The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 4 (July 1, 1936)
Famous New Zealanders — No. 40 — Henry E. Holland, M. P. — The Great Leader Of The Labour Party
Henry Edmund Holland, popularly and affectionately known everywhere as Harry Holland, ranks second only to Richard Seddon in the history of the liberal and socialistic cause in New Zealand politics. He was more advanced than Seddon in his ideas and ideals, and he had a far harder fight; and unfortunately he did not live long enough to see the Labour Party which he had led in Opposition attain its final victory. In his efforts on behalf of the “under-dog” in life he suffered much; he endured bitter persecution for the sake of his principles, his altruistic ideals and his warm and generous humanity. His aims were lofty and thoroughly unselfish; he was utterly fearless, a lifelong champion of the poor and the unfortunate. Chivalrous and generous instincts swayed his conduct; he was perfectly fair to his political opponents, who respected him for his honesty of purpose and his intense devotion to a cause. Mr. Holland was a man whom every section of the community held in high regard; and when he was removed from life with such tragic suddenness in 1933 he was mourned for as a noble and lovable figure in the country's story. The position which the new Administration occupies, with the Right Hon. M. J. Savage as Prime Minister, is in very great measure the result of Mr. Holland's long and skilful work, and the personal mana which his leadership carried in the organising of a powerful Labour Party.
“Not the ruler for me, but the ranker, the tramp of the road,
The slave with the sack on his shoulders, pricked on with the goad,
The man with too weighty a burden, too weary a load.”
John Masefield'S creed of human sympathies expressed in these lines was also the dominating principle of Harry Holland's life. His whole being was dedicated to service in its highest sense, the bettering of the conditions under which the nation's workers lived and toiled. His ideals were not fanatical or narrow; he had a broad and liberal conception of a State from which misery and poverty should be removed. He went farther than that and kept before him the great ideal of the fraternity of nations, a time when man to man the world o'er should brothers be for a’ that. Impossible perhaps, but to Harry Holland all things were possible to human effort, given a noble faith and hope; he hitched his wagon to a star. His faith in his fellow men was without limit. He inspired his fellow-workers with his wise and clearly expressed thoughts, by speech and pen. He never spared himself; he ever thought of others; and even his last hours were spent in paying respect and honour to a departed Maori friend.
He had ever before him the thought that he would pass through this world but once, and that all the good and kindness he could do should be done while breath remained in him. He suffered much from an accidental injury to a knee, and he was often in pain when engaged in his heaviest political labours; and his health could never have been called robust. But physical suffering never prevented him from carrying on his work; he struggled along to the limit of his endurance.
This brief sketch of Mr. Holland's career is chiefly concerned with his personal qualities and his capacity as leader. It is not possible here to describe all the measures and proposals which he and his comrades enunciated with such vigour and courage, and the crusade upon which they embarked with such determination, steering by the bright star of hope and faith. The daily news of the proceedings in Parliament, and the speeches of long-prominent Labour stalwarts who are now Ministers of the Crown, show the progress of the campaign which is gradually embodying the Labour programme in the laws of the land. At this moment the ideals of Harry Holland are being translated into reality, attained by long-drawn and truly heroic effort.
The Reformer's Spirit.
Harry Holland was a man for whom I had the warmest admiration, not so much for his great intellectual qualities and his literary ability and all that, as for his spirit of the noble rebel. Having always been somewhat of a rebel at heart myself—probably a hereditary virtue—I could never hear of a man setting himself up as an opponent of established rule and conventions without making some inquiry or search for the cause. Nothing worth while has ever been accomplished in this world except by rebels of some kind or another, and the rebels of to-day are often the Government of to-morrow.
The true Holland spirit is shown in the many pamphlets—more than one of them is a book rather than a pamphlet—which he wrote and published in Australia and New Zealand dealing with various abuses and persecutions and evil conditions that aroused his indignation and set his eloquent pen page 18 flying. Labour conditions in all countries which called for bettering, wrongs of individuals and classes which needed righting, the insolence and tyranny of dictators, unjust and repressive laws and regulations brought pamphlets hot from his printers. He was never content with hearsay. He went to the heart and source of wrongs.
