Alexander Herdman

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Sir Alexander Herdman
Alexander Herdman.jpg
11th Attorney-General of New Zealand
In office
10 July 1912 – 4 February 1918
Preceded by John Findlay
Succeeded by Francis Bell
19th Minister of Justice of New Zealand
In office
10 July 1912 – 12 August 1915
Preceded by Josiah Hanan
Succeeded by Robert McNab
Personal details
Born 17 July 1869
Dunedin, New Zealand
Died 13 June 1953
Rotorua, New Zealand
Political party Reform

Alexander Lawrence Herdman (17 July 1869 – 13 June 1953) was a New Zealand politician. He served as Attorney-General, Minister of Justice, and Minister of Police. He is known for his reforms of the civil service and for his hard line on law and order.

Early life

Herdman was born in Dunedin. He studied at Otago Boys' High School, and then gained a law degree while working part-time. He was admitted to the bar in 1894, and established a practice in Naseby the following year. He also worked in Palmerston, where he joined the local Freemason lodge. He would retain his connection with the Freemasons over his career, eventually grand master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand.[1]

Early political career

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1902–1905 15th Mount Ida Independent
1908–1909 17th Wellington North Independent
1909–1911 Changed allegiance to: Reform
1911–1914 18th Wellington North Reform
1914–1918 19th Wellington North Reform

Herdman began a political career in Naseby, being elected mayor in 1898. He eventually decided to abandon this by moving to Wellington in 1902, but shortly after he arrived, he was invited to return and stand as a parliamentary candidate in Mount Ida, the Otago electorate which encompassed Naseby.[1] In the 1902 election, Herdman ran on a strongly anti-government platform, harshly criticising the governing Liberal Party. He was elected,[2] and joined the unorganised group of independents who opposed the Liberals. He did not, however, move back to Naseby, instead representing his seat as an absentee.[1]

In the 1905 election, Herdman was defeated.[1] In the 1908 election, he contested the seat of Wellington North, and was elected.[2] The following year, William Massey organised the opposition into the Reform Party, which Herdman became part of.[1]

One of Herdman's early concerns in Parliament was the reform of the public service. Herdman believed that the service was poorly organised and subject to political patronage, particularly under the government of Richard Seddon. In the 1911 election, the Reform Party won office as the Reform Government, and Herdman was able to push through his reform proposals — the Public Service Act of 1912 established uniform conditions of appointment and promotion, and established a supervisory commissioner.[1]

Ministerial career

In Cabinet, Herdman served as Attorney-General (10 July 1912 – 4 February 1918), Minister of Justice (10 July 1912 – 12 August 1915), and Minister of Stamp Duties (13 July 1912 – 12 August 1915).[3] In these roles, he gained a reputation as a hard-liner, being described by a contemporary as "ready to employ force ruthlessly for the purpose of upholding law and order". Herdman is believed to have had a major role in the suppression of the Waihi miners' strike, and of the waterfront strike the following year. Both were criticised by many left-wing groups as heavy-handed and repressive, but were defended by the government as necessary steps to preserve order. During World War I, Herdman supported strong measures against anyone protesting New Zealand's participation. As Minister responsible for Police, Herdman also responded harshly to attempts by police officers to form a union, prohibiting the move and attempting to drive the instigators out of the force.

Judicial career

In addition to his political ambitions, Herdman was also interested in becoming a judge of the (original) Supreme Court. As Attorney-General, he had powers to appoint judges, and in 1918, when a position became vacant, he appointed himself. This move was criticised by many as self-interested, especially as Herdman's career as a lawyer had not been particularly distinguished. He served as a judge both in Christchurch and Auckland, and briefly acted as Chief Justice in 1929.

Attempted return to politics

In 1935, he resigned from his judicial position to seek re-election to Parliament, contesting the Auckland seat of Parnell. He was officially an independent, although he had close links to the Democrat Party. He was unsuccessful, and subsequently retired to the Lake Okataina area. He died in Rotorua on 13 June 1953.


  1. ^ a b c d e f Butterworth, Susan. "Herdman, Alexander Lawrence 1869-1953". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 April 2011.
  2. ^ a b Scholefield 1950, p. 113.
  3. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 44.


Scholefield, Guy (1950) [1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer.

External links

  • Biography at Te Ara by Susan Butterworth
Political offices
Preceded by
Josiah Hanan
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Robert McNab
Preceded by
John Findlay
Succeeded by
Francis Bell
New Zealand Parliament
In abeyance
Title last held by
Scobie Mackenzie
Member of Parliament for Mount Ida
Succeeded by
John Andrew MacPherson
Retrieved from ""
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