One morning in May 1845, five-year-old John McKenzie was woken by his father before dawn and marched 16 miles across the Scottish Highlands to a Presbyterian church graveyard. There he saw something he would never forget: the once proud people of Glencalvie huddled together after being evicted from their land by an unscrupulous landlord. This memory would shape his whole life’s philosophy and his land-reform work in New Zealand’s Liberal government of the 1890s.
A leading light of the Liberal Party which dominated parliament in the 1890s, William Pember Reeves was responsible for a series of labour acts which gave New Zealand the most extensive system of labour regulations in the world.
Reeves was born at Lyttelton in 1857, three weeks after his parents arrived in New Zealand. His family’s affluence ensured that the scholarly Reeves received a good education at Christ’s College, where he excelled in Classics, modern languages, English literature and history.
Henry George (Harry) Ell was raised on the family farm at Halswell near Christchurch. From 1881 to 1884 he served at Parihaka as a volunteer in the Armed Constabulary. He also worked in the printing trade, then as a salesman and surveyor.