THE FATHER OF THE HOUSE.
A CHAT WITH SIR WILLIAM
A HISTORIC PARLIAMENT
It was by virtue of seniority in the House of Representatives that Sir William Steward was selected to speak on Thursday last to the motion of condolence on the death cf Mr Kcck'on.
Sir William's Parliamentary career, he explained to a representative of the N.Z. Times, commenced in 1871. At the end of 1870 he was elected for the district of Waitaki, which was bounded on the north by the Waitaki river, and included in its boundaries the town of Oamaru. Parliaments in those days were quinquennial, and Sir William represented Waitaki from 1870 to 1875.
A GALAXY OF TALENT
. When Sir William first- entered the House he was surrounded literally by an assembly of giants. The Parliament of 1870-75 included practically all the great minds of the last generation, and New Zealand has fortunately, never lacked men of outstanding ability and character. The Speaker, Sir F. Dillon Bell, father of Mr H. D. Bell, was a man of polished diction, and more "dressy" than any other speaker before or since. The chief feature of his dress was the wrist ruffles which he always wore. Sir Wm. Fitzherbert, Wellington's second Superintendent, was also in the House at-the time. He was a strong provincialist, and made his celebrated nine hours' speech—lasting all the afternoon and evening—against the measure for the abolition of the provinces. Oswald Curtis, of Nelson, W. H. Eyes, of Marlbqrough, E. W. Stafford (afterwards Sir Edward,) Frederick Alfonso Carrington, of Taranaki, and James Macandrew( a very popular Otago Superintendent, who figured in a later Ministry) were some of the men who had held provincial Superintendencies, and who entered keenly into the abolitionist controversy. Mr Fox (afterwards Sir William) was Premier. Air Thomas B. Gillies, afterwards a Judge of the Supreme Court, was a member, and Sir David Monro, a wellknown Nelson emigrant, was returned to represent Motueka, but was unseated on petition. There were also—of those who have passed away since— William Hunter Reynolds, of Dunedin, subsequently in the Upper House; William Rolleston, afterwards Minister of Lands; E. Jerningliam Wakefield, nephew of Colonel Wakefield and author of "Adventures in New Zealand" ; Reader Gilson Wood, one of the finest of speakers; Julius Vogel; rugged old William Swanson, who was in the Legislative Council when he died a few years ago; William Gisborne; Donald McLean, "Te Makarini" of the Maori, who was practically dictator of the native policy, and whoso recommendations were invariably approved by Parliament; and John Bathgate, afterwards a District Judge. Amongst the Wellington representatives were George Hunter, Colonel E. Pearce, A. de B. Brandon, and Henry Bunny, the provincial secretary, who came to~a tragic end some time later.
A HANDFUL OF SURVIVORS
Less than a score of the members of the House of 1871-5 are still alive. The Ilcv. J. C. Andrew, who then represented Wairarapa, is still known as the owner of Mount lea station, and one time chancellor of the University. The Hon John Bryce, member for Wanganui, who became famous as Native Minister, now lives in retirement at Wanganui, his exit from public life being indirectly due to a ruling by Sir William Steward (then Mr Steward) when Speaker of the House. Mr William T. Buckland, member for Franklin, was tho originator of the celebrated Washers and Manglers Bill in the early years of the present administration. Mr Eugene O'Conor, whose powerful voice and insistency of purpose gained him the soubriquet of the "Buller Lion," is now living on the West Coast. Mr John Hall (now Sir John, and Mayor of Ohristchurch) was member for Heathcole. Mr Walter W. Johnston, of Awahuri, represented Manawatu; Mr Thomas Kelly (representative- of New Plymouth), and Mr William Kelly (representing the East Coast), Mr George McLean (Waikouaiti), Mr J. I). Ormond (Olive), Sir G. M. O'Rorke (Onehunga) are now members of the Upper House; while the Hons. C. W. A. T. Kenny and J. T. Peacock, who died quite recently, were "also representatives in 1870-5. In private life to-day are three other members of that Parliament—Mr Donald Reid, sen. (Taieri), Mr J. W .Thomson (Clutha), who retired at last election, and the Hon. E. Richardson, now of Hill Street, Wellington, who before retiring from Parliamentary life, was Minister of Public Works.
"There were remarkable men in that House," reflected -Sir William. "I don't know if there was ever a more remarkable House than that. Its members covered practically the whole of New Zealand's history."
Out of a whole representative assembly of seventy-nine members, Sir William Steward is the only one today remaining in the Chamber. In the Legislative Assembly of that day there were forty-five members. To-day only four are known to survive, viz., the Hons. W. D. H. Baillie, Sir H. J. Miller, and H. Scotland, and Mr A. P. Seymour, of Picton. THE PROVINCIALISTS.
In this first Parliament in which Sir William Steward sat the question of the abolition of the provinces was discussed, and a resolution was recorded in its favour during the last session. Just before the Parliament expired Mr Steward obtained its sanction to the appointment of another representative to his district. There was no Representation Commission in those days to make an automatic adjustment of boundaries according to the increase of population.. As the population of an electorate increased each case had to be dealt with by Parliament. Waitaki was now granted increased representation in the next Parliament.
