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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Mr. William James Speight

Mr. William James Speight formerly sat for Auckland City East in the House of Representatives. Born at Dublin in 1843, the only surviving son of Mr. Richard Speight (of the firm of Messrs. Haigh and Speight, engineers, of that city), the subject of this notice was educated at the Blue Coat School of his native town. After serving an apprenticeship with his father's firm as a mechanical engineer, he left for this colony in the ship “Maori” in 1865. On the discovery of gold at the Thames two years later, Mr. Speight was attracted thither, and set up in business in his own line, engaging also in other pursuits incidental to life on the goldfields. Subsequently he conducted the “Thames Advertiser” for some years. During the eighteen years spent by Mr. Speight at the Thames, he took a very active part in local politics and the social advancement page 109 of the place. Shortly after his arrival the Borough Council was established, and from its inception till he left the district he was a member of that body. After the first election he was never opposed. He persistently declined the mayoral chair, though frequently pressed to accept that honour. As a member of the Thames School Committee, he served for nearly the whole time of his residence there. Mr. Speight was, however, even at that time well known beyond the narrow limit of the Thames. As grand worthy chief templar for the Colony during several successive terms, at a time when Good Templary was a flourishing order, he made a colonial reputation as a wise and active councillor. This fact was well evidenced in 1879, when Mr. Speight, at the invitation of the Grey Party, contested the parliamentary election for Auckland City East, against probably the strongest man that the Northern Capital could then put forward in the interest of the opposing party. That Mr. Speight, a Thames resident, should beat, though only by eight votes, so strong a man as Mr. James McCosh Clark, who was at the time Auckland's successful mayor, speaks well for his popularity as a man and his ability as a speaker. Among many actions of usefulness, Mr. Speight, in conjunction with the late Sir William Fox, assisted in moulding Sir John Hall's licensing bill in such a way as to provide for elective instead of nominated committees. This was the last Parliament elected for the five years' term, but the passage of the Triennial Parliament Bill, of which Mr. Speight was an ardent supporter, made it really the first triennial Parliament. At the 1881 election, on the suggestion of the Grey Party, and in order to leave the City East constituency for Sir George, Mr. Speight consented to contest the Thames seat; by some misunderstanding, however, the late Hon. John Sheehan, of the same political party, also stood for that seat and won it, by a majority of seventeen only, after the keenest fight, resulting in the largest poll then known to the constituency. It would seem that Mr. Speight was specially selected for close contests, for three years later he lost the same seat by seven votes, in a struggle with Colonel Fraser (now sergeant-at-arms in the House of Representatives). Since that time Mr. Speight has not sought further parliamentary honours, but he has been by no means idle. His pamphlet on proportional representation by single transferable vote has attracted a good deal of attention both here and in other colonies. The proposal is in every way similar to the course adopted with avowed success in Tasmania, and it is being well canvassed. Mr. Speight was offered his present position of manager at Auckland of the Government Life Insurance Office by the Vogel Administration, and, though his abstention from colonial politics is rendered necessary by his acceptance of the office, he still takes a great deal of interest in public matters. He is a member of the Board of Governors of the Auckland College and Grammar School, where he represents both Houses of Parliament. As an ardent churchman he has done good service, having long been a member of both the General and Diocesan Synods, and of the Diocesan Trust. He is the founder of the diocesan clergy pension fund—as at present conducted in Auckland—whereby the clergy of the diocese become entitled to a pension of £100 per year at sixty-five years of age. In 1872 Mr. Speight was married to his cousin, the daughter of Mr. Isaac Speight, of Parnell (formerly of the Imperial Service), and has six sons and three daughters. Of the sons, two are farming at Te Puke, Tauranga, a third is an analytical chemist to the Colonial Sugar Refinery Company, and a fourth is in the employ of the National Bank at Auckland.