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Patrick Charles (Paddy) Webb (1884–1950)

The Hon. Patrick Charles Webb, a pioneer of the Labour Party in New Zealand, and one of its first Ministers when it became the Government in 1935, died late this evening. Mr Webb, who was 66, had been ill for a considerable time.

Born at Rutherglen, Victoria, in 1884, Mr Webb as a youth began work in his father’s vineyard. Later he was employed in the alluvial mines at Rutherglen, where he worked with M. J. Savage—later the Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage, Prime Minister of New Zealand. At the age of 16 Mr Webb became a steward of the Amalgamated Miners’ Association and helped to organise all of the 300 employees in the union. Before he had reached the age of 21 he was debarred from working in any Victorian mines because of his union activities.

Mr Webb came to New Zealand in 1906, and was engaged for a few months on contracts, freezing works and threshing mills in the South Island. After working for some time in the coalmines at Denniston, where he was active in union affairs, Mr Webb left with Mr G. R. Hunter (later the Hon. G. R. Hunter) and Mr P. H. Hickey to work in the Blackball mine. It was while there that he proposed that all miners’ organisations be incited to attend a conference with the object of combining. As a result of that meeting the Miners’ Federation was formed with Mr. R. Semple as president. A year later the New Zealand Federation of Labour was formed and the mining association was continued when Mr Webb was elected first president and Mr Semple organiser.

Mr Webb’s interest in national politics had by this time become intense, and when a vacancy occurred in the Grey electorate through the death of the Speaker (Sir Arthur Guinness), Mr Webb won the by-election in July, 1913, to become the first member elected to Parliament as a direct representative of the Labour Party. While he was a member of the House he convened a meeting of Labour members, and so was born the Parliamentary Labour Party, Mr A. H. Hindmarsh being the first chairman. Mr Webb was re-elected at the general election in 1914.

During the Great War Mr Webb took a dogged stand over the issue of compulsory service, contending that wealth should be conscripted before men. For his attitude he was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, and as a consequence resigned his seat in the House. However, he was reelected unopposed, but continued to adhere to his principle of wealth before men.

He was called up in a ballot for compulsory service, but refused to go into camp or to obey a law which had been passed without the people being consulted. This antagonism brought him another term of imprisonment —this time of two years, to be followed by 10 years’ loss of civil rights. His seat was declared vacant in May, 1918, and was won by Mr H. E. Holland.

On being released from Prison, Mr Webb returned to the coalmines at Blackball. In 1920 he assisted to raise capital to buy the “Grey River Argus, ’ which became the first Labour daily newspaper in New Zealand. The same year, with Mr Hunter and others, he started a co-operative coalmine on a State reserve at Dunollie. Mr Webb then developed a keen interest in cooperative schemes, and in 1921 joined the Co-Operative party organised by Mr Semple to construct the Orongorongo tunnel, Mr Webb managing the business side of the undertaking. In 1924 he entered a co-operative coalmarketing scheme, and then, with Mr Hunter, opened the Port Elizabeth coal depot in Christchurch, of which he was manager until his entry into Parliament in 1933 on the death of Mr H. E. Holland. Then began a long tenure of the Buller seat until his retirement because of ill-health some four years ago. During his term in Parliament Mr Webb was returned without addressing his electors.

On the defeat of the National Government in 1935, Mr Webb was appointed a member of the first Labour Cabinet, and at various times held the portfolios of Mines, Marine, Labour, and Post and Telegraph. While in the Cabinet he remained a constant fighter for improvement in the standard of living of the workers, to which his undiminishing popularity on the West Coast testified.

Outside the world of mines, unions and politics, Mr Webb took part in almost all sports. Latterly his interests were mainly shooting and racing, in which he gained renown. He had considerable success as an owner, alone and with Mr Hunter. Horses carrying his colours were first home in the 1936 Winter Cup (Wino), 1937 N.Z. Grand National Steeplechase (Nocturnus), and 1939 Easter Handicap (Cocksure).

But be it politics or sport, “Paddy” Webb was known as a redoubtable opponent and an unswerving adherent to his principles. In the Labour movement his loss will rank with those of Mr H. E. Holland and the Rt. Hon. M. J. Savage—men with whom he was associated for many years in the campaign for better working and living conditions.

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'Webb, Patrick Charles (Paddy) (1884–1950)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 21 July 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


30 November, 1884
Rutherglen, Victoria, Australia


23 March, 1950 (aged 65)
Christchurch, New Zealand

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