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Famous Faces in Politics

Peter Bennett.

Peter Bennett was born in Gisborne in 1940 and attended Central, Gisborne Intermediate and Gisborne Boy’s High Schools. He left Victoria University with a BA in Political Science and French and an MA in French. During the holidays he worked on Gisborne farms and at the freezing works.

Peter taught at Gisborne Boy’s High School in 1961. He then was an English language assistant in Paris. In 1966 he gained a Doctorat d’Universite in French Lexicology from Sorbonne University, after which he joined the New Zealand Department of External Affairs.

Peter was the New Zealand Embassy in Rome’s Second Secretary form 1970 to 1974. In 1975 he was sent to Peru as First Secretary in the New Zealand Embassy in Lima. Counsellor at the New Zealand embassy at Santiaga, Chile, form 1975 to 1976, he then returned to Wellington as Deputy Head, Information Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, until 1978.

Peter was counsellor at the New Zealand High Commission in London unitl 1980, followed by the position of Minister of the New Zealand Mission to the European Commission, Belgium until 1983. He was deeply involved with this country’s agricultural trade with the EEC and in negotiating the EU/NZ Political Declaration, the foundation of New Zealand’s relationship with the European Union.

Peter returned to Peru as New Zealand Ambassador until 1987, after which he was director of the South Pacific Division, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade until 1990. He was also appointed to the substantive rank of Ambassador. He was director of the Europe Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade unitl 1998.

Presently Peter Bennett is New Zealand Ambassador to Italy, with concurrent accredidations to seven other countries. He is New Zealand Permanent Representatives to the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, New Zealand Govenor to the International Fund for Agricultural Development and New Zealand Representative to the World Food Programme.

Peter is fluent in French, Italian and Spanish languages, with a working knowledge of German, Dutch and Portuguese. He has accompanied Prime Ministers and seniors officials on overseas trips as policy advisor. He was deeply involved in the 1996/97 campaign to halt French nuclear testing in the Pacific.

Married, with one son, Peter lives in Wellington when in New Zealand. He has family in Gisborne and returns here regulary.


Sir James Carroll.

Born in Wairoa in 1857, Carroll was one of eight children of Irish/ Australian Joseph Carroll and his Ngati Kahungunu wife, Tapuke. Raised bi-culturally and a Catholic, James attended a native school at Wairoa then a school in Napier. He left school early, preferring work with horses. After a spell pursuing Te Kooti in the Urewera Region, for which he was mentioned in dispatches, he continued to work on East Coast farms, reading voraciously when he could.

In 1879 Carroll was hired as an interpreter to the House of Representatives in Wellington. Becoming familiar with parliamentary procedures and increasing his eloquence in Maori and English, Carroll soon developed an interest in a political career.

Carroll maintained his links with the Gisborne Region and in 1881 he married Heni Materoa, daughter of Mikaera Turangi and Riperata Kahutia, daughter of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki chief Kahutia. They made their home in Gisborne.

James Carroll contested the Eastern Maori Parliamentary seat in 1884, narrowly losing to the sitting member Wi Pere. In the 1887 election the situation was reversed and Carroll entered Parliament. He aimed to empower Maori within modern economic life and to secure their equality with Pakeha, especially in land and citizenship.

His personal skills and knowledge of the complexities of Maori land tenure led to his appointment to the New Zealand Executive Council in 1892. Carroll supported the Native Land Purchase and Acquistion Act 1893, which enabled the Government to declare areas of uncultivated Maori land for compulsory sale or lease. In December 1899 he was given the Native Affairs portfolio; he was the first Maori to hold this office.

In 1900 Carroll was able to persuade Maori leaders to accept a compromise between their objectives and the Government’s, in the form of the Maori Councils Act, also the Maori Lands Administration. He fought for Maori land rights throughout his career, albeit controversially at times.

Carroll’s stature was marked by two periods as Acting Prime Minister (1909 and 1911), and by his appointment a KCMG in 1911. He remained in Parliament until 1919, after which he was appointed to the Legislative Council.

Sir James and Lady Carroll adopted several children, having none of their own. In October 1926, while in Auckland, Sir James suffered sudden kidney failure and died. After a memorial service at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Auckland his body was taken to Gisborne for his tangihana and he was buried at Markaraka.

Sir James Carroll impressed all with his large physique, knowledge, oratorical skills, wit, huge enjoyment of games and sports and his warm personality.


Sir Apirana Ngata.

