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The Right Honourable
 Michael Joseph Savage 
MP

Michael Joseph Savage in 1920s.

In office
6 December 1935 – 27 March 1940
Monarch George V
Edward VIII
George VI
Preceded by George William Forbes
Succeeded by Peter Fraser

In office
1919 – 1940
Succeeded by Peter Carr

Born 23 March 1872(1872-03-23)
Tatong
Victoria
Australia
Died 27 March 1940 (aged 68)
Wellington
New Zealand
Political party Labour
Profession Trade unionist
Religion Initially Catholic, then Rationalist, then Catholic again

Michael Joseph Savage (23 March 1872 – 27 March 1940) was the first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand.

Contents

Early life

Born in Tatong, Victoria, Australia, Savage first became involved in politics while working in that state. He emigrated to New Zealand in 1907. There he worked in a variety of jobs, as a miner, flax-cutter and storeman, before becoming involved in the union movement. Savage initially opposed the formation of the 1910 New Zealand Labour Party as he viewed the grouping as insufficiently socialistic. Instead he became the chairman of the New Zealand Federation of Labour, known as the "Red Feds".

Political career

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Socialist origins

Years Term Electorate Party
1919-1922 20th Auckland West Labour
1922-1925 21st Auckland West Labour
1925-1928 22nd Auckland West Labour
1928-1931 23rd Auckland West Labour
1931-1935 24th Auckland West Labour
1938-1940 25th Auckland West Labour

In the 1911 general election Savage unsuccessfully stood as the Socialist candidate for Auckland Central. During World War I he opposed conscription, arguing that the conscription of wealth should precede the conscription of men. After the war the voters of the Auckland West electorate put Savage in Parliament as a Labour member in the 1919 general election. He became one of eight Labour Members of Parliament, and in due course became the party leader following the death of Harry Holland in 1933. He helped engineer the Labour/Ratana alliance (formalised in 1936).

Prime Minister

During the depression, Savage toured the country, and became an iconic figure. An excellent speaker, he became the most visible politician in the land, and led Labour to victory in the 1935 election. The first Labour government swiftly proved popular and easily won the 1938 general election with an increased popular mandate. Savage, suffering from cancer of the colon at the time, had delayed seeking treatment to participate in the election campaign. He died from the cancer in 1940.

Savage led the country into World War II, officially declaring war on Nazi Germany on 3 September 1939, just hours after Britain.[1] Unlike Australia, which felt obligated to declare war, as it too had not ratified the Statute of Westminster, New Zealand did so as a sign of allegiance to Britain, and in recognition of Britain's abandoning its former appeasement of the dictators, a policy that New Zealand had opposed. This led to Prime Minister Savage declaring (from his bed) two days later that:

With gratitude for the past and confidence in the future we range ourselves without fear beside Britain. Where she goes, we go; where she stands, we stand. We are only a small and young nation, but we march with a union of hearts and souls to a common destiny.

The state funeral procession for Michael Joseph Savage, April 1940

Savage brought an almost religious fervour to his politics. This, and his death while in office, has made him become something of an iconic figure to the Left. The architect of the welfare state (see Social welfare in New Zealand), his picture reportedly hung in many Labour supporters' homes. Savage rejected rationalism during later life and returned to his Catholic roots: his state funeral included a Requiem Mass. While younger generations have less awareness of him, many older New Zealanders continue to revere him.

He was a life-long bachelor, and lived with Alf and Elizabeth French in Auckland from 1908 until he died. Alf came to New Zealand in 1894 on the ship Wairarapa which was wrecked on Great Barrier Island, and helped in the rescue of a girl.

Savage lies buried at Bastion Point on Auckland's Waitemata Harbour waterfront in the Savage Memorial, a clifftop mausoleum crowned by a tall minaret, and fronted by an extensive memorial garden and reflecting pool.

References & notes

Grave and memorial near Bastion Point.

From the Cradle to the Grave: a biography of Michael Joseph Savage by Barry Gustafson (1986, Reed Methuen, Auckland) ISBN 0474001385

External links


 

Preceded by: George Forbes (1935 - 1940) Succeeded by: Peter Fraser
Sewell | Fox | Stafford | Domett | Whitaker | Weld | Waterhouse | Vogel | Pollen | Atkinson | Grey | Hall | Stout | Ballance | Seddon | Hall-Jones | Ward | Mackenzie | Massey | Bell | Coates | Forbes | Savage | Fraser | Holland | Holyoake | Nash | Marshall | Kirk | Rowling | Muldoon | Lange | Palmer | Moore | Bolger | Shipley | Clark | Key

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