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Sidney Holland


In 1949 Sid Holland became the National Party’s first prime minister when he led the party to victory, ending 14 years of Labour rule. Holland was only the fourth New Zealand-born prime minister. He held office until 1957, when ill health forced him to retire. He had played a major role in the establishment of the National Party, which was to dominate New Zealand politics during the latter half of the 20th century. His leadership during the bitter 1951 waterfront dispute also established his reputation as one of the more contentious prime ministers of this period.

Born at Greendale, Canterbury, Sid was one of eight children of English-born parents Jane Eastwood and Henry Holland. In 1912 his father was elected mayor of Christchurch; he later entered Parliament as the Reform Party MP for Christchurch North, a seat Sid was to inherit.

During the First World War Sid Holland served as a sergeant, and later a second lieutenant, in the New Zealand Field Artillery. He was invalided home after the battle of Messines in 1917. He spent six months in hospital and after several operations lost a lung.

Sid and one of his brothers founded the Midland Engineering Company in Christchurch. He became involved in a number of Canterbury business organisations. After a brief flirtation with the New Zealand Legion, a staunch opponent of the socialist New Zealand Labour Party, Holland played a leading role in the establishment of the National Party in 1936.

Sid had succeeded his father as MP for Christchurch North (later Fendalton) in 1935. He gained a reputation as an effective debater and was seen as the man to unite the divided and demoralised opposition. He succeeded the ‘lacklustre’ Adam Hamilton as National Party leader in late 1940.

Holland, with his belief in ‘individual freedom, initiative, opportunity, enterprise, responsibility and reward’, was highly critical of the Labour government’s new social security system, which he claimed made people too dependent on welfare. While a proud New Zealander, he stressed the importance of maintaining strong ties with Great Britain, describing himself as ‘a Britisher through and through.’

In June 1942 Holland somewhat reluctantly joined the War Cabinet and a larger War Administration. He was given ministerial responsibility for war expenditure. He criticised economic waste, bureaucratic regulation and press censorship, all of which he saw as extending and consolidating state control. In September 1942 he withdrew from the War Cabinet when the government intervened in a court case involving coalminers convicted of striking illegally at Huntly. The War Administration was disbanded and Holland was criticised by fellow National MPs Gordon Coates and Hamilton, who left the National caucus and rejoined the War Cabinet as independent MPs. But Holland’s leadership was strengthened – he was now free to attack the government without reservation.

One of Holland’s first actions following National’s victory in 1949 was to abolish the appointed upper house of the New Zealand Parliament, the Legislative Council, which he regarded as ineffective.

While failing to keep its promise to abolish compulsory unionism, Holland’s administration did take a hard line against militant trade unions such as the New Zealand Waterside Workers’ Union. Following the bitter 1951 waterfront dispute he called a snap election in which National consolidated its hold on power by capturing 50 of the 80 seats in Parliament.

Between 1951 and 1954 Holland’s government began to deregulate the economy. Rationing of petrol and butter came to an end and import licensing was freed up. Controls on the price of land, houses and property were also removed. Full employment and social security were maintained. In foreign policy, New Zealand signed the ANZUS Treaty with the United States and Australia in 1951.

By 1956 Holland’s health had begun to deteriorate. He reluctantly resigned as prime minister in August 1957 and was replaced by Keith Holyoake on 20 September. He was knighted and retired from Parliament at that year’s general election.

Holland had a reputation as a tough, autocratic leader but he was also capable of delegating power to his ministers. Despite his gruff public persona he was a man of considerable personal warmth and humour. Sid Holland died in Wellington Hospital on 5 August 1961. His son Eric became National MP for Fendalton and Riccarton (1967-81) and a Cabinet minister (1975-78).


Alexander Turnbull Library
Reference: 1/2-038341-F
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