Apirana Ngata was born at Te Araroa on the East Coast in July 1874 and was educated at Waiomatatini Native School and Te Aute College. At Te Aute Ngata won a scholarship for university study at Canterbury. He was the first Maori to graduate from a New Zealand university, gaining a BA, MA and LLB.

In 1895 Ngata married Arihia Kane Tamati. Eleven of their children survived to adulthood.

From a family and tribe long loyal to the Crown, he continued to be so throughout his life but always worked to improve conditions for the Maori people. Ngata never practiced law but his legal training gave him mana. He travelled the country, also wrote many articles, seeking economic and social reform for Maori. In 1905 Ngata contested the Eastern Maori parliamentary seat against Wi Pere. Winning by over 750 votes, he retained the seat for nearly 40 years.

In 1941 Ngata threw himself into the Maori war effort. Afterwards he never failed to remind New Zealand of the debt the country owned to Maori who had served in the Empire's foreign war. He was also instrumental in the establishment of a Maori School of Arts in Rotorua in 1927 and the construction of traditionally carved houses around the country.

Sir Apirana was knighted in 1927. In December 1928 he was appointed Native Minister. He worked to pacify and unite opposing tribes in respect of land, for the overall benefit of all. He resigned from Cabinet in 1934 after a report criticised his handling of land development schemes. He retained his parliamentary seat in 1935 but was defeated in 1943.

In World War II Sir Apirana Ngata again organised a formidable Maori Battalion. The men were all volunteers, and Ngata's Ngata Porou, so long loyal to the Crown, contributed a huge proportion.

Sir Apirana continued to organise and support many other causes around the country and in 1948 his hard work was recognised with an honorary LittD. Although frail, Sir Apirana continued to work on numerous projects including a memorial house for his beloved Arihia, the Te Aute College Centennial and a planned sexcentenary celebration for the coming of the legendary Great Fleet.

Sir Apirana outlived two wives. He married his third not long before his death, at Waiomatatini in July 1950, following a brief illness. Sir Apirana Ngata is buried beside Arihia behind their former home, 'The Bungalow', at Waiomatatini.


Wiremu (Wi) Pere (1837 – 1915)

Born in Turanga-nui-a-Kiwa on March 7th, 1837. Wiremu (Wi) Pere was one of Poverty Bay's illustrious sons. Wi Pere became an outstanding figure amongst the Poverty Bay and East Cape Maoris. He gained a wide knowledge of Maori traditions and customs, and proved an able spokesman in proceedings before the Native Land Court, was an outstanding orator in the use of the Maori language within the House of Representatives.

Wi Pere served for some years in both branches of the Legislature, fighting for the rights of his Maori people, particularly in Land legislation.
Even in boyhood, he was noted for his shrewdness. As a youth Wi Pere was selected by the elders as a young man of special intelligence and was carefully taught and trained in Maori history and genealogy, which information was handed down through the generations by word of mouth.Wi Pere described the influence of his mother as follows: "My mother was a woman of great mana over the whole of the district; her name was Riria Mauaranui, a chieftainess of great influence of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki and Rongowhakaata tribe.

Upon his election to Parliament in 1884 as the representative for the Eastern Maori district, he attracted considerable attention. Both in 1887 and in 1890 Wi Pere was again defeated by James Carroll at the Polls. However, in 1895 Carroll stood down in order to contest the Waipu (A European Seat) and Wi Pere regained his former place in the House of Representatives, which he retained until 1905, when he was displaced by Apirana Ngata. In 1907 Wi Pere was invited to sit on the Legislative Council until he lost it in 1912, on a technicality beyond his control.

On the death of Wi Pere, December 9th, 1915, The local newspaper highlighted Wi's death with such headings as "Champion of the Maori Race", "A Link with the Past"., "The Last of the Great Chiefs". Apirana Ngata stated: "Wi Pere was one of the great chiefs of the East-Coast. No man ever did more for his people".
The Native people and Government of New Zealand, as a final tribute to Wi Pere erected a fine monument along Reads Quay in Gisborne in 1919.
The Wi Pere Trust is a legacy left by Wi Pere for his descendants. The trust while constituted on 14 April 1899, was imposed on Wi Pere or he faced losing his legacy to the financial institutions of the time. Since inception the Trust has grown to be a modestly successful private business enterprise of some $35.7 million (c. 2003).



Margaret Sievwright.

Born in Scotland in March 1844, Margaret taught deprived children before training as a nurse. She immigrated to New Zealand in the 1870s and in 1878 she married Scottish immigrant solicitor, William Sievwright, in Wellington.

The Sievwrights moved to Gisborne in 1883. The Married Women's Property Act was passed in 1884 and the title for the property the couple bought that year was registered in Margaret's name.

Well-educated, articulate, tall and fine looking, Margaret was married to a liberal, supportive husband, She appeared frail, but had great stamina. She established a small school on their property and she joined a benevolent society that raised money for community projects. Margaet was appointed to the Waiapu Licensing Board and organised the Gisborne branch of the New Zealand Women's Christian Temperance Union.

Maintaining strong connections with feminist movements overseas, she became a suffragist leader in her new homeland, travelling through New Zealand for the cause. There were several failures to get womean's franchise bills passed through parlament and then, in 1893 Kate Sheppard of Christchurch and Margaret Sievwright led suffragists to present a petition of nearly 32,000 signatures to their leading pro-suffrage supporter, Sir John Hall. He presented the petition to the House of Representatives and the Electoral Bill finally became law. New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the right to vote.

In 1894 Sievwright convened the Gisborne Women's Political Association, which she represented on the National Council of Women of New Zealand. She was a vice president and then president until her death, In 1901 she founded and was secretary of the Local Council of Waiapu Women and was president from 1902 to 1904.

Perhaps Margaret Sievwright best expressed her vision in 1900: "The question is often asked 'What do women want?' We want men to stand out of our sunshine, that is all".

She also worked for disarmament during the South African war (1899-1902), and condemned any project "likely to involve Australasia in the participation of warfare".

Margaret Sievwright was an idealist aiming at total equality for all women. She died in Gisborne in 1905. Three years later her daughter married Kate Sheppard's son.

A monument in Margaret Sievwright's honour was erected in Gisborne, with the inscription 'Ever a friend to the friendless, and uncompromising upholder of all that is merciful, temperate and just'.


Esme Tombleson.

Esme Tombeson was born inAustralia in 1917 and grew up there. She had been a talented ballet dancer since childhood, and, while studying Economics at university, joined a Russian Company touring Australia as an emergency replacement. She qualified as a professional ballet teacher and performed with other touring European and British ballet and opera companies.

In World War II Esme was an expert signaller in Australia’s Women’s Auxiliary Signalling Corps. Another of her jobs, at sub-Ministerial level, was to keep key workers out of the Armed Forces. She was the first woman to do such a job job at this high level. After the war she helped return servicemen re-enter the workforce, wrote radio scripts and trained ballet teachers. In 1950, holidaying in New Zealand, she met Gisborne farmer Tom Tombleson. They married and farmed Burnage Station, 75kms form Gisborne.

Gisborne’s isolation and lack of services prompted Esme to pursue a political career and she became our first woman Member of Parliament, a position she held form 1960 to 1972. She was likened to a terrier dog: "if there was an issue affecting Gisborne and Wellington hadn’t heard about it or didn’t want to hear about it, she ensured they did and that something was done about it". She featured in newspaper cartoons, unusual for a rural and female politician then. While she was MP this region boomed. Major roads were reconstructed, bridges were built, major city buildings erected and air services improved. In 1965 she led the New Zealand delegation to the International Parliamentary Union Conference in Canada – the first woman to do so.

Mrs Tombleson worked tirelessly for the district’s rural and fishing industries. She was convinced Gisborne should be the tuna industry’s base (hoping to halt the increasing Japenese presence) and she wanted a tuna cannery here.

In the 1960s Gisborne became New Zealand’s second fishing port and home for New Zealand’s first tuna boat. Esme’s full tuna dream never eventuated.

In 1961 Esme was a co-founder of the national Multiple Sclerosis Society and from 1975 was president for many years. She was also founder and president for many years of the Gisborne branch and on the International Federation of the Multiple Sclerosis Society’s executive. In 1987 she received the rarely awarded gold medal for distinguished services to Multiple Sclerosis.

Esme served on many organisations for disadvantaged people and in 1994 she established the Esme Tombleson Scholarship for Disabled and Disadvantaged Persons. She is trustee of the Tom and Esme Tombleson Charitable Trust.

Mrs Tombleson has innumerable national and international awards, including the QSO and CBE.

Esme worked passionately for Gisborne and the Region, enhancing their reputation throughout New Zealand. Mr and Mrs Tombleson now live in Gisborne.