seaport in the Southland region, on the southern coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is the southern-most town in New Zealand and, despite Slope Point being further to the south, is colloquially used to refer to the southern extremity of the country...

 (then officially known as Campbelltown), in New Zealand's Southland region, seeking better financial security – Hannah Ward established a shop and a boarding house.

Joseph 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. He is described by most sources as highly energetic and enthusiastic, and was keen to advance in the world – much of this attitude is attributed to his mother, who was very eager to see her children financially secure. In 1869, Ward found a job at the Post Office
New Zealand Post
New Zealand Post, commonly referred by its acronym, NZPost is a State owned enterprise responsible for providing postal service in New Zealand.-History:...

, 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.

Early political career

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 – he later became Mayor. He also served on the Bluff Harbour Board, which he eventually became chairman of.

In 1887, Ward successfully stood for Parliament, winning the seat of Awarua. Politically, Ward was a supporter of politicians such as Julius Vogel
Julius Vogel
Sir Julius Vogel, KCMG was the eighth Premier of New Zealand. His administration is best remembered for the issuing of bonds to fund railway construction and other public works...

 and Robert Stout
Robert Stout
Sir Robert Stout, KCMG was the 13th Premier of New Zealand on two occasions in the late 19th century, and later Chief Justice of New Zealand. He was the only person to hold both these offices...

, 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
New Zealand Liberal Party
The New Zealand Liberal Party is generally regarded as having been the first real political party in New Zealand. It governed from 1891 until 1912. Out of office, the Liberals gradually found themselves pressed between the conservative Reform Party and the growing Labour Party...

 came to power, the new Prime Minister, John Ballance
John Ballance
John Ballance served as the 14th Premier of New Zealand at the end of the 19th century, and was the founder of the Liberal Party .-Early life:...

, appointed Ward to the position of Postmaster General. Later, when Richard Seddon
Richard Seddon
Richard John Seddon , sometimes known as King Dick, is to date the longest serving Prime Minister of New Zealand. He is regarded by some, including historian Keith Sinclair, as one of New Zealand's greatest political leaders....

 became Prime Minister after Ballance's death, Ward became Treasurer (Minister of Finance
Minister of Finance (New Zealand)
The Minister of Finance is a senior figure within the government of New Zealand. The position is often considered to be the most important Cabinet role after that of the Prime Minister....

). Ward's basic political outlook was that the state existed to support and promote private enterprise, and his conduct as Treasurer reflects this.

Ward's increasing occupation with government affairs led to neglect of his own business interests, however, and Ward's 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, however, meant that there was nothing to stop him simply contesting it again – he did so, and in the resulting by-election
Awarua by-election 1897
A by-election was held for the Awarua electorate on 5 August 1897, for the seat vacated by Sir Joseph Ward, which he had held since 1887. He was re-elected to the 13th New Zealand Parliament....

 was elected with an increased majority. Ward actually gained considerable popularity as a result of his financial troubles – Ward 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. Richard Seddon, still Prime Minister, quickly reappointed Ward to Cabinet. He 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
William Hall-Jones
Sir William Hall-Jones, KCMG was the 16th Prime Minister of New Zealand from June 1906 until August 1906. He was the interim Prime Minister after the death of Richard Seddon and the return from overseas of Joseph Ward....

 became Prime Minister until Ward arrived. Ward was sworn in on 6 August 1906.

First premiership

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 ultimate result being paralysis of government. The Liberal Party's two main support bases, the left-leaning urban workers and the 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.

In the 1908 elections
New Zealand general election, 1908
The New Zealand general election of 1908 was held on Tuesday, 17 November, 24 November and 1 December in the general electorates, and on Wednesday, 2 December in the Māori electorates to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 17th session of the New Zealand Parliament...

, the Liberals won a majority, but in the 1911 elections
New Zealand general election, 1911
The New Zealand general election of 1911 was held on Thursday, 7 and 14 December in the general electorates, and on Tuesday, 19 December in the Māori electorates to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 18th session of the New Zealand Parliament...

, Parliament appeared to be deadlocked. The Liberals survived for a time on the casting vote of the Speaker
Speaker of the New Zealand House of Representatives
In New Zealand the Speaker of the House of Representatives is the individual who chairs the country's legislative body, the New Zealand House of Representatives...

, but Ward, discouraged by the result, resigned from the premiership in March the following year. The party replaced him with Thomas Mackenzie
Thomas Mackenzie
Sir Thomas Noble Mackenzie GCMG was a Scottish-born New Zealand politician and explorer who briefly served as the 18th Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1912, and later served as New Zealand High Commissioner in London....

, his Minister of Agriculture
Minister of Agriculture (New Zealand)
The Minister of Agriculture is a ministerial portfolio in the government of New Zealand. the Minister of Agriculture is David Carter, of the New Zealand National Party...

 – Mackenzie's government survived only a few more months.

Ward, who most believed had finished his political career, took a position on the backbenches
In Westminster parliamentary systems, a backbencher is a Member of Parliament or a legislator who does not hold governmental office and is not a Front Bench spokesperson in the Opposition...

, 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
A baronet or the rare female equivalent, a baronetess , is the holder of a hereditary baronetcy awarded by the British Crown...

 by King George V
George V of the United Kingdom
George V was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 through the First World War until his death in 1936....

 on 20 June 1911.

