Please enable JS

Ngata’s defeat in the 1943 election

Ngata 1943
Maori Home Front Blog Avatar
Lachy Paterson
23 May, 2020

The 1943 election was significant for two related reasons for Māori. First, it was the fulfilment of T.W. Rātana’s 1928 prophesy that his political movement would win the “Four Quarters”, i.e. all four Māori seats in parliament.[1]  Second, the Labour-Rātana’s capture of the last quarter, Eastern Maori, meant the defeat of Sir Āpirana Ngata (Ngāti Porou) who had held the seat continuously since 1905.[2]  The 1943 result in Eastern Maori, a huge electorate that took in the Bay of Plenty, Te Tai Rāwhiti, Hawkes Bay and Wairarapa, went against the national trend, in which the National Party opposition (of which Ngata was a member) managed to consolidate its position somewhat in the face of the still dominant Labour government.  But Ngata’s defeat did not come from nowhere.


T.W. Rātana’s initial mission was religious and spiritual, first as a faith-healer then as an established church, but became more political in the 1920s with the push to win parliamentary seats emerging soon after.  Its first success was Eruera Tirikātene who won the Southern Maori seat in 1932, followed by Rātana’s son, Tokouru in Western Maori in 1935.  The Rātana movement had always stood for the mōrehu, the poor and marginalised within Māori society. They were soon cooperating with Labour, who did not stand its own official candidates against Rātana in the Māori seats. Tirikātene and Tokouru Rātana joined the Labour Party just after its historic 1935 win, and T.W. Rātana himself formally created a Labour-Rātana alliance with the new prime minister, Michael Savage, in 1936.[3]


Sir Āpirana Ngata had an illustrious career.  He was the first Māori university graduate gaining both a law degree and an MA in Politics, and was the effective leader of the Young Maori Party, a group of young educated Christian reformers including Te Rangihīroa (Sir Peter Buck) and Sir Māui Pōmare that had emerged out of Te Aute College at the turn of the century.  An acolyte of the great Ngāti Kahungunu politician, Sir James Carroll, his parliamentary career peaked in 1928 when he took on the post of Minister of Native Affairs and instituted schemes to consolidate Māori land holdings and make them more productive. However attacks from the Labour politicians concerning irregularites with some schemes forced Ngata to resign his cabinet post in 1934.


Ngata faced no real threat in the 1932 election, a two-way race with the Rātana candidate, P. Te T.T. Moko, which he won with almost 72% of the vote.  In the 1935 election Ngata faced two other candidates, both farmers, Tiaki Ōmana (also known as Jack Ormond, Ngāti Kahungunu), the Rātana candidate and Rēweti Kōhere (Ngāti Porou) standing as an Independent.  Kōhere was a former Anglican minister and a member of the Young Maori party. His antipathy to the Rātana was well known, having published articles and letters in the Māori newspapers from the 1920s critical of the Rātana religious and political activities.[4]  According to Walker, Kōhere, a former supporter of Ngata, “now turned against him”.[5]  Ngata also won this election comfortably with 5712 votes; Ōmana gained 2477, while Kōhere gained just 411 votes.[6]


The 1938 election is perhaps notable because this was the first election in which the secret ballot was used in the Māori electorates, despite having been required for the European seats for 47 years.  This resulted in a higher turn-out of voters than previous elections where Māori voters had indicated their preferance by a show of hands.[7]


Eastern Maori voters in the 1938 election had a wider range of candidates to choose from.  The incumbent, Ngata, was standing again.  The Labour Party, now in government, decided to run an official candidate, initially signalling Matu Rangi of Gisborne as their likely candidate.[8]  However Kōhere (or supporters) instituted a not-so-subtle push. One letter to the editor stated “Everybody knows of the position he [Kōhere] holds amongst the Maoris. For the Wellington people to turn him down is hard to understand and is enough to make one disgusted”.[9]  Not long after, Rangi withdrew his name and Kōhere was installed as the official candidate.[10]  However, when campaigning at Mangatuna, in Te Tai Rāwhiti, Kōhere called upon Rangi to support him as Labour’s man; the latter wrote to the Poverty Bay Herald lamenting that Kōhere “wrote to some of my supporters that he would be a better man for the position than I”.  If that was the case, he did not need Rangi’s support.  “I wish to inform Mr. Kohere that I am very sorry that my people and I are not supporting him.”[11] Matu Rangi then re-entered the race as an “Independent Labour” candidate.  At the Western end of the the electorate, Harry Dansey (Te Arawa) was standing as an Independent after “strong representations of a large number of Maori people in the electorate.”[12]


The Rātana supporters were unwilling to support a candidate who had written and spoken so stridently against their faith in the past, and at a meeting at Rātana Pā, members from the Eastern Māori electorate called on Tiaki Ormond to stand as an Independent Labour candidate.[13]  A potential sixth candidate, Tiki Paaka of Ōpōtiki, stopped campaigning and withdrew from the race before the final nomination day.