His longest and most incisive and effective publication was that great little book “Armageddon or Calvary,” in which he took up the cause of the conscientious objectors in the war period. He wrote on a great variety of topics in his Labour newspaper work, and always forcibly and well.
He was a poet, too, with a touch of fine fancy and tenderness that betokened the golden heart within. His book of verse “Red Roses on the Highways,” contains much that is touching and beautiful, much that reveals his intense love of nature and bright life, much that reflects his love for the suffering onès.
The Last Long Climb.
The manner of Mr. Holland's passing hence was dramatic and intensely touching. He and many other pakehas, including Ministers and Members of Parliament, attended the burial of the late Waikato high chief King Te Rata, the son of Mahuta, who was the son of famous King Tawhiao. The burial place was on that steep conical hill at the base of Taupiri Mountain, where the Waikato River makes its glorious sweeping bend, willow-fringed, through the gateway of the hills. The sacred hill, the ancient resting place of Waikato's dead chiefs, had to be climbed on foot from the roadway, and Mr. Holland's friends, knowing his frail state of health, tried to persuade him not to attempt the ascent. But he was resolved to witness the last rites over Rata, who had been an old friend of his. He climbed the difficult way, and stood by the graveside. Mr. Jordan, Mr. Langstone, the Right Hon. Mr. Coates and other fellow-members stood near him. Those watching him saw him smile faintly a moment, then he silently fell back and was supported in the arms of his faithful friends and colleagues. He was able to walk down the hill, supported by his friends, and he was taken to the home of the Mayor and Mayoress of Huntly, Mr. and Mrs. George, where his fluttering heart presently ceased to beat.
The pathetic Maori tangihanga over Mr. Holland, who was greatly liked by the Maori people, will long be remembered in Waikato and Wellington. The body of the white chief was taken to the hall of mourning in the kainga at Waihi and laid in the place occupied a few hours before by the dead King of Waikato. The Maoris, in their generous and loving way, insisted on bringing the remains of the leader to Wellington themselves, and handing it over to the family, the Labour Party and Parliament; and with this tender mark of respect Harry Holland came home, to the mourning note of a multitude who loved him greatly.
A Sketch of His Career.
Henry Edmund Holland was sixtyfive when he died. He was an Australian by birth; he came from Giniderra, a far-out settlement near Canberra, N.S.W., where the capital of the Commonwealth now stands. He knew farm life from his earliest years; and when he was fourteen he began his life's labour by entering the employ of the “Queanbeyan Times,” where he served five years. This early apprenticeship to newspaper and printing work largely shaped his career. He went to Sydney and soon was in the thick of labour politics and sociological studies. He became a member of the Central Executive of the Labour, Electoral League.
In 1901 he was prominent in the fight on behalf of the tailoresses of Sydney, numbering about 2,000 women and girls. No one was more keen or vigorous or eloquent, not to say fiery, on behalf of labour causes, and he was imprisoned several times for his writings and speeches. It was in Australia that he and Mr. Robert Semple first met in a common cause.
He came to New Zealand in 1912, seeking a better climate, and he at once found a task to his hand in unifying the efforts of the Labour forces. For some years he was editor of the “Maoriland Worker,” and he plunged with zest into every effort for the betterment of the workers’ conditions. After two unsuccessful attempts to enter Parliament, in Wellington, in 1914 and 1918, he was elected for the Grey seat, and when in 1919 that electorate was abolished, he stood for Buller; he was returned, and he held the seat until the day of his death.
When Mr. Hindmarsh, leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, died in 1919, Mr. Holland was appointed to take his place. In 1925, Labour became the Opposition, as the second strongest faction in the House. There was an interlude of three years when Mr. Coates and his party became officially the Opposition, but on the formation of the Coalition towards the end of 1931, Holland again entered upon the duties of leader of the Opposition, and there he was for the too-brief remainder of his life.
An Extremist, and Proud of it.
Harry Holland was never afraid to declare his faith. This is from a speech of his in 1920, when three members accused his party of being “extremists.”
“What man,” asked Mr. Holland, “is worth while if he is not an extremist? Would Christ ever have gone to the Cross if He had not been an extremist? Would the primitive Christians, especially during the first three centuries of Christian history, ever have been called upon to endure what they endured if they had not been extremists? Would the Christians have made Christianity the power it eventually became if they had not been extremists? Who would object to a man being extremely honest?”
