The Hon. William Pember Reeves,
Minister for Education and for Labour, is recognised as the most finished speaker and ready debater in the Government Party. But he did not achieve this position without long and severe training, as the following narrative will show. He is the son of the late Hon. William Reeves, M.L.C., Minister for Public Works in the Fox-Vogel Government of 1872, and was born in Lyttelton in 1857. At the early age of ten he won a scholarship worth £40 a-year, which entitled him to tuition in Christ's College and Grammar School. Here he studied for several years, and won the scholarship a second time. In 1873 he was successful in winning the Somes Scholarship, and in the following year won two University scholarships, securing first honours in
classics and mathematics. With these successes he went Home to study at Corpus College, Oxford, for the bar. His uncle, Mr. Edward Pember, Q.C., has been for a long time distinguished as counsel at the parliamentary bar, and Mr. Reeves resolved to emulate him. But his plans were broken by ill-health, and he returned to the Colony without ever entering upon his course of study in the English University. Soon after his return he went into the country for the benefit of his health. The quiet country life, however, had no scope for his energies, and he accordingly returned to Christchurch, where he was admitted a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court. But it was not in the practice of the law that Mr. Reeves was destined to make his mark. For a time he acted as reporter of the Canterbury Law Society, but beyond this he did very little professional work. Another field of labour—journalism—was now beginning to attract his attention, and he determined to throw in his lot with the Fourth Estate. He began his new career as contributor to the Lyttelton Times
, and quickly rose to the position of leader-writer. Soon after this he became editor of the Canterbury Times
, and in 1889 rose to the position of editor of the Lyttelton Times
. But Mr. Reeves's labours at this time were by no means confined to mere journalism. On the contrary, he has made several contributions to the literature of the Colony. His best-known works are “Colonial Couplets,” “In Double Harness,” and “Pharos.” In the two former of these Mr. Reeves shared the labours of authorship with Mr. G. P. Williams. In passing it may be mentioned that these two publications met with a success hitherto unknown in the history of
Photo by Wrigglesworth and Binns.
New Zealand literature. Printers know full well that nearly all the books published here are paid for out of their own pockets. Such, however, was not the case with Mr. Reeves's poems. Both these books are now out of print. “Pharos” is a brief historical outline of Communism and Socialism from the time of Plato to the present day. Mr. Reeves, as is well known, is a student of Socialism, and “Pharos” prepares the ground for the study of this subject. In 1885 Mr. Reeves married Miss Magdelen Robison, daughter of Mr. W. S. Robison, for a quarter of a century manager of the Bank of New South Wales in Christchurch. Before narrating Mr. Reeves's political career, it may be mentioned here that during his younger days he was a well-known athlete in Christchurch. He represented Canterbury in seven or eight cricket matches with foreign teams and the other provinces, and in one or two football matches. But he abandoned these pastimes to seek honours elsewhere than in the Olympian dust. His first appearance in Parliament was in 1887, when he was elected for St. Albans, defeating Mr. Garrick by a large majority. When the Liberals returned to power in 1890, Mr. Reeves accepted the portfolio of Education. It will thus be seen that he rose to the rank of Minister after having served the short parliamentary apprenticeship of three years. As Minister for Education, his chief works were revising and modernising the public school syllabus, and the code of the native schools, and passing a new School Attendance Bill. Under his direction the “working” average basis of the capitation pay was restored. The Educational Institute, too, owes much to him, for he was the first to recognise it, and to consult it on educational matters. He has also endeavoured to improve the means of education in the State schools by preparing a national geographical and historical reader. A few years ago, when the Labour Department was established. Mr. Reeves took the portfolio of Labour, and has been instrumental in placing
on the Statute Book a large number of Acts affecting the various interests of labour in the Colony. The tendency of these laws is to improve the condition of the workman by protecting him from undue influence on the part of the employer, and by securing satisfactory conditions of sanitation. A few of the more important of these Acts may be mentioned. The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act is intended to facilitate the settlement of trade difficulties. Any society may bring a disputed case before the Board of Conciliation, and if the board fails to arrive at a settlement, the matter may be referred to the Court of Arbitration, the award of which latter body may be enforced in the same way as an award of any court of law. The Factories Act was passed to secure better conditions of labour for operatives in the various industrial pursuits. Proper ventilation and general cleanliness of buildings are enforced, and the hours of labour for women and children are strictly regulated. Provision is also made with a view to preventing the system of sweating in our industries. The Shop and Shop Assistants Act regulates the hours of labour in shops, and makes provision for sitting accommodation for women shop assistants. The Employers' Liability Act is intended to protect workmen from negligence on the part of employers. These and many minor Acts too numerous to mention here have been passed into law through the labour and energy of Mr. Reeves, who has devoted much time to this department. But notwithstanding all his parliamentary duties, Mr. Reeves is a diligent student of general literature, and finds time to keep himself abreast of the thought of the day.