The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Ballance, Hon. John

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Ballance, Hon. John, M.H.R., Premier of New Zealand, was born at Glenavy, in the county of Antrim, Ireland, on March 27th, 1839, his father, Samuel Ballance, being a tenant farmer on Lord Hertford's estate. He received his preliminary education at the National School, but at the age of fourteen left his father's farm to be apprenticed to an ironmonger. This line of life took him later on to Birmingham, where he remained eight years, profiting in every way by the intellectual progressive life of the great manufacturing centre. While following his business he found time to attend the evening classes in the Midland Institute for the purpose of completing his education. Earnestly bent on self-culture, he took part in debating societies, and contributed largely to the press. At the age of twenty-seven he determined to emigrate, and, sailing for New Zealand, arrived at Wellington in August 1866. He at once proceeded to Wanganui with the intention of engaging in sheep-farming, an occupation which he had been led to believe was an easy way of making money without much capital. On this point he was soon undeceived, and he then opened a jeweller's shop of the better class, but losing money in this enterprise, he promptly abandoned it and started a newspaper under the name of the Wanganui Herald, Of this paper Mr. Ballance was both proprietor and editor, and up to the present time he has continued to be its guiding spirit. As is usual with newly established newspapers in young communities, the Wanganui Herald had many initial difficulties to overcome; but in the end its founder's energies were rewarded, and his "daily" became recognised throughout the colony as one of the best organs of public opinion. Mr. Ballance had soon achieved a reputation as an able and incisive writer; but it was not till he had surprised a Wanganui meeting by an unlooked-for speech that his qualities as a public speaker became appreciated. He contested the Egmont seat in 1873, in the interests of the Stafford Ministry, his opponents being the late W. S. Moorhouse and Sir Harry Atkinson. Although considered by his friends practically safe, he retired in favour of the latter candidate on his pledging himself to support Sir Edward Stafford. He was elected for Wanganui in 1875 on the Abolition (of provinces) ticket, having taken for many years a prominent part in local politics in opposition to the provincial system, then in existence. He marked his first session by introducing a bill to enable municipalities to raise loans by vote of the ratepayers on security of a special rate without the necessity of permissory legislation in each case. This important measure passed the House, but was rejected in the Council by a narrow majority; and in the following session it was embodied in the Municipal Corporations Bill by Sir Julius Vogel, who freely acknowledged his indebtedness to the author of the scheme. The measure finally became law, and was found to work admirably. In the session of 1877 Mr. Ballance moved an amendment to the Native Land Court Bill, against free trade in native lands, and the bill was ultimately withdrawn by the Government. Throughout that session he supported the newly formed Grey Ministry, refusing, however, to accept a portfolio whilst the Cabinet was being formed. Shortly after the termination of the session, the Ministry again pressing office upon him, and Sir George Grey himself soliciting his assistance, Mr. Ballance accepted the post of Minister of Education in Jan. 1878, which he exchanged for that of Colonial Treasurer in July of the same year; but in June 1879 he resigned rather than comply with what he regarded as the arbitrary methods of the Premier. At the general election in the same year he stood for Wanganui, and defeated Sir William Fox, Messrs. Ballance and Bryce, the late leader of the Opposition, being the two successful candidates. During the successive sessions of 1879, 1880, and 1881 he took a very active part in opposition to the Hall and Whitaker Ministries. At the general election in Dec. 1881 he stood for Wanganui, and was defeated by W. H. Watt, but by a majority of only four. At the general election of 1884 he was elected by a majority of two to one over Messrs. Watt and George Hutchinson, and at the general election of 1887 by a similar majority over Mr. G. Carson. He was returned again for Wanganui at the general election of 1890, but by a greatly reduced majority. In Sept. 1884 Mr. Ballance joined the Stout-Vogel administration as Native Minister and Minister for Defence and Lands, and retained office till the retirement of that Ministry in Oct. 1887. In the following year he was formally chosen as leader of the Opposition; and he became Premier, Colonial Treasurer, and Commissioner of Customs on the resignation of Sir Harry Atkinson's Government in Jan. 1891. Outside of politics Mr. Ballance has done the colony good service. In 1868, when the Maori insurgents under Titokowaru were ravaging the district, Mr. Ballance helped to raise the Wanganui Cavalry and took his place in the ranks, but was immediately elected Cornet of the corps, which afterwards did good service in the field. He was, however, removed from his military position for having contributed to his paper some criticisms on the campaign which gave umbrage to the Government. Mr. Ballance was the author of the scheme for returning to the local bodies one-third of the land revenue derived from deferred payments, having introduced it into the Land Bill of 1877, when it was before the Waste Lands Committee; and the principle has since been extended to the perpetual lease system. Soon after first taking office in 1878, he announced that the Government would introduce a measure conferring the residential franchise, virtually manhood suffrage, this being the first announcement of the kind ever made in any of the colonies. As Colonial Treasurer in 1878 he introduced a land tax, and carried it into law. It was, however, repealed by the Atkinson Ministry in the following year. In the Stout-Vogel Ministry Mr. Ballance introduced and put in practice the village homestead system, under which a thousand families were placed on the land in eighteen months. He also inaugurated the policy by which a large military force to overawe the natives was got rid of, and the Maori people brought under the ordinary civil law, a policy which proved completely successful. As Defence Minister he fortified the principal ports and organised a colonial military force known as the Permanent Militia. As Native Minister he succeeded in bringing about a better understanding between the two races than had existed for years, especially in the so-called "King Country." In the second session of 1891, having formed a strong Government, he introduced and carried the various policy Bills, the principles of which the country had affirmed at the previous general election. He is a strong advocate of a closer alliance with the mother country, holding that there is already a system of imperial federation which may be developed—that an Imperial Council of Advice in London should be the nucleus of an Imperial Parliament—and that the colony should share in proportion to population and wealth in the defence of the empire. He is opposed to New Zealand being part of an Australasian Federation on the broad ground that the conditions are dissimilar, and that autonomy would ultimately be destroyed. In May 1870 Mr. Ballance married Ellen, daughter of the late David Anderson, of Wellington.