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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

The Hon. Major William Jukes Steward

The Hon. Major William Jukes Steward, Speaker of the House of Representatives from the 23rd of January, 1891, to the 8th of November, 1893, was born at Reading, in Berkshire, in 1841, and was educated at King Edward VI. Grammar School, Ludlow, Shropshire, and at Dr. Benham's Commercial School, Gloucester. His father, Mr. William Steward, was well known in the former town as a leading citizen. Early in 1862 the embryo Speaker decided to leave the Old World, and elected to come to Lyttelton per ship “Mersey,” Captain Duncan Smith, in preference to joining the Nonconformists' contingent then about to leave for Albertland, Auckland. This decision was somewhat remarkable, inasmuch as he came from an old Nonconformist family, two of his maternal uncles, the Revs. John and Edward Jukes being ministers of the Congregational Church. On arrival in Christchurch, Major Steward, who was accredited to Mr. C. W. Turner, then manager of the Bank of Australasia, finding that that gentleman, with a partner, had just purchased the business in that city of Messrs. Peacock and Co., accepted employment under the new firm. Later on he entered into business on his own account, in partnership with Messrs. Axup and Bell, building the well-known Leamington House. But this kind of life had little in it to interest the coming politician, who soon turned his attention to journalism, becoming proprietor of the North Otago Times. In 1871 Major Steward first entered Parliament as member for Waitaki, which electorate then included the town of Oamaru. During the currency of the fifth Parliament he succeeded in securing additional representation for his district, but at the next general election (1875) he was defeated, the winning candidates being the Hons. Messrs. Hislop and Shrimski. Advantage was taken of Major Steward's freedom from parliamentary duties, and he was elected Mayor of Oamaru for the years 1876-7-8. In 1879 he removed to Waimate, and purchased the Waimate Times. During the same year he was elected for Waimate, and has represented that district under its two names of Waimate and Waitaki continuously since that date. The Major's political career has been page 114 marked throughout by punctilious attention to duty and unwavering perseverance. As early as 1872 he introduced the Deceased Wife's Sister Marriage Bill, and for four successive years carried it in the Lower House, only to be sent back by the Legislative Council. Though Major Steward undoubtedly had the honour of first introducing this Bill to a colonial Parliament, New Zealand was not the first colony in which it became law, nor did the Major see it placed upon the Statute Book during his first term of membership. This was done, however, during the first session of the succeeding Parliament, and for his gallant efforts to hasten this reform, Major Steward received the thanks of the English Marriage Law Reform Association. On his re-entering Parliament in 1881, Major Steward again found the Upper House a serious stumbling-block to reform. This time it was his fortune seven times to induce the House of Representatives to send up his Bill abolishing cumulative voting at School Committee elections. This Bill, the Major claims, was the thin end of the one-man-one-vote wedge, and certainly the extreme caution of the “Lords,” would favour the conclusion that they similarly viewed it. The seventh attempt, however, proved victorious, and Major Steward was encouraged to try the “Lords” again. For three sessions he sent up an amended Licensing Bill—making the elections triennial instead of annual, as previously—before the Legislative Council could see the wisdom of passing it into law. The ex-speaker has originated a number of valuable amendments in legislation; for example, clause 168 of the Land Act, 1885, which empowered the acquisition by the Crown of private lands in areas not exceeding [gap — reason: illegible]000 acres in any one locality, which was the beginning of the movement for the expropriation of land, since perfected in the Land for Settlements Act, 1894. The Major's latest effort at reform is in the direction of the abolition of party government by the substitution of an elected for an appointed Executive. In the session of 1894 he was within six votes of carrying his point on a division of 21—27, and in 1895 secured a division of 27—35. By Major Steward's Registration Act Amendment Act of 1874 every ratepayer—no matter how small the amount of rates paid—became ipso facto an elector. It was computed that this Act nearly doubled the number of the electors of the Colony at a stroke. It has, however, since been repealed and superseded by a wider franchise. In 1867, under the nom de plume of “Justice Aubrey,” Major Steward published a volume of poems entitled “Carmina Varia;” and most important occasions since that date have been celebrated by a poem from the Major's pen. His career as a volunteer began in the Old Country, where he was sergeant of the tenth company of the 48th Regiment of Volunteers (Shropshire), under Captain Sir Charles Rouse Boughton. In this country he has taken great interest in the volunteer movement, being mainly instrumental in the formation of the Oamaru Rifles, the Oamaru High School Cadets, the Hampden Rifles, the Otepopo Rifles, and the Oamaru North School Cadets; and for over five years he commanded the North Otago district, and is now the senior Major on the Army List of the Colony. In 1873 Major Steward was married to Miss Hannah Whitefoord, granddaughter of Colonel Whilefoord, and great-granddaughter of Sir Adam Whitefoord, of Blaiquhan, Ayshire Scotland by whom he has a daughter and two sons.

Major The Hon. W. J. Steward.

Major The Hon. W. J. Steward.