Story: Luckie, David Mitchell

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Luckie, David Mitchell

1827–1909

Journalist, newspaper editor, politician, public servant

This biography was written by Ross Harvey and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

David Luckie (Mitchell was added later) was born in Montrose, Forfarshire, Scotland, on 5 October 1827, the son of Thomas Luckie, a merchant, and his wife, Mary Mitchell. He was educated there and worked in a mercantile office and as a law clerk before working for a number of newspapers. At Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire, on 23 April 1861, he married Fanny Clara Dickinson.

Shortly after being offered the editorship of the Arbroath Guide Luckie emigrated to New Zealand to become editor and part proprietor, with William Nation, of the Colonist newspaper in Nelson. He, his wife and their infant son arrived in Nelson on the Electra from London on 30 March 1863. His first editorial appeared on 31 March. As editor he was noted for the 'stinging lash of his invective and sarcasm'. He achieved national prominence in 1866 for his part in apprehending the four men found guilty of the Maungatapu murders; Luckie had chaired a meeting to raise money for a search for the missing party. He reported the court proceedings and published an Illustrated narrative of the dreadful murders on the Maungatapu mountain (1866).

Luckie became active in politics. He unsuccessfully contested the City of Nelson seats for the House of Representatives in February 1866, but gained a seat on the Nelson Provincial Council from 1869 to 1872. He was elected MHR for City of Nelson in 1872, and held the seat until 1875. In the election Luckie had gained 307 votes against J. C. Richmond's 156 and Alfred Saunders's 74. In his election address he supported the Fox ministry's attempts to establish 'Peace and Progress', advocating direct taxation and 'Economical Administration'. The Lyttelton Times considered that Luckie would give the government 'fair and reasonable, but…discriminating and independent support'; but the Wellington Evening Post considered him a political turncoat: 'Vain, pretentious, utterly selfish, gifted with a shallow cleverness, and possessed of unbounded audacity.…Formerly a thick and thin partisan of Mr. Stafford, he has now transferred his allegiance to Mr. Fox'.

In 1873 Luckie moved to Auckland to become editor of the Daily Southern Cross, and from 1 January 1877 was associated with William Berry in the editorship of the New Zealand Herald after the two newspapers merged. Much concerned about the possibility of a Russian invasion, his most notable action as editor of the Daily Southern Cross was to publish an article which purported to describe a raid on Auckland by a Russian warship. This hoax was believed by a considerable part of Auckland's population. (Luckie republished the article, with additional notes on colonial defence, as The raid of the Russian cruiser 'Kaskowiski' in Wellington in 1894.)

Luckie moved to Wellington to take up the editorship of the Evening Post, to which he was appointed in August 1878. He remained in this position only six months before becoming government insurance commissioner, a political appointment, in return for his support of the government. John Ballance, then colonial treasurer, offered the post to Luckie at a salary of £800, but Premier George Grey considered £200 sufficient. The issue involved the reduction of civil service salaries, and eventually the right of one minister to interfere with another's appointments, but in its next session Parliament ratified a salary of £800.

In 1889 ill health caused Luckie to step down to the position of assistant commissioner. He had not abandoned his connection with journalism: he wrote many leading articles for Wellington newspapers, although he was content to let them go unacknowledged; he frequented the parliamentary press gallery; and he was an honorary member of the New Zealand Institute of Journalists. Luckie retired on 16 December 1908. He died in Wellington on 6 May 1909, survived by his wife, four sons and two daughters.

Tributes to David Luckie noted his versatility, his 'unfailing tact, his warm and affectionate nature, and his amiable and attractive disposition'. His abilities as a journalist and editor were widely recognised, and he was an effective civil servant. Contemporary comment noted that as a journalist Luckie 'had few equals in the Colony'. Through his editorship of, first, the Colonist, then three major daily newspapers, Luckie's influence on New Zealand politics was significant.