The question of the abolition of the provinces was the keenest issue of the campaign, the resolution of the previous Parliament requiring a legislative enactment before being carried into effect. Mr Steward, himself a strong abolitionist, was Itraeketed with Mr Joseph O Meaglier (now residing in another part of Australasia), and they were opposed by Mr T. W\ Hislop (now Mayor of Wellington) and Mr S. E. Shrimski (who was a member of the Upper House when he died a few years ago). The constituency consisted largely of the "Old Identity" class, who naturally clung to the provincial institutions to 'which' they had beeij so long accustomed. They were .strongly assisted by Mr Macandrew, the popular Superintendent, and Mr (now Sir Robert) Stout. Mr Steward's campaign was entirely satisfactory, but his colleague was not sufficiently popular to carry his share of votes, and the "ticket" fell into a minority. Mr Hislop, who at that time held an office of emolument as Crown Prosecutor, was liable on that account to be unseated, and Mr Steward's .supporters prepared a petition with the object, but the defeated candidate decKriecT absolutely to take advantage of such a position, or to sit in Parliament unless he had secured a majority of votes. Tims he was left out of Parliament for a period of over five years. During this time Mr Steward was thrice in succession elected Mayor of Oamaru, a position he finally vacated in 1879. He was part proprietor and editor of the North Otago Times, but he disposed of his interest, and purchased the. Waimalo Tribune, which ho converted into the Waimato Times. At the election of 1881 he was returned for Waimate in succession to the late Mr John Studholme, and he has been re-elected at every election |pr. the same seat, .-•--••• .
A RECORD OF SERVICE. *Sir William's record of service is thirty years in Parliament and thirtyfour s.es.sipns." Only one New Zealand politician to-day can look further beck. This is Sir G. Maurice O'Rorke, who first came to the House of Representatives in 1860. In those days Parliament met at Auckland. Coastal communication was so indifferent that representatives from Otago found it advisable on more than one occasion to take steamer from Pune-
din to Sydney, and thence to Auckland. When Mr Steward first entered Parliament Mr O'Rorke was acting as Chairman of Committees. When he returned after his five years' retirement, Sir Maurice O'Rorke was Speaker. It was in 18S4, when the Atkinson Government was in office, that Mr Steward was selected by his party, which was then under the leadership of Mr Montgomery, to move an amendment to the Address-in-Reply, expressing no confidence in the Government. He had only an hour's notice, but he carried his amendment, and as a consequence the Atkinson Government went out of office. Strangely enough, it Avas not Mr Steward, but Mr Stout, whom the Governor (Sir W. F. D. Jervois) requested to form a Ministry. Mr Stout carried out his task, giving the leadership of the House to Mr Vogel, who had been away from the country, and had just returned. When a few years later Mr J. W. Thomson, the Clutha vetran, moved the want-of-confidence motion that threw the Stout-Vogel Administration out of office, Sir William Jervois requested Mr Thomson himself to name a Cabinet, but he was unable to do so, and Mr Atkinson again took the helm.
Li January, 1891, just after the country had revolted against the Conservative Government, and returned Mr Ballance to power, Mr Seddon proposed Mr Steward as Speaker of the House, Sir Maurice O'Rorke being out of Parliament. It was during Mr Steward's Speakership that Mr John Bryce made his dramatic retirement from public life. In the heat of a debate, Mr Bryce rose in a threatening manuer, and exclaimed to Mr Ballance, the Premier: "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."
"Sir Robert Peel had ruled," said Sir William, in the course of the interview, "that a similar statement used in similar circumstances was unparliamentary, and when the leader of the Government- (Mr Ballance) asked me to rule whether the words were unparliamentary or not, I had to rule that they were unparliamentary, and Mr Bryce was called upon to withdraw. He refused to do so, and the House passed a vote of censure on him for not obeying the chair. He left the Chamber, and never came back." It was during this period also that Mr Buckland introduced his Washers and Manglers Bill which was really an attempt to ridicule the Government. "No Speaker," said Sir William, "could rule a bill out of order unless it was distinctly -objectionable, and although this title was peculiar, it did not disclose what was in the bill. It might be a foolish bill or it might not. I called Mr Buckland up, and asked him whether he was bona fide in his intentions with regard to the bill. He said he was,-so the first reading was allowed. As soon as the- bill was printed I-declined to allow it to be gone 011 with."
When Sir Maurice O'Rorke was returned to Parliament in 1894 Mr Saunders proposed him for Speaker. Mr Hall-Jones proposed Mr Steward, and the election resulted in a victory for Sir Maurice by twenty-five votes. In 1900 Mr Steward seconded the nomination of Sir Maurice O'Rorke. A PSYCHOLOGICAL INCIDENT.
Reverting to his first Parliament, Sir William records a peculiar psychological incident. Mr Richard Seaward Cantrell, member for Caversham, sat in 1871 alongside Mr Steward c-n the bench next to the "Noes" lobby, on the left-hand side of the House, close to where Sir William now sits. He was very ill during the recess, and was unable to conic up to the session in 1872.
One night after the House had risen Mr Eugene O'Conor, meeting Mr Steward in the lobby, said; "I see Cantrell has come up." "No," replied Mr Steward, "he is too ill to come."
"Oh, that won't do," rejoined Mr O'Conor, warmly. "Do you mean to say I didn't see him. sitting next to you on his old seat to-night?" Mr Steward assured him it could not have been so, but Mr O'Conor persisted, and they decided to wire to Dunedin in the morning, to ask how Mr Cantrell was. But before they could do so a telegram arrived from Dunedin to say that the member for Caversham was dead.
Permanent link to this item
THE FATHER OF THE HOUSE., Marlborough Express, Volume XXXIX, Issue 155, 5 July 1906
THE FATHER OF THE HOUSE. Marlborough Express, Volume XXXIX, Issue 155, 5 July 1906
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