The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 3 (June 1, 1936)
The Famous New Zealanders
The Famous New Zealanders.
(Continued From Page 21.)
This marked for all the world to see the entrance of this Dominion into the Imperial partnership. In making declaration of war or peace in future, Great Britain must consult her partners over the ocean.
The Dominions were full nations now, entitled to take part in the deliberations which might affect their well-being and future. At the Imperial Conference of 1921, Mr. Lloyd George, then the British Prime Minister, defined the new position in these words:
“There was a time when Downing Street controlled the Empire; to-day the Empire controls Downing Street.”
The Soldiers and the Land.
Post-war legislation of a very harassing character occupied the attention of the Massey Government after the National Cabinet had come to an end. The principal problem was the making of provision for the repatriated soldiers of the Dominion. All those who wished to become farmers were assisted to settle on the land. Land was bought at high prices, while the country was still at the top of the boom for production, and thousands of returned men were placed on sections acquired at absurdly inflated values. Here the usual canny vision and sound judgment of Mr. Massey deserted him. He and his colleagues should have foreseen the collapse of high prices for produce; such a fall was inevitable once the war was over. But they carried on as if war prices would last for ever. The result was disastrous to many soldier-settlers, whose sections were loaded with charges far in excess of the normal and reasonable. This was the principal error of judgment which must be written against the Massey postwar regime.
Against this debit is to be set the creditable record of the sturdy Prime Minister, an unshakeable pillar of the British Commonwealth structure that resisted the heaviest shocks of war.
A Historian's Vignette.
Miss N. E. Coad, in her history “From Tasman to Massey,” thus admirably sums up the political character of the war-period Premier:
“He was considered the farmers’ friend. Did he not understand their needs and sympathise with them in their difficulties? If anyone could help them to make 2d. a pound more on their wool surely it was he. Patriotic, imperialistic, steady, industrious, unimaginative, prosaic, he stands forth as a representative New Zealander. Always well disposed, and obviously sincere, ‘Plain Bill of the Square Deal,’ as he was called, commanded respect alike in high Imperial circles and in the humblest New Zealand electorate. He died at the age of 69, in the year 1925, after guiding the country through the most terrible crisis the world has ever seen. If ever a pilot weathered a storm it was William Ferguson Massey.”
The seven years of heavy administrative toil that followed the end of the war made an increasingly heavy tax on the Prime Minister's physical resources. Like all successful and popular politicians, he overtaxed his strength. Had he been content to remain on his Mangere farm, quietly plying the calling of his yeoman fathers, he probably would be living still, a cheery octogenarian, judging ploughing matches—no better judge in the Dominion—and making felicitous speeches at the Agricultural Show, and, of course, heartily condemning the Government of the day. But the long toil at the desk, the long Parliamentary hours, the insufficient exercise, the unhealthy and unnatural conditions under which responsible legislators habitually work, laid him in his grave. He was mourned for as a strong and honest man, who for all his limitations served his country well in a period of unexampled stress.
The grave of Richard Seddon looks down on Wellington from the breezy heights behind the city heart. The sleeping place of William Ferguson Massey is on a beautiful and commanding site, the steep extremity of Point Halswell, looking out over the waters and shores of Port Nicholson. There is no tomb like it in New Zealand; that gleaming monument of marble like some fragment of a classic temple, its graceful curve set off by a dusky selvage of young pohutukawa trees, a fitting frame from Massey's beloved shores of the North.