James Allen (New Zealand politician)

The Honourable
Sir James Allen
21st Minister of Finance
In office
10 July 1912  12 August 1915
Prime Minister William Massey
Preceded by Arthur Myers
Succeeded by Joseph Ward
In office
4 September 1919  28 April 1920
Preceded by Joseph Ward
Succeeded by William Massey
Personal details
Born 10 February 1855
Adelaide, Australia.
Died 28 July 1942(1942-07-28) (aged 87)
Dunedin New Zealand
Nationality New Zealand
Political party Reform Party
Occupation Politician

Sir James Allen GCMG KCB VD (10 February 1855 – 28 July 1942) was a prominent New Zealand politician and diplomat. He held a number of the most important political offices in the country, including Minister of Finance and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was also New Zealand's Minister of Defence during World War I.

Early life

Allen was born in Adelaide, Australia.[1] After his mother's early death, his father took him to Dunedin, New Zealand, where the family resided for several years. In either 1861 or 1862, however, Allen and his brother were given into the care of an uncle in Somerset, England. Shortly afterwards, Allen's father also died, leaving him an orphan.

Despite this rather turbulent beginning to his life, Allen made a good start. After first attending Clifton College in Bristol (having won a scholarship to do so), he gained admittance to St John's College at Cambridge University. He graduated with a BA in 1877.[2] Shortly afterwards, Allen decided to return to Dunedin, where he had inherited a significant amount of property from his father.

In Dunedin, Allen was highly successful, serving on the City Council and even playing for the Otago provincial rugby team. He left for England once again in 1883, studying at the Royal School of Mines for several years. When he returned to Dunedin, he established a presence in Otago's coal and gold mining industries.

Early parliamentary career

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
18871890 10th Dunedin East Independent
18921893 11th Bruce Independent
18931896 12th Bruce Independent
18961899 13th Bruce Independent
18991902 14th Bruce Independent
19021905 15th Bruce Independent
19051908 16th Bruce Independent
19081909 17th Bruce Independent
19091911 Changed allegiance to: Reform
19111914 18th Bruce Reform
19141919 19th Bruce Reform
19191920 20th Bruce Reform

In 1887, Allen decided to enter national politics, standing in the Dunedin East seat as a conservative opponent to Robert Stout, the Premier. Few expected a first-time challenger to defeat the Premier, but amazingly, Allen did just that. Allen's own tenure as MP for Dunedin East was short, however, as he was himself voted out of office at the next (1890) election.[3] In 1892, however, Allen returned to Parliament after winning a by-election in the rural Otago electorate of Bruce, which he held until he retired in 1920.

Gradually, Allen developed a reputation as a solid performer in Parliament. He lacked the skills at oratory of some of his contemporaries, and was often seen as humourless and uncharismatic. But he was nevertheless considered dependable, reasonable, and practical. He was sometimes cited as a possible leader for Parliament's conservative faction, but when the conservatives eventually came together to found the Reform Party, the more charismatic William Massey became leader instead.[1]

Ministerial career

When Reform won the 1911 election, Massey became Prime Minister and Allen was elevated to Cabinet. His primary responsibilities were finance, education, and defence in the Reform Government, and he was very active in all three portfolios. As Minister of Finance, he attempted (with only a limited degree of success) to curtail the spending of the outgoing Premier, Joseph Ward, believing strongly in the need to reduce New Zealand's overseas borrowing. As Minister of Education, he was responsible for legislation that guaranteed statutory funding for universities. As Minister of Defence, he encouraged New Zealand's development of naval and air capabilities independent of the United Kingdom, and worked to improve the quality of compulsory military training. He also reversed the previous government's policy of opposing close defence co-operation with Australia.

Allen in military attire during WWI.

In World War I, Allen was a major figure in New Zealand's war effort, playing a very significant organisational role. His reforms of the military training program were widely credited with allowing a rapid deployment of New Zealand forces, including the forces which invaded and occupied Samoa (then a territory of Germany). In August 1915, a war-time coalition government was formed, and Allen lost his finance and education roles to members of the erstwhile Opposition, but he continued to play a significant role. Towards the end of the war, when both Massey (the Prime Minister) and Ward (the Leader of the Opposition) travelled overseas for meetings and conferences, Allen was Acting Prime Minister - in total, he spent nearly two years in this role. The stress of his many responsibilities during the war was considerable, and was only worsened when his son was killed in the ill-fated landing at Gallipoli. Allen was appointed an Officer of the Legion of Honour in February 1922 when he was High Commissioner in London.[4]

Subsequent activities

After the war, the coalition government collapsed, and James Allen once again became Minister of Finance. In October 1919, he was made the first Minister of External Affairs, a new ministerial portfolio that was created to administer New Zealand's newly acquired League of Nations Mandate Samoa.[5] He took up these posts reluctantly, describing himself as weary of politics. In 1920, he resigned from Parliament to take up a position as New Zealand's High Commissioner to the United Kingdom. He also represented New Zealand at the League of Nations, taking a prominent part in the League's Permanent Mandates Commission.

After returning to New Zealand, Allen became active in a number of organisations. Reflecting his long-held interest in the Pacific Islands, which had been stimulated by a number of visits in the course of his political career, he was a prominent member of the Institute of Pacific Relations. He was active in All Saints Church, Dunedin and also vice-president of the Bible-in-Schools League, reflecting a cause which he had controversially championed while Minister of Education.

On 1 June 1927, Allen was appointed to the Legislative Council, the (now-abolished) upper house of Parliament. The Legislative Council was considerably more sedate than the lower house, and Allen was not overly stressed by its activities. At the end of his first term in 1934, he was reappointed (until 1941).

Allen retired from public life in 1938, and died in Dunedin on 28 July 1942. He received the KCB with effect from 1 January 1917,[6] the GCMG in 1926,[7] and the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal in 1935.[8]


  1. 1 2 McGibbon, Ian. "Allen, James". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2016.
  2. "Allen, James (ALN874J)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  3. "The General Election, 1890". National Library. 1891. p. 2. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  4. M. Brewer, 'New Zealand and the Legion d'honneur: Officiers, Commandeurs and Dignites', The Volunteers: The Journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society, 35(3), March 2010, pp.131-147.
  5. "External Affairs Bill", in New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vol. 185 (3 October5 November 1919), p.337.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 29938. p. 1458. 9 February 1917. Retrieved 12 December 2015.
  7. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 33119. p. 5. 29 December 1925.
  8. "Official jubilee medals". Evening Post. 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013.

Further reading

Political offices
Preceded by
Josiah Hanan
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Josiah Hanan
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Robert Stout
Member of Parliament for Dunedin East
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
James William Thomson
Member of Parliament for Bruce
Succeeded by
John Edie
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Thomas Mackenzie
High Commissioner of New Zealand to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
James Parr
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