William Pember Reeves

William Pember Reeves (10 February 1857 – 16 May 1932) was a New Zealand politician, historian and poet who promoted social reform.

William Pember Reeves
William Pember Reeves, ca 1887.jpg
Portrait of William Pember Reeves possibly taken when he was elected to be a member of parliament in 1887
1st Minister of Labour
In office
31 May 1892 – 10 January 1896
Prime MinisterJohn Ballance
Richard Seddon
Succeeded byRichard Seddon
5th Agent-General to the United Kingdom
In office
Preceded byWestby Perceval
1st High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
In office
Succeeded byWilliam Hall-Jones
Personal details
Born10 February 1857
Lyttelton, Canterbury region, New Zealand
Died16 May 1932(1932-05-16) (aged 75)
London, England
Political partyLiberal
Spouse(s)Magdalen Stuart Robison
Children3, including Amber Reeves
ParentsWilliam Reeves (father)
Ellen Pember (mother)
OccupationLawyer and journalist

Early life and careerEdit

Reeves's parents were William Reeves, who was a journalist and politician, and Ellen Reeves, née Pember. They had migrated from Britain to Canterbury Province in 1857, arriving three weeks before he was born.[1]

He was educated at a private "prep" school in Christchurch, the local high school and, from 1867 to 1874, Christ's College Grammar School.[2] Before entering politics, Reeves was a lawyer and journalist. He was editor of the Canterbury Times in 1885 and the Lyttelton Times (1889–1891).[3]

Political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1887–1890 10th St Albans Independent
1890–1893 11th Christchurch Liberal
1893–1896 12th Christchurch Liberal

Reeves represented the Christchurch electorate of St Albans in Parliament from 1887 to 1890, and then Christchurch from 1890 to 1896, when he resigned to take up the post of Agent General.[4] During the premierships of John Ballance (1891–93) and Richard Seddon (1893–1906) he served as Minister of Labour (1892–96), Minister of Education (1891–96), Minister of Justice (1891–92, 1893, 1895–96) and Commissioner of Stamp Duties (1892–96).[5] As Minister of Labour he introduced the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894 and the Undesirable Immigrants Exclusion Bill, which, if it had been passed, would have barred poor and Asian immigrants from the country. His opposition to the entry of those he considered "undesirable" immigrants earned him the nickname "Undesirable Bill" Reeves.[6]

In LondonEdit

In January 1896 Reeves left New Zealand for London, where he was Agent General (1896–1905) and High Commissioner (1905–08). While he was in Britain Reeves became a friend of a number of left-wing intellectuals, such as George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells, and Sidney and Beatrice Webb, all leading members of the Fabian Society. He was also a member of the Coefficients dining club of social reformers.

William Pember Reeves in 1925

Reeves became Director of the London School of Economics (1908–19) and President of the Anglo-Hellenic League (1913–25). He also headed the committee organising the First Universal Races Congress in London in 1911. Finally, he was chairman of the board of the National Bank of New Zealand from 1917 to 31.

Reeves's more influential writings include his history of New Zealand, The Long White Cloud (1898) and State Experiments in Australia and New Zealand (1902). He also published a number of poems, such as "The Passing of the Forest" and "A Colonist in his Garden".

Reeves married, in 1885, the feminist Magdalen Stuart Robison, who joined the Fabian Society. They had two daughters, the feminist writer Amber Reeves (born 1887) and Beryl (born 1889), and one son, Fabian Pember Reeves (1895–1917), who was killed in the First World War, aged 21, as a Flight Lieutenant in the RNAS.

Reeves three times declined offers of a knighthood.[3]


  • "New Zealand To-day" . The Empire and the century. London: John Murray. 1905. pp. 462–77.


  1. ^ Sinclair, Keith. "Reeves, William Pember". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 13 April 2016.
  2. ^ Keith Sinclair (2007). "REEVES, the Hon. William Pember". Encyclopedia of New Zealand 1966. Retrieved 16 July 2007.
  3. ^ a b 16 July 2007
  4. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 229.
  5. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 71–72.
  6. ^ "Immigration regulation". teara.govt.nz. 2007. Retrieved 16 July 2007.


  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas William Hislop
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
William Campbell Walker
Preceded by
William Russell
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Alfred Cadman
Preceded by
Alfred Cadman
Succeeded by
Alfred Cadman
Preceded by
Alfred Cadman
Succeeded by
William Hall-Jones
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Francis James Garrick
Member of Parliament for St Albans
In abeyance
Title next held by
Jack Watts
Constituency recreated after abolition in 1881
Title last held by
Samuel Paull Andrews, Edward Richardson, Edward Cephas John Stevens
Member of Parliament for Christchurch
Served alongside: Westby Perceval (1890–1891), Richard Molesworth Taylor (1890–1893), Ebenezer Sandford (1891–1893), George John Smith and William Whitehouse Collins (1893–1896)
Succeeded by
George John Smith, William Whitehouse Collins, Charles Lewis
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Westby Perceval
Agent-General of New Zealand in the United Kingdom
Post abolished, replaced by High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom
New title High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
William Hall-Jones
Educational offices
Preceded by
Halford Mackinder
Director of the London School of Economics
Succeeded by
William Beveridge