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published by Massey University, Private Bag 11-222, Palmerston
North, New Zealand
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respected and reviled as a Prime Minister, William Ferguson
Massey was no mean entrepreneur.
William Ferguson Massey was a born entrepreneur. He had the
right family background – of dogged ambition and
risk-taking – and his family were also immigrant New
Zealanders, another criterion for success.
William was born in 1856 in the small market town on Limavady,
east of Londonderry. His father, John, was a self-made man,
a substantial smallholder, living on 10 acres and leasing
part of a nearby farm.
In 1869, when William was 13, John brought the family to Auckland,
attracted by the provincial government’s ‘liberal’
land-grant system to self-supporting families. John put his
capital into a leasehold farm at Tamaki, just outside Auckland.
Smaller holdings were becoming increasingly popular, and farms
such as John’s were the SMEs of their day.
In the 1870s and 80s, progressive New Zealand farmers were
looking to new export markets, new roads, the subdivision
of existing large estates in the South Island and the opening
up of bushland in the North Island to provide them with opportunities.
William took up a job as a ploughman at Longbeach Station
near Ashburton. John Grigg, his employer, had owned a neighbouring
property in Tamaki, and served as role model for William.
Grigg was known as a progressive, and Longbeach was a model
of developed cropping land, cultivated pasture and improved
flocks. Eventually Grigg would sell it off in small blocks.
William watched attentively and saved. In 1876 he returned
to Auckland to top up his savings by working for his parents.
Then, at age 21, in an astonishing move, he imported one of
the earliest steam threshing machines, still a novelty in
the United States. He leased out the machine to arable farmers
and it was widely used throughout the district.
With his profits, William bought a leasehold farm of 100 acres
at Mangere. Over the next decade he continued to buy land.
He also began establishing himself as a farmers’ advocate.
Settlers clearing their blocks of bush land lacked the time
to lobby politicians. They needed leadership from established
farmers who understood their problems.
As a self-made farmer and entrepreneur, William had great
credibility. He lobbied for roads to smallholdings, becoming
a member of the Mangere Road Board. He worked his way up through
the leading lobby groups of he time, including the Mangere
Farmers Club, which revived the Auckland Agricultural and
Pastoral Association. William became president of what was
then the only provincial organisation of farmers.
By 1891, when he was elected to lead the National Association
– previously the National Liberal Association –
William was the recognised spokesman of New Zealand farmers.
The association opposed the “socialistic tendencies
of Liberal legislation”. William’s well-known
values were self-reliance, individualism and private enterprise.
His ‘slogan’, used later in electioneering, was:
“Every man his own landlord”.
After one defeat (in the Franklin electorate), William was
elected as an MP and entered the House in 1894. He was Leader
of the Opposition from 1903 and became Prime Minister in 1912.
He held office until he died in May 1925, when all schools
closed and church services were held throughout the country
and at Westminster Abbey.
Depending on your politics, William Massey, the Prime Minister,
was either revered and respected (particularly during the
war years), or deeply reviled. Most notably he was vilified
by some for his role in the Waihi goldmine strike in 1912
and the general strike of 1913. ‘Massey’s Cossacks’
became emblematic of union bashing. Others saw his hard line
as courageous and resourceful, and Massey as the saviour of
the country’s export trade.
Massey Agricultural College was founded by statute one year
after William died, and officially opened in 1928. The choice
of the name of a recently deceased prime minister for a new
and prestigious learning establishment was an obvious one.
Less remarked today (but noted at the official opening), was
the aptness of Massey’s earlier background as an entrepreneurial