Adam Hamilton

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Adam Hamilton
Hamilton in the 1930s
14th Leader of the Opposition
In office
2 November 1936 – 26 November 1940
Preceded byGeorge Forbes
Succeeded bySidney Holland
1st Leader of the National Party
In office
2 November 1936 – 26 November 1940
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded bySidney Holland
13th Minister of Labour
In office
22 September 1931 – 6 December 1935
Prime MinisterGeorge Forbes
Preceded byJames Donald
Succeeded byTim Armstrong
30th Postmaster-General and Minister of Telegraphs
In office
22 September 1931 – 6 December 1935
Prime MinisterGeorge Forbes
Succeeded byFred Jones
5th Minister of Statistics
In office
22 September 1931 – 6 December 1935
Prime MinisterGeorge Forbes
Preceded byPhilip De La Perrelle
Succeeded byWalter Nash
8th Minister of Tourism
In office
22 September 1931 – 6 December 1935
Prime MinisterGeorge Forbes
Preceded byPhilip De La Perrelle
Succeeded byFrank Langstone
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Wallace
In office
4 November 1925 – 27 November 1946
Preceded byJohn Charles Thomson
Succeeded byTom Macdonald
In office
17 December 1919 – 7 December 1922
Preceded byJohn Charles Thomson
Succeeded byJohn Charles Thomson
Personal details
Born(1880-08-20)20 August 1880
Forest Hill, Southland, New Zealand
Died29 April 1952(1952-04-29) (aged 71)
Invercargill, Southland, New Zealand
Political partyReform (1919–36)
National (1936–46)
SpouseMary Ann McDonald (m.1913)
RelationsJohn Ronald Hamilton (brother)

Adam Hamilton (20 August 1880 – 29 April 1952) was a New Zealand politician. He was the first non-interim Leader of the National Party during its early years in Opposition.

Early life[edit]

Hamilton was born in Forest Hill, near Winton, Southland. He originally trained to become a Presbyterian minister, but later decided not to pursue this course. He married Mary Ann McDonald in 1913, and in 1914, he and his brother John Ronald Hamilton started a grain business in Winton. In World War I, he was rejected for service on medical grounds.[1]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1919–1922 20th Wallace Reform
1925–1928 22nd Wallace Reform
1928–1931 23rd Wallace Reform
1931–1935 24th Wallace Reform
1935–1936 25th Wallace Reform
1936–1938 Changed allegiance to: National
1938–1943 26th Wallace National
1943–1946 27th Wallace National

In the 1919 election, Hamilton was elected to Parliament in the Southland seat of Wallace, standing as a Reform Party candidate. His brother John Ronald Hamilton was also elected, winning the neighbouring seat of Awarua from Joseph Ward. The brothers then sold their business, although Adam Hamilton remained active in the Southland agricultural sector. In the 1922 election, the brothers were both defeated, but they regained their seats in the 1925 election. Adam Hamilton retained his seat until his retirement, although his brother was defeated again in 1928.

When the Reform Party formed a coalition with the United Party, Hamilton was made Minister of Internal Affairs. He also served, at various times, as Minister of Telegraphs, Postmaster General, Minister of Labour, and Minister of Employment. He was not popular in these roles. The Great Depression had resulted in high levels of unemployment, and Hamilton was often criticised for the government's failure to improve the situation. He was also criticised when the Post and Telegraph Department jammed a broadcast that was expected to be pro-Labour by a private radio station by Colin Scrimgeour just before the 1935 general election. Hamilton denied knowledge of the jamming, but his reputation was nevertheless damaged.

In 1935, Hamilton was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[2] Having served as a member of the Executive Council for more than three years, Hamilton was granted the retention of the title of "Honourable" following the 1935 election.[3]

Party leader[edit]

In 1936, after losing power to the Labour Party, Reform and United agreed to merge, creating the National Party. Despite his somewhat tarnished public image, Hamilton was selected to lead the new party and took over from interim leader George Forbes. Hamilton was essentially a compromise candidate. Forbes and his main opponent, Gordon Coates, refused to serve under each other, and the Coates faction backed Hamilton as an acceptable alternative.

George Forbes himself is believed to have preferred Charles Wilkinson, but Coates, formerly the leader of Reform, was determined to have a fellow Reformist as leader. Hamilton was duly elected although only by one vote.[4]

Given the narrowness of his victory, many did not see Hamilton as the National Party's real leader. He was frequently accused by being a puppet of Coates, with suggestions even being made that Hamilton was merely holding the position until Coates built up the strength to take it himself. Hamilton was not particularly charismatic and did not inspire great loyalty from his colleagues. He was also closely associated in the public mind with the Depression era.[5]

In the 1938 election, Hamilton and the National Party were harshly critical of the Labour government and accused it of promoting communism and undermining the British Empire. The campaign was seen by many as alarmist and negative, and Hamilton's own performance was widely censured. On election day, National was heavily defeated.

The National Party's defeat weakened Hamilton's grasp on the leadership somewhat, but any debate as to his future was cut short by the onset of World War II.

In 1940, Hamilton suggested that Labour and National should form a wartime coalition, but that was rejected by the Labour leader, Peter Fraser, who, however, agreed to establish a six-person "War Cabinet". This cabinet would control New Zealand's military endeavours and leave domestic concerns to the regular cabinet. The War Cabinet would consist of four Labour MPs and two National MPs. Hamilton and Coates were National's two representatives. Participation in the War Cabinet was fatally damaging to Hamilton's leadership of the National Party, however, as many National MPs argued that he could not be party leader while he served on a Labour-led council. On 25 November, a vote of 13 to 8 replaced Hamilton with Sidney Holland.[6]

Later career[edit]

Hamilton (far left) with members of the war cabinet, 1941

Hamilton remained a part of the War Cabinet and was eventually joined by Holland despite the original claims that a National Party leader could not be in it. In 1942, however, National withdrew from all co-operation with the Labour Party. Hamilton, along with Coates, protested that move and ceased attending National caucus meetings. Both Hamilton and Coates then rejoined the war administration despite condemnation from their party colleagues.[7]

Eventually, Hamilton managed to bring about a rapprochement with the National Party, unlike Coates, who became an independent. Hamilton contested the 1943 election as a National candidate. He did not seek re-election in the 1946 election and chose to retire from politics.

Hamilton died in Invercargill on 29 April 1952 and is buried at Winton Cemetery.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Gustafson, Barry. "Hamilton, Adam". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  2. ^ "Official jubilee medals". Evening Post. Vol. CXIX, no. 105. 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
  3. ^ "No. 34275". The London Gazette. 17 April 1936. p. 2487.
  4. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 17.
  5. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 38.
  6. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 39.
  7. ^ Gustafson 1986, p. 318.

Further reading[edit]

  • Gustafson, Barry (1986). The First 50 Years : A History of the New Zealand National Party. Auckland: Reed Methuen. ISBN 0-474-00177-6.
  • Carr, Clyde (1936), Adam Hamilton in Politicalities, Wellington, [N.Z.]: National Magazines, pp. 68–70
  • Kosovich, Ante T. (c. 1938), New Zealand national battle: straight out contest between Labour and National Party: roll up to witness the big fight between M.J. Savage and Adam Hamilton, money is on Hamilton, sympathy with Savage, the people will be the referee, Auckland, [N.Z.]: Worker Print
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Wallace

Succeeded by
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Postmaster-General
and Minister of Telegraphs

Succeeded by
Preceded by Leader of the Opposition
Succeeded by