Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

HALL-JONES, Hon. Sir William

, K.C.M.G. (1851–1936).

Prime Minister of New Zealand, High Commissioner for New Zealand in the United Kingdom.

A new biography of Hall-Jones, William appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

William Hall-Jones was born on 16 January 1851, at Folkestone, Kent, the son of William Hall-Jones, a contractor. As a young man he served his apprenticeship as a joiner, working at this trade until his departure for New Zealand. He married in England and it was his wife's death shortly after the wedding that determined him to emigrate. He landed at Port Chalmers in 1873 and, after spending two years in Dunedin, moved to Timaru. For six and a half years he worked as foreman for George Filmer, a Timaru builder. On 10 May 1877, in the Filmer residence, Hall-Jones married Rosalind Lucy, daughter of Henry Purss, of Surrey, by whom he had two sons and three daughters.

Hall-Jones was enfranchised by the 1879 electoral reform and appeared for the first time on the Timaru Electors' Roll dated 1 September 1880, being classified as a carpenter. In 1882 he set up on his own account as a builder, until obliged to devote his full energies to parliamentary duties. He gained his first experience of public life as a member of the Timaru Borough Council, on which he served for five years, and for three years on the Levels Road Board. In July 1890, following the death of Richard Turnbull who had represented Timaru in Parliament since 1878, Hall-Jones became a candidate for the vacancy.

As there were no organised political parties in those days, candidates were left to conduct their campaigns, and to draw up their own policies. Hall-Jones declared his stand upon a number of important issues. In general he favoured “Liberal” views on such matters as taxation, closer settlement, education, and labour legislation. He was opposed to “Bible-in-Schools”, and State aid to church schools; and thought that local option should decide the problem then exercising the minds of the temperance movement. He had, however, no objection to legalising distilleries. By his lucid and reasoned exposition of these views, Hall-Jones revealed himself as a “moderate” but “progressive” candidate. On 18 August 1890 he was elected to the Timaru seat which he retained until his resignation on 29 October 1908.

In Parliament these views led him into close association with John Ballance, Sir George Grey, and John McKenzie. When the Ballance Government was formed in 1891, Hall-Jones and W. B. Perceval became the Government Whips. In 1893, finding his views on some policy matters to be no longer in conformity with those of his leaders, Hall-Jones resigned from the Liberal Party. For three years (1893–96) he sat almost alone in the House and, with McNab, Buick, Pirani, and Montgomery, formed what became known as the “Fourth Party”. In these years he spoke and voted as an Independent, often levelling trenchant criticisms against policies pursued by his former colleagues. He so impressed Seddon with the candour of his carefully-thought-out arguments, and by his equally careful abstention from the “personalities” in which so many members indulged, that when, in February 1896, W. P. Reeves resigned to take the High Commissionership in London, Hall-Jones was asked to fill the Cabinet vacancy. He accepted and was allocated the Justice, Public Works, and Marine portfolios. A painstaking craftsman himself, Hall-Jones brought exacting standards to the Departments he controlled, and soon earned a reputation of being a capable administrator.

In May 1898 there was a misunderstanding between Lord Ranfurly and his Minister of Marine over the Government steamer Tutanekai, and Hall-Jones, after having ascertained that his action would in no way harm his colleagues, offered to resign because he felt that His Excellency had lost confidence in him. On 11 June 1898, Ranfurly replied, graciously, that “his confidence in him as an adviser was in no way shaken”. Seddon was most impressed with Hall-Jones' attitude on this occasion, and after the retirement of Sir John McKenzie, Hall-Jones as Minister of Public Works and Marine became one of the most influential members of the Cabinet.

When Seddon visited Australia in 1906, he invited Hall-Jones to assume the duties of Acting Prime Minister. Hall-Jones demurred, and suggested that Carroll, as senior member of the Executive Council, should have the honour, but Seddon pressed the point. On the Prime Minister's death a few weeks later, Lord Plunket urged the Acting Prime Minister to form a Ministry; but Hall-Jones asked permission to wait until after the funeral. Lord Plunket agreed reluctantly, and as the procedure appeared unprecedented, he addressed a dispatch to the Secretary of State. On 21 June 1906 Hall-Jones assumed office, but announced that he only held it pending Sir Joseph Ward's return from abroad. He resigned on 6 August 1906, and accepted the Railways and Public Works portfolios in the incoming Ward administration. In 1907 serious illness necessitated his taking a six months' holiday from his duties and in December 1908 he succeeded W. P. Reeves as High Commissioner. While in London he represented New Zealand at the Imperial Copyright and Education Conferences and at the International Refrigeration Conference in Vienna, at which he was instrumental in persuading delegates to adopt a resolution protesting against the restrictions imposed by European nations on frozen meat from the Dominions. He also represented New Zealand on the Pacific Cable Board, and on the Imperial Wireless Committee of the Board of Trade. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1910. Sir William retired from the High Commissionership on 31 May 1912 and, on his return to New Zealand in 1913, he was appointed by W. F. Massey to the Legislative Council where he remained until his death.

Hall-Jones was an enthusiastic supporter of the Friendly Society movement and was made a life member of the Timaru Oddfellows Lodge in recognition of his valuable services to the order. In his earlier years he was an active supporter of temperance. When, in 1928, he visited Folkestone, his birthplace, he received the freedom of the borough – the highest honour that could be bestowed. He died at 6 Burnell Avenue, Thorndon, Wellington, on 19 June 1936.

Although never flamboyant or self-assertive like so many other New Zealand politicians, Sir William Hall-Jones epitomised all that is worthy in political life. He was in no sense a doctrinaire party zealot and preferred to think out all questions for himself, but, having arrived at a logical conclusion, he was prepared to defend his opinion with all the force at his command. His ideas were cogently argued and created a lasting impression on all who heard him. His ability as an administrator could not be doubted. He was cautious, but his caution was that of carefulness rather than of fear of any consequences. Among the tributes paid him in the Legislative Council, Sir Heaton Rhodes, himself a former Minister and lifelong opponent of the Liberals, recounted how Seddon, speaking of his Minister of Public Works once said “He is the best administrator I have in my Cabinet”.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Governors' Papers, G. 17/12(33), (1898), (MSS), National Archives
  • N.Z.P.D. Vol. 246, pp. 1–10 (1936)
  • Timaru Herald, 11 Aug 1890
  • Press (Christ-church)
  • New Zealand Herald, Evening Post, 20 Jun 1936 (Obits).


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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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