The late Hon. John Ballance,
Premier from January, 1891, to April, 1893, was prominent in political life for more than twenty years. Although not one of the oldest colonists he nevertheless did much to shape the fortunes of New Zealand, and his influence will long be felt. He was a native of Ireland, and was born in Glenavy, Antrim, in 1839. After having received an elementary education at a National school, he was apprenticed to the ironmongery trade. When nineteen years old he removed to Birmingham, then the heart of the Liberal movement in politics. Here he availed himself of the opportunities for self-culture by joining evening classes and identifying himself with debating societies. It was here, too,
Photo by Wrigglesworth and Binns.
that he had his first experience in connection with newspapers. Warm controversies were then raging, and Mr. Ballance contributed many articles to the local press. The knowledge and experience thus gained stood him in good stead in after life, and enabled him to turn his hand to journalism when he arrived in the Colony. He remained in Birmingham about eight years, but thinking that the colonies offered more scope for his energies, he sailed for New Zealand, via
Melbourne, in 1866. On reaching Wanganui he carried on business for some time as a jeweller, but, as there was little demand for jewellery in those days, he relinquished this and started the Wanganui Chronicle
. Here he found congenial work, and soon became known as a powerful writer. Nor did he confine himself to journalism. On the contrary, he identified himself from the first with all public movements. When the trouble with Titokowaru arose in 1868, Mr. Ballance was instrumental in forming the Wanganui Cavalry for the defence of the district.
He served in this Company for some time, until, owing to his adverse criticism on the management of the war, his military career was brought to an abrupt end. In 1873 he entered the parliamentary lists as a candidate for Egmont, but retired in favour of Major Atkinson. Two years later, however, he was elected for Rangitikei, and represented that district until 1880. Nor was it long before he came to the front. Three years after his initiation he accepted the office of Minister for Education in the Grey Government, but in the same year resigned this to discharge the more important duties of Colonial Treasurer. In 1879, owing to a difference with the Premier, he resigned, and did not hold office again until 1884, when he joined the Stout-Vogel Government as Minister for Defence and Lands. These portfolios he held until 1887, when the Ministry retired. During the Government of the late Sir Harry Atkinson he was leader of the Opposition, and when the Liberals returned to power in 1890 he became Premier of the Colony. This position he held until his death in 1893. It is not intended here to dilate on his political achievements, but in passing it may be mentioned that he had advanced views on the land question, and endeavoured to hasten the day when the State would resume possession of all the land of the Colony. When he became Premier he endeavoured to realise his idea on a small scale by retaining for the State an interest in all land sold. The country, however, was hardly ripe for reform, and little progress in this direction has yet been made. Mr. Ballance was twice married, his first wife being a sister of Mr. W. S. Taylor, of Wanganui, and his second a daughter of the late Mr. David Anderson, of Wellington. He was married to Miss Anderson in 1870, and throughout his political life she shared his triumphs and disappointments, and during his final illness nursed him with rare fidelity.