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Death of Premier John Ballance

27 April 1893

John Ballance
John Ballance (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/2-070344-G)

Ballance was the first Liberal premier. He laid the foundation for a government that was widely seen as making New Zealand ‘the social laboratory of the world’.

John Ballance was born in County Antrim, northern Ireland, in 1839. After living in Birmingham, he and his wife Fanny emigrated to New Zealand in 1866 and settled in Whanganui, where he established the Evening Herald newspaper. During the fighting against Tītokowaru in 1868–69 he was both a soldier and a war correspondent. Elected to Parliament in 1875, he called for the abolition of the provincial system and supported state education. He was Colonial Treasurer in 1878–79 and Native Minister in the Stout–Vogel ministry of 1884–87.

Ballance’s policies aimed at protecting Māori land were enlightened if somewhat paternalistic. He also favoured withdrawing colonial troops from sensitive areas, believing that their presence increased tension. It was he who suggested that Ngāti Tūwharetoa partner with the Crown to protect the land that was to become Tongariro National Park.

By 1889 Ballance was leader of the parliamentary opposition. A radical land policy was a key theme of the Liberals’ campaign at the 1890 election, which took place against a background of strikes and economic depression. After Premier Harry Atkinson’s government was defeated in the House in January 1891, Ballance formed the country’s first Liberal government.

Ballance had long advocated the enfranchisement of women. Speaking in the House in 1890, he declared: ‘I believe in the absolute equality of the sexes, and I think they should be in the enjoyment of equal privileges in political matters.’

John Ballance died from cancer in Wellington on 27 April 1893. Following a state funeral he was buried at Whanganui on the 30th. He was succeeded as premier by Richard Seddon, who was to hold office until his death 13 years later.

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Death of Premier John Ballance, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated