Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

FOWLDS, Sir George

(1860–1934).

Politician.

A new biography of Fowlds, George appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

George Fowlds was born at Fenwick, Ayrshire, on 15 September 1860, the son of Matthew Fowlds, a Scots handloom weaver, and of Agnes, née Craig. After leaving school at the age of 12, he was apprenticed to the tailoring trade. He later worked in a wholesale warehouse in Glasgow until 1882, when he emigrated to South Africa. There he found employment as a bookkeeper at Kimberley. In 1885 Fowlds came to live in New Zealand. He made his home at Auckland where he opened a small draper's shop in Queen Street. His business prospered and in later years allowed him to devote himself wholly to public affairs.

Fowlds's home in Scotland had been the meeting place of Radicals and Liberals. True to these youthful influences, Fowlds throughout his life was a generous supporter and advocate of social reform. Prohibition, free trade, proportional representation, the St. John Ambulance Association, the S.P.C.A., and, later, the W.E.A, were among his many interests. He also held high office in the Congregational Union. Politically, Fowlds stood on the left wing of the Liberal Party. He was an ardent disciple of Henry George and one of the leaders of the single tax movement in New Zealand. After serving on school committees and road boards, Fowlds, in 1899, was elected to Parliament for the city of Auckland. Three years later he won the newly created seat of Grey Lynn. In 1906 Fowlds gained Cabinet rank as Minister of Education and Public Health in Sir Joseph Ward's Ministry. He also held the portfolios of Immigration and Customs but, in September 1911, he resigned from the Cabinet proclaiming the need for a “New Evangel” – a return to the high ideals of the first years of Liberalism. Fowlds was defeated in the general elections of 1911 by an Independent Labour candidate. The following year he joined the United Labour Party which he sought to guide along single tax lines. He became chairman of the Auckland District Council of the U.L.P. but opposition to an employer in the role of Labour leader proved too strong. The Labour Unity Congress of July 1913 eliminated single tax influences from the party, while Fowlds's bids for re-election at Grey Lynn failed in 1914 and again in 1919. Thereafter, he devoted himself primarily to higher education, as a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand and as chairman of Auckland University College and, later, Massey Agricultural College.

Fowlds's career as a politician was hampered by his lack of forcefulness and his attachment to “fads”, but he was patently sincere in his devotion to the public good, as he saw it. In 1928 he was honoured with a knighthood. He died at Auckland on 17 August 1934.

In 1884 in Kimberley, South Africa, Fowlds married Mary Ann Fulton by whom he had three sons and three daughters.

In 1940 G. M. Fowlds, Sir George's eldest son, presented his father's papers to the University of Auckland. They included 18,000 outward and 4,000 inward letters, many from famous persons.

From a political viewpoint, the papers give a unique coverage of the 1890–1920 period, especially that dealing with the Seddon Liberal era. The collection has recently been catalogued.

by Herbert Otto Roth, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Deputy Librarian, University of Auckland.

  • The Life and Work of the Hon. Sir George Fowlds, Kt. C.B.E., Coulam, A. G. (1957).


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This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

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