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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


REID, Donald


Farmer, merchant, and politician.

A new biography of Reid, Donald appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Donald Reid was born at Newton Farm, Strathtay, on 16 July 1833, the third son of Donald Reid of Clan Fraser and Margaret née McGregor, a grand-niece of Rob Roy. He attended Burn's Academy in Edinburgh, and, after his father's death in 1844, Donald Stewart's Endowed School at Strathtay. On his mother's remarriage to John Dalton, the family emigrated in the Mary, arriving on 10 April 1849 at Otago where Reid worked for W. H. Valpy at Forbury, Dunedin, while farming a small leasehold property. In 1852 he bought 20 acres at Caversham and a further 180 the next year. He continued working for Valpy while farming his own property until 1857 when he sold the swampy Caversham land and purchased a large holding on the Taieri Plain, which he named “Salisbury”. Under Reid's intelligent and far-sighted management, “Salisbury” became famous as a model property noted for its progressive farming and its afforestation programme. In 1858 he was elected warden for the Taieri Hundred, and in 1863 Provincial Councillor for the Taieri. His influence in the Council steadily increased and he was recognised as leader of the anti-Vogel (q. v.) Liberal Party. In 1868 he became Provincial Secretary and Treasurer for two days only but returned to hold office as Provincial Secretary and Secretary for Lands and Works from 1869 to 1871 and from 1873 to 1875. His opposition to Vogel and Macandrew as representatives of the pastoral and commercial interests was intensified by a firm belief that their speculative economic policies were unsound. He contested the Superintendency against Macandrew in 1871 but was defeated by a narrow margin on the town vote.

He was elected member of Parliament for Taieri in 1866, retaining his seat with one interval until 1878. He was a member of the Waste Lands Committee from 1871 to 1877 and Minister for Public Works in the Stafford Government of 1873. As Minister for Crown Lands and Immigration in the Atkinson Government, he sponsored a Bill to consolidate the various provincial land regulations and introduce deferred payment to Southland and Canterbury. A practical idealist, he believed that capable men of moderate means should be able to become landholders, and that agricultural development was the soundest basis for the country's economy. Bowen considered the 1877 Land Act “the most liberal land law that was ever produced in this colony, or any of the Australian colonies” and Reid “one of the most distinguished defenders of free and liberal land laws that ever lived in this country”.

A man of short, thick set, and powerful physique, Reid was straightforward and unsophisticated in character. He had entered politics “to be useful in my day and generation by honestly and conscientiously trying to advance the interests of my adopted country”, particularly his province, and he wanted a liberal land policy and a conservative economic policy directed by honest and able men serving neither sectional interests nor personal ambitions. Essentially a practical administrator, Reid applied to public affairs the same principles of good business management with which he conducted his own enterprises. He was no orator, but became a forceful speaker who sought to convince his political audiences by the logical presentation of facts and figures. An ardent provincialist, he fought bitterly against the abolition of the provinces.

In 1878 he retired from politics and thereafter devoted himself to “Salisbury” until its sale in 1912, and to the establishment and development of a stock and station agency business. He was a useful member of the Otago Harbour Board and president of the Otago Early Settlers' Association for 19 years. He established by bequest the chair of economics in the University of Otago.

Reid married, first, Frances, daughter of John Barr, in 1854, and second, Sarah Gordon, widow of the Rev. E. H. Price of New South Wales, in 1873. By the former he had one son and four daughters, and by the latter, a daughter. He died on 7 February 1919.

by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

  • History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
  • Donald Reid, Reid, N. E. (1939).


Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.