His Defence of the Samoans.
One of Mr. Holland's most powerful expositions was his “Samoa: A Story that teems with Tragedy.” This is a history in brief of the unfortunate group of islands whose lovable primitive people have been used like pawns in a game played by trading gamblers. He shows that the inhabitants of the islands had a high degree of culture and a well-established system of local self-government when the first white men landed there. “But no primitive people could possibly govern itself according to the standards and requirements of a Twentieth-Century Capitalism.” That was his reply to the statement that the Samoans were incapable of governing themselves.
He often quoted Robert Louis Stevenson, who was a man after his own heart. R.L.S. repeatedly denounced the mismanagement of Samoan affairs by the white officials. “What strikes the reader,” Mr. Holland commented, “is the way in which these territories and peoples were bartered with little or no consideration for their own wishes.” He enunciated this Labour principle:
“We maintain that no people whatever is good enough to hold any other people in subjection; that all peoples are capable of governing themselves according to their own genius and in the light of their own historical period.”
We may take it that the Labour Government will now put this principle of wisdom and justice into practice—indeed, the Prime Minister has spoken to that effect—and that at last the right of the Samoans to choose their own destiny and exercise the fullest self-government will be guaranteed by New Zealand. Then New Zealand may hope to regain the respect and confidence of Samoa after a long and page 19 bitter period of coercive administration.
Tributes to the Dead Leader.
In the House of Representatives on the Tuesday following Mr. Holland's death, members of both sides of the Chamber spoke in terms of deep sorrow of the so tragic passing of their fellow-legislator. The Prime Minister, Mr. Forbes, described his fearlessness, his integrity, his kindliness of nature, his thoroughness and his unsleeping vigilance in the discharge of his political duties.
Mr. Coates spoke with feeling of his admiration for the character of the late Leader of the Opposition. He described him as a clean fighter, one who never hit below the belt; he was straightforward, sincere of purpose, a man whose life was a great example to others.
Mr. Savage on His Comrade.
The present Prime Minister, the Right Hon. M. J. Savage, has spoken and written much about his great predecessor in the leadership of Labour. There was eloquence in his character sketch of Harry Holland published in the memorial number of the “New Zealand Worker,” in November, 1933.
(S.P. Andrew photo.)
Members Of New Zealand'S First Labor Ministry.
Left to right (beginning top row)— The Hon. W. Nash, Minister of Finance; the Hon. W. Lee Martin, Minister of Agriculture; the Hon. H. G. R. Mason, Attorney-General; Hon. M. Fagan, Leader of the Legislative Council; Hon. F. Jones, Postmaster-General; the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage (centre): the Hon. R. Semple, Minister of Public Works; the Hon. H. T. Armstrong, Minister of Labour; the Hon. P. C. Webb, Minister of Mines; the Hon. P. Fraser. Minister of Education; the Hon. W. E. Parry, Minister of Internal Affairs; the Hon. D. G. Sullivan, Minister of Railways; the Hon. F. Langstone, Minister of Lands.
From Mr. Nash.
Mr. Holland was described rightly as one of the great pioneers who blazed the track for a new social order. His staunch comrade and colleague, Walter Nash—now the Dominion's Minister for Finance—wrote of him—
“It is true that greater love hath no man than to lay down his life for his friend. It is equally true to say that no greater life can be lived than one devoted to the cause of humanity.
His life was spent in finding the facts which determined the course of political, industrial and social life. When he found the facts he used them to urge and inspire the people to travel the course which would give greater life to all … Expediency never entered his thoughts. A wrong had to be righted. The way to right it was to give full light to the facts. It was no use saying to him that the public would not understand, and that it was best to say nothing about it. His method was to drive the facts home until the injustice was removed. His work on behalf of the Maoris and Samoans will live long in the records of the Polynesian race. He never took the easy road. He never did the easy jobs first. He gave his life that more life should be available to all … His life will be an inspiration to all who fight to build a better world.”
