BUICK, Thomas Lindsay
Historian, journalist, politician.
A new biography of Buick, Thomas Lindsay appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Buick was born and educated in Oamaru, and trained as a carpenter. As a young man he moved to Blenheim and soon became interested in public affairs. He joined the Irish National League and on its behalf lectured in Wellington and Christchurch in favour of Home Rule. He also toured the West Coast. He became a convinced temperance advocate. In 1890 Buick was returned to Parliament by the Wairau electorate. Although at that time no formal Labour Party existed, Buick, with his working-class, self-educated background, is considered one of the earliest Labour members. He adhered to the Liberals led by Ballance, who invited him to become organising secretary of the National Liberal Federation, in which capacity he toured the whole country. Buick was re-elected for Wairau in 1893, and became Liberal Whip in Seddon's Government, but lost his seat in 1896 through too great independence of outlook and disagreement with his party.
Buick now devoted himself to journalism, buying a third share in the Manawatu Standard. While working with this journal in Palmerston North, he then entered the field of history with two volumes on local history, Old Marlborough (1900) and Old Manawatu (1903). In 1903 he bought an interest in the Dannevirke Advocate and while living in the Hawke's Bay, published An Old New Zealander (1911), an account of the career of Te Rauparaha. In the same year he visited England. On his return he disposed of his interests in Dannevirke and moved to Wellington, where in 1913 he joined the United Press Association, first acting as parliamentary reporter. He remained in this employment until his retirement in 1933.
In 1914 Buick published his most important historical work The Treaty of Waitangi, which was to be republished twice, the third edition (1933) being prompted by the gift of the Treaty House property to New Zealand by the then Governor-General, Viscount Bledisloe (Buick commemorated the proceedings which celebrated this gift in Waitangi Ninety-four Years After (1934). In 1926 he published New Zealand's First War and in 1928 his second most considerable book, The French at Akaroa.
After his retirement from journalism Buick was given a research appointment on the staff of the Alexander Turnbull Library in succession to that student of the Maori, Elsdon Best. He became the first chairman of the National Historical Committee set up by the Government to oversee the celebration of the centennial in 1940, and it was unfortunate that his work for this project, with its extensive publications programme, was cut short by his death, in Wellington, on 22 February 1938. He left a widow but no children.
Buick had been a Justice of the Peace early in the century. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society after the publication of his Waitangi volume. In 1933 he was created C.M.G. By his will he gave £1,000 to the Hocken Library, Dunedin, and £12,000 to the National Art Gallery.
Buick's writings included three books on the moa, considered from an historical rather than a scientific point of view. He also had a lifelong interest in music and wrote two books on musical topics.
The Treaty of Waitangi deals with the whole transaction of the negotiations at Waitangi in February 1840 and the subsidiary negotiations leading to the later signing of copies of the treaty in various parts of the country. The work is thorough and detailed. Buick handled the allied topic of the French settlement at Akaroa in 1840 with the same thoroughness. He had the ability to marshal facts effectively and his practice as a journalist made his historical writing picturesque and fluent. It is remarkable that a man without very much formal education, who was indeed largely self-educated, should have achieved work of this quality.
Buick's whole career is typical of his time, but he was himself a man far above the average in his intellectual capacity. He had a business sense which was also unexpected, publishing the Waitangi book at his own risk but profitably, as he also did with some of his other books. It was typical of the modesty of his personality and his simple mode of living that he should have left an estate far larger than any of his friends would have predicted and devoted it largely to public objects.
by David Oswald William Hall, M.A., Director, Adult Education, University of Otago (retired).
- New Zealand Parliamentary Guide Book, Russell, G. W. (1895)
- Otago Daily Times, 23 Feb 1938 (Obit).