With such a crowded field, Sir Āpirana Ngata again won the seat for the National Party.  However, this time the combined votes of his opponents exceeded his.  Ngata won with 4160, with Kōhere receiving 3088, Dansey 332, Rangi 347 and Ōmana 2150.[14]  The Rātana vote effectively stymied Labour’s chances of defeating Ngata.  The party was of course not pleased with the result.  The president of its Maori Advisory Council, Rangi Mawhete, stated that:


If there had not been a split in the Labour vote in Eastern Maori, the whole four seats would have been won by Labour, but unfortunately three of the candidates who opposed the official Labour candidate, Mr. R. T. Kohere were members of the party and had entered the selection ballot and pledged themselves to support the candidate that should be chosen by the national executive. Unfortunately, Messers. Matu Rangi, H.D. Dansey, and John Ormond did not remain true to the party or their pledges, and Sir Apirana Ngata won on a minority vote.[15]


Wartime conditions meant a delay in the elections, but in 1943 the Labour Party ensured vote splitting did not ruin their chances.  Only two candidates stood for Eastern Māori, Āpirana Ngata and Tiaki Ōmana. Ngata was no doubt worried, as he sent a supporter, Tame Te Whetū to attend Ōmana’s meetings to see what support he was attracting.  According to Walker, “Te Whetū was so impressed with Labour’s policies he became an instant convert to Labour.”  Ōmana won with 5462 votes to Ngata’s 5222.[16] 


Voters may have felt that Ngata was yesterday’s man; he was 69 in 1943. But the Labour Party was also very popular with ordinary Māori voters for providing the same unemployment benefits to Māori and Pākehā in 1935, then extensive health and welfare provisons for all in 1938.  Rātana’s four candidates in the Māori electorates in 1943 were able to stand above the religious divisions within Māori society and take credit for Labour’s largesse.[17]   This election ushered in a twenty-year period during which Rātana members held all four Māori seats until Puti Tīpene Wātene, a Mormon, won Eastern Māori as Labour’s candidate.[18]


Although the margin in 1943 was slim, it was enough to end Ngata’s long 38-year parliamentary tenure. He stood unsuccessfully against Ōmana in 1946; after the National Party eventually defeated Labour in 1949, Ngata was appointed to the Legislative Council, New Zealand’s upper house, although he died before being able to take his seat.[19]  Ngata had been a giant within the House of Representatives, acknowledged as the “father of the house”, and a member who could work across party lines particularly with regard to the war effort.  Indeed he was the only MP who voted against holding an election that year, as he “thought an election might affect the war effort”.[20]   He was also highly prominent in recruiting and raising funds for the Māori Battalion, efforts that continued as a public citizen outside of the House.[21]  As the Gisborne Herald noted shortly after his defeat, “No historian of the Maori race will fail to record what the former Eastern Maori representative did to put the famed Maori Battalion in the field in this war.”[22]


Image: Sir Apirana Ngata speaking into a microphone in front of a cultural performance group, Collins, Tudor Washington, 1898-1970, photographer, 1940s, PH-2013-7-TC-B417-01 [Auckland War Memorial Museum].



[1] M. P. K. Sorrenson (1976) “Colonial rule and local response: Maori responses to European domination in New Zealand since 1860”, The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, Vol 4, No.2, pp.135-6; Keith Newman, Ratana Revisited: An Unfinished Legacy, Auckland: Reed, 2006, p.248.

[2] M. P. K. Sorrenson. ‘Ngata, Apirana Turupa’, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1996. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 May 2020)

[3] Sorrenson. ‘Ngata, Apirana Turupa’

[4] For example, Te Kopara, 30 June 1921: 5-8; Te Toa Takitini, 1 October 1921: 2-3; 1 February 1922: 13-15; 1 September 1928: 842-844; 1 May 1930: 2055-6; 1 October 1930: 2167-9.

[5] Ranginui Walker, He Tipua: The Life and Times of Sir Āpirana Ngata, Auckland: Viking (Penguin), 2001, p.314.

[6] Auckland Star, 17 November 1935: 10.

[7] The Origin of the Māori Seats, Parliamentary Library Research Paper (November 2003, updated May 2009).āori-seats

[8] Thames Star, 26 May 1935: 6.

[9] Poverty Bay Herald, 3 August 1938: 16.

[10] Poverty Bay Herald, 8 September 1938: 4

[11] Poverty Bay Herald, 27 September 1938: 16.

[12] New Zealand Herald, 24 September 1938: 17.

[13] Poverty Bay Herald, 24 September 1938: 6; Newman, Ratana, p.358.

[14] Alexandra Herald and Central Otago Gazette, 19 October 1938: 2.

[15]Evening Post, 11 April 1938: 10.

[16]Walker, He Tipua, p.360. Interestingly Matu Rangi was the National Party organiser for Ngata’s campaign in 1943. See Gisborne Herald, 21 September 1943: 6.

[17] Ann Sullivan, “Effecting Change through Electoral Politics: Cultural Identity and the Māori Franchise”, Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 112, No. 3 (2003): 223-4.

[18] Manuka Henare. 'Wātene, Puti Tīpene - Watene, Puti Tipene', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 2000. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 May 2020)

[19]Gisborne Herald, 23 June 1950: 6.

[20] Ashburton Guardian, 13 September 1943: 2.

[21] Evening Post, 16 May 1944: 4.

[22] Gisborne Herald, 25 September 1943: 4.



Get In Touch