John Ballance

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John Ballance (27 March 1839 – 27 April 1893) served as the 14th Premier of New Zealand at the end of the 19th century, and was the founder of the Liberal Party (the country's first organized political party).


Early life

The eldest son of Samuel Ballance (a farmer of Glenavy, County Antrim, Ireland) and Mary McNiece, John Ballance was born on the 27th of March 1839 in Mallusk in County Antrim. He was educated at a national school, and, on leaving, was apprenticed to an ironmonger at Belfast. He later became a clerk in a wholesale ironmonger's house in Birmingham. It was here that he married. Throughout his youth, Ballance was highly interested in literature, and was known for spending vast amounts of time reading books. He also became interested in politics, mostly due to the influence of his parents - his father was active in conservative circles, while his mother was a liberal. It was from his mother that Ballance gained many of the ideas he was later to promote. Having witnessed religious rioting when in Belfast, Ballance also became committed to the principle of secularism.

In 1866, Ballance and his wife migrated to New Zealand, intending to start in business there as a small jeweller. After settling at Wanganui, however, he took an opportunity which soon arose to found a newspaper, the Wanganui Herald. He became the paper's editor, and remained chief owner for the rest of his life. During the fighting with the Māori chief Titokowaru, in 1867, Ballance was involved in the raising of a volunteer cavalry troop, in which he received a commission. He was later deprived of this owing to the appearance in his newspaper of articles criticizing the management of the campaign. He had, however, behaved well in the field, and, in spite of his dismissal, was awarded the New Zealand Medal.

In the period following the conflict, Ballance's status in Wanganui grew. He was respected for his management of the Wanganui Herald, particularly his forthright and direct approach to reporting. He also became increasingly involved in the affairs of the town itself, establishing a number of societies and associations. Perhaps the least important to Wanganui, but among the most important to Ballance himself, was the chess club - Ballance became a skilled player of the game. In 1868, Ballance's wife died of illness, aged only twenty-four. Two years later, he married Ellen Anderson, daughter of a Wellington architect.

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