Story: Buick, Thomas Lindsay

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Buick, Thomas Lindsay

1865–1938

Politician, journalist, historian

This biography was written by J. E. Traue and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 3, 1996

Thomas Lindsay Buick was born in Oamaru on 13 May 1865, the son of John Walker Buick, a tailor, and his wife, Margaret Petrie, both of whom had arrived at Port Chalmers from England in 1860. Lindsay was educated at state schools in Oamaru and moved to Blenheim around 1884 to practise his trade as a carpenter.

Buick became active in the Blenheim-based Gladstone branch of the Irish National League soon after its formation in 1887, and was secretary in 1888. He explained that he was involved 'purely as a lover of liberty and justice', for he was neither Catholic nor Irish. In 1889 he embarked on a lecture tour of the West Coast and Wellington, speaking on home rule for Ireland and aspects of Irish history. He was also a supporter of the temperance movement. On 8 January 1891 at Blenheim he married Mary Fitzgerald. There were no children of the marriage.

From 1890 to 1896 Buick was MHR for Wairau. He backed the Liberal government but regarded himself as one of the group of 'labour' members of Parliament. He supported the single tax and closer settlement of Marlborough's large pastoral runs. Late in 1891 he became organising secretary of the newly created Liberal Federation, and in 1893 was appointed a Liberal whip. His oratory was noted by his contemporaries, who predicted a bright future in politics for him, but his independence of mind soon led to disagreements with the party.

Buick was appointed a justice of the peace in 1894 and to the Marlborough Education Board in 1896. In July 1904 he unsuccessfully contested the by-election for the Pahiatua electorate as the official Liberal candidate. He was appointed a coroner at Dannevirke that year and was a member of the Napier High School Board from 1908 to 1910.

In 1897 he had moved to Palmerston North and had purchased an interest in the Manawatu Standard, which was owned by the brothers Frederick and David Pirani. In 1903, in partnership with J. R. Russell, he bought the Dannevirke Advocate and was to retain his interest until 1912, when the Advocate merged with the Dannevirke Evening News. He paid an extended visit to England in 1911 and reported his impressions in a series of articles in the Advocate. In 1913 Buick joined the United Press Association in Wellington as a parliamentary reporter. He became first assistant in 1917, and was senior parliamentary reporter from 1918 until his retirement in 1933. He was chairman of the press gallery in 1928 and a president of the Wellington Journalists' Union.

Buick began his historical research on the early history of Marlborough while in Parliament, and published his first book, Old Marlborough, in 1900; Old Manawatu followed in 1903. He completed and published An old New Zealander, or, Te Rauparaha, the Napoleon of the south in 1911, and in 1914 published his best-known book, The Treaty of Waitangi. This appeared in a second edition in 1933 and a third in 1936. His other major historical works were New Zealand's first war (1926) and The French at Akaroa (1928). He also wrote three historical accounts of the moa, and selected and edited a volume of Lord Bledisloe's speeches. He had a lifelong interest in music, and as well as writing reviews of performances for Wellington newspapers produced two books, The romance of the gramophone (1927) and Elijah: the story of Mendelssohn's oratorio (1935).

Lindsay Buick was a man of considerable intellectual ability, substantially self-educated, who began writing New Zealand history by chance but soon developed a lasting commitment to the task. During a busy career as a journalist he managed to write 12 books and a small number of pamphlets, many of which he published at his own expense. Buick had a fluent prose style and a firm sense of narrative structure. He synthesised a wide range of printed sources and, particularly for his earlier works, sought out eyewitnesses and others closely associated with historical events. Through The Treaty of Waitangi and other books and speeches, he played an important role in establishing the treaty as New Zealand's foremost historical document, asserting that it was 'in very truth the foundation of our nationhood'. He belongs to the small group of New Zealand-born historians, including Robert McNab, James Cowan and Elsdon Best, writing in the first quarter of the twentieth century, who worked out of a sense of duty and with little or no financial reward to make New Zealand's past readily accessible to the general reader.

He retired from the United Press Association in 1933. In August 1934, in recognition of his achievements, he was appointed to a position of historical researcher in the Dominion Museum, with a room in the Alexander Turnbull Library. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 1914 and made a CMG in 1933. In 1937 he was appointed a member of the National Centennial Historical Committee for the country's 1940 centennial and convener of both the Wellington and Marlborough Provincial Historical sub-committees.

Lindsay Buick died in Wellington on 22 February 1938, survived by his wife, Mary. In his will he left £1,000 to be used for purchases for the Hocken Library, and a trust fund of some £10,000 for the purchase of works of art for the National Art Gallery. He also bequeathed his collection of pictures to the gallery.