Leader of the Opposition

On 11 September 1913, however, Ward finally accepted the leadership of the Liberal Party once again. Ward extracted a number of important concessions from the party, insisting on a very high level of personal control – Ward felt that the party's previous lack of direction was the primary cause for its failure. Ward 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
William Massey
William Ferguson Massey, often known as Bill Massey or "Farmer Bill" served as the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1912 to 1925, and was the founder of the Reform Party. He is widely considered to have been one of the more skilled politicians of his time, and was known for the particular...

 and the governing Reform Party
New Zealand Reform Party
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...

 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.

In the 1919 elections, Ward himself lost the seat of Awarua, and left Parliament. In 1923, he contested a by-election in Tauranga
Tauranga (New Zealand electorate)
Tauranga is a New Zealand Parliamentary electorate, returning one Member of Parliament to the New Zealand House of Representatives. The current MP for Tauranga is Simon Bridges of the National Party, who won the seat in the 2008 New Zealand general election, after the previous MP, Bob Clarkson of...

, but was defeated by a Reform Party candidate, Charles MacMillan
Charles MacMillan
Charles Edward de la Barca MacMillan was a Reform Party Member of Parliament in New Zealand. He was a cabinet minister in the Liberal-Reform coalition government Charles Edward de la Barca MacMillan (1872–1941) was a Reform Party Member of Parliament in New Zealand. He was a cabinet minister in...

. Ward was largely considered a spent force. In the 1925 elections
New Zealand general election, 1925
The New Zealand general election of 1925 was held 4 November to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 22nd session of the New Zealand Parliament...

, however, he narrowly returned to Parliament as MP for Invercargill
Invercargill (New Zealand electorate)
Invercargill is an electorate of the Parliament of New Zealand that has existed since 1866. The current representative is Eric Roy.-Population centres:The electorate covers Invercargill city and the surrounding rural area, including Stewart Island / Rakiura...

. 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, however, the remnants of the Liberal Party reasserted themselves as the new United Party
United Party (New Zealand)
The United Party of New Zealand, a party formed out of the remnants of the Liberal Party, formed a government between 1928 and 1935, and in 1936 merged with the Reform Party to establish the National Party...

, focused around George Forbes
George William Forbes
George William Forbes served as the 22nd Prime Minister of New Zealand from 1930 to 1935. Few expected him to become Prime Minister when he did, and some believed him unsuitable, but he nevertheless remained in that office for five years...

 (leader of one faction of the Liberals), Bill Veitch
Bill Veitch
William Andrew Veitch was a New Zealand politician. He began his career in the labour movement, but was a strong opponent of socialism, and rejected the militant views held by many of his colleagues.-Early life:...

 (leader of another faction), and Albert Davy
Albert Davy
Albert Ernest Davy was a New Zealand political organiser and campaign manager; and at the height of his career, was regarded by some as the best in the country...

 (a former organiser for the Reform Party). Forbes and Veitch both sought the leadership, and neither of them gained a clear advantage. In the end, Davy invited Ward himself 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

Ward accepted the offer, and became leader of the new United Party. His health, however, was still poor, and he found the task difficult. In the 1928 election
New Zealand general election, 1928
The New Zealand general election of 1928 was held on Tuesday, 13 November in the Māori electorates, and on Wednesday, 14 November in the general electorates to elect a total of 80 MPs to the 23rd session of the New Zealand Parliament...

 campaign, Ward startled both his supporters and his audience by promising to borrow £70 million in the course of a year in order 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 elections, United gained the same number of seats as Reform. With the backing of the Labour Party
New Zealand Labour Party
The New Zealand Labour Party is a New Zealand political party. It describes itself as centre-left and socially progressive and has been one of the two primary parties of New Zealand politics since 1935....

, Ward became Prime Minister again, twenty-two years after his original appointment.

Ward's health continued to decline, however. He suffered a number of heart attacks, and soon, it was George Forbes who was effectively running the government. Ward was determined not to resign, however, and remained Prime Minister well after he had lost the ability to perform that role. Finally, on 28 May 1930, Ward succumbed to strong pressure from his colleagues and his family, and passed the premiership to Forbes.

Ward died shortly afterwards, on 8 July. He was given a state funeral by way of a requiem mass celebrated by Archbishop Redwood
Francis Redwood
Francis William Mary Redwood SM , was the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Wellington, Metropolitan of New Zealand.Redwood was born on 8 April 1839 on the Tixall estate, Staffordshire, England. In 1842 he sailed to New Zealand with his parents on the George Fyfe...

 at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Hill St, Wellington
Sacred Heart Cathedral, Wellington
The Metropolitan Cathedral of the Sacred Heart and of Saint Mary His Mother, better known as Sacred Heart Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral on Hill Street, Thorndon in Wellington, New Zealand. It is the cathedral of the Archbishop of Wellington...

. He was buried with considerable ceremony in Bluff. His son Vincent
Vincent Ward (politician)
Vincent Aubrey Ward, CBE was briefly a New Zealand Member of Parliament.-Early life:Born in Bluff, a son of the late Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward, he replaced his father in the 1930 by-election for the parliamentary seat of Invercargill that was held after Sir Joseph died...

, was elected to replace him as MP for Invercargill.


  • On 6 November 1908 at Manganui-o-te-Ao, Ward drove the ceremonial 'last spike' on the North Island Main Trunk.
  • Lady Ward was President of Victoria League Wellington Branch from 1909 to 1912.
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