Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Ballance, John

1414532Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 1 — Ballance, John1901William Pember Reeves

BALLANCE, JOHN (1839–1893), prime minister of New Zealand, born in 1839, was the eldest son of Samuel Ballance, farmer, of Glenavy, Antrim, Ireland. When fourteen he was apprenticed to an ironmonger in Belfast, and at eighteen was employed in the same business in Birmingham. While still young he emigrated to New Zealand and settled as a small shopkeeper at Wanganui, but soon abandoning shopkeeping for journalism founded the 'Wanganui Herald.' In the Maori war of 1807 he helped to organise a company of troopers and received a commission, of which he was, however, deprived by the minister of defence on account of certain critical articles on the operations of the war printed in his newspaper. His conduct in the field had been good, and the war medal was afterwards awarded him. In 1875 he entered the House of Representatives and took an active part in abolishing that part of the New Zealand constitution under which the colony was for twenty-three years divided into provinces. Ballance then joined the liberal party formed in 1877 under Sir George Grey [q. v. Suppl.], quickly made his mark as a fluent and thoughtful debater, and in March 1878 became treasurer in Grey's ministry. On his motion a tax on the unimproved value of land was imposed in the same year; but in 1879, after a painful altercation.with his chief, Ballance left the government and refused to rejoin it. The Grey ministry fell, and a property tax replaced the land tax.

In 1884 Ballance again became a minister, under his former colleague. Sir Robert Stout; this time his portfolios were lands and native affairs. Kindly and pacific in dealing with the Maori, he aimed at substituting conciliation for armed force, and in this — nicknamed the 'one policeman policy' — he was entirely successful. As minister of lands he endeavoured to plant bodies of unemployed workmen on the soil as peasant farmers holding allotments under perpetual lease from the crown in state-aided village settlements. Though some of these failed, more prospered. Ejected from office in 1887, Ballance was elected leader of the liberal opposition in 1889 and formed a ministry in January 1891, on the defeat of Sir Harry Atkinson [q. v. Suppl.] Though in failing health he did not hesitate to stake his ministry's existence on a series of progressive measures of a remarkably bold and experimental kind. Those with which he was most closely and personally concerned were: (1) the abolition of the property tax, and the substitution therefor of a graduated land tax and income tax; (2) the change of life tenure of seats in the legislative council—the upper house of the colony's parliament—to a tenure of seven years; (3) the extension of the suffrage to all adult women; (4) the restriction of property voters to one electoral roll. In addition Ballance obtained from the colonial office the admission that the viceroy should act on the advice of his ministers in respect of nominations to the upper house; also that he should take the same advice when exercising the prerogative of mercy. Another beneficial measure of Ballance's placed large Maori reserves in the North Island under the public trustee, opening them to settlement, but preserving fair rents for the native owners. As premier he showed unexpected constructive ability and managing skill, the progressive policy of his ministry took the country by storm, and chiefly to this it is due that his party still governs the colony. Ballance himself did not live to see the effect of this success. At the height of his popularity he died after a severe surgical operation on 27 April 1893. He was a man of quiet manner, amiable temper, simple and unassuming in his way of life, yet solid, widely read and well informed, and, though sensitive to criticism and public opinion, very far from being the rash, empty, weak demagogue he was sometimes called. He was twice married, but left no children.

[Gisborne's Rulers and Statesmen of New Zealand, 2nd edit., 1897; Reeves's Long White Cloud, 1898; Character Sketch, The Hon. John Ballance, by Sir Robert Stout, in Review of Reviews (Australian edition), Melbourne, 1893. See also New Zealand newspapers, 2S April to 10 May 1893.]

W. P. R.