Mr. Nash, coupling with Harry Holland's name that of James McCombs—both these fellow-workers had died while Mr. Nash was away in Canada—wrote that: “The loss of no two personalities could have made a greater break in the development of our Labour Movement. Two pioneers have passed. On the pioneers!”
And the pioneers won their way two years later.page 20 page 21
There was a prophetic inspiration in many of Holland's speeches and articles. Mr. Nash recalled some lines quoted by his late leader in a Christmas message; they were a fighting cry:
“Changeless the past but the future is ours,
Open for us to endow,
Fruit of our purpose,
Proof of our powers,
Work for it now.
“All we desire is for us to create,
Here in our hands, here:
This is the hour that is never too late,
This is the year.”
Mr. Sullivan's Praise.
Another comrade, D. G. Sullivan, now Minister for Railways, said of him:
“To serve the workers’ Movement he endured years of suffering and privation; poverty was his constant companion throughout his whole life, and often he must have been short of the necessaries of life. He went to prison more than once for the sake of his principles, and beyond all doubt, if circumstances had required and justified it, he would willingly have given his life for Labour's cause. His soul was cast in heroic mould, but I think he just killed himself, undermining his health and strength by overwork. He just never let up in his amazing devotion to duty.”
“His Courage was Indomitable.”
James Thorn—now M.P.—National Secretary of the Labour Party, wrote in a tribute to his friend:
“… Harry remembered the small things as well as the great. He was always warmly grateful for little kindnesses, though the stress of life was never so urgent or burdensome he never forgot. His courage was indomitable. Public spirit gave him an heroic quality. His soul was unconquerable… Diligent, of kindly humour, impatient only when he thought we failed in our sacred duty to Humanity and Socialism, hateful of every injustice and oppression, his soul, amid the dust and din of the battle, yearned for the everlasting hills, the stilly places and the harmonies of a fraternal society which he visioned for us all. May we draw inspiration from his devotion!”
From a Poet's Heart.
Eileen Duggan wrote in a poem of deep and eloquent feeling:—
“I knew the need of that great brooding heart,
Grown sultry, thunderous, with others’ cares,
For the clean lightning of a purging storm;
Such men as he are like a mood of Christ's,
That mighty mood that thonged the temple clear,
Until the splinters flew like thistledown
And usurers fled cowering from his path.
And yet his anger only matched his love,
It was the cause he fought and not the man,
Knowing that rich and poor, bred of one dust,
Both, born of woman, helpless come and go,
And both are citizens of suffering,”
Harry Holland's Poems.
In his own book of verse, “Red Roses on the Highways,” published in Sydney in 1924, Holland expressed a passionate love of freedom and the right. His verses revealed also his deep love of nature and the beautiful, and his intense sympathy with the unfortunate, the poor, and the suffering.
His hatred of war was sharpened by the thought of the women whose hearts were wrenched with grief. In “The Mothers Left to Mourn,” he wrote:
“A million men of kindred race
Stand there in France—stand face to face,
Stand there beneath the shudd'ring skies
With hatred flaming in their eyes.
The flags of conquest fly unfurled,
And legions are on legions hurled;
They strive for all the wide world's marts
With murder raging in their hearts.
And as each blacker battle-day
Unto each blackest day succeeds,
Young lives like vapour melt away.
But ‘tis the mother's heart that bleeds.
One day the battle's rage shall end,
One day the living men return,
But hearts shall break and never mend—
The hearts of mothers left to mourn.”
Holland wrote of the night of sorrow, but always looked to the morning and the sunshine and peace that would follow. In the last poem in his book, there was a triumphant ring, and a cheerful injunction and a note of prophecy:
“When I am dead
And you who fought the fight with me
Shall come to say the last farewell,
Let no sad funeral dirge be sung.
No ‘Dead March’ played with dismal time,
Nor mournful beat of muffled drums,
Before the hearse that bears me hence:
But let the silver cornets wake
The sleeping echoes of the hills
With vibrant notes that shall proclaim
There is no sting in Death for me,
No victory the Grave hath won.
O not in sorrow shall you walk,
In slow procession to my tomb,
But proudly march as though you come
To hail me victor in the fight—
When I am dead.”
With that note of a cheering Reveille we leave Harry Holland sleeping there on his hill-top, a smile on the spirit lips.page 22