Page 1: Biography
Labourer, town milk supplier, politician
This biography, written by Hallam Smith, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1998.
David (Davie) McDougall was born in Glasgow, Scotland, on 14 July 1858, the son of David Dougall, a carter, and his wife, Agnes Wardrop. By the age of 12 he was employed in a local iron works; at 17 he was a farm labourer. Later he became a carter for a potato merchant. On 27 June 1882 at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, he married Christina Boyd, a 19-year-old farm servant. They were to have 13 children. In 1884 they travelled as assisted immigrants to New Zealand, disembarking from the Aorangi on 11 May at Port Chalmers, and then travelling to Gore. Initially McDougall worked on farms, then from 1895 he worked variously as a storeman, auctioneer, dairyman and stock agent. Around 1924 he set up business as a carter. A quality Ayrshire dairy herd, which he built up with the skilled assistance of Christina McDougall, supported his town milk supply business. As their family grew, their nine sons formed a seven-a-side football team (with two mascots).
In 1895 David McDougall became a member of the East Gore School Committee. From 1909 to 1913 he was a member of the Gore Borough Council, and for nine years between 1913 and 1929 he was mayor. Disastrous floods in 1913, 1914 and 1918 prompted him to help initiate a new flood protection scheme in 1919.
In 1928 he stood for Parliament in the Mataura electorate as a candidate for the United Party, which was led by a fellow Southlander, Sir Joseph Ward. McDougall was an active candidate, travelling the electorate on his bicycle and making vigorous speeches. Meanwhile, his opponent, G. J. Anderson, the incumbent Reform MP, was absent throughout the campaign. The Mataura Ensign, formerly edited and managed by Anderson, attacked the United Party and McDougall, who countered by stating that their policies would be carried out 'despite a few fellows in our town who run a rag-tag bob-tail scrag of a thing they call a newspaper'. McDougall lost on election night, but won by a slim majority after a recount.
His maiden speech was the cause of much hilarity on both sides of the House and was extensively reported. For example, he gave his version of 'John Bull's Mode of Colonization': 'He first sends out a missionary to convert the Native; then he sends out the brandy-bottle to divert the Native; and then, finally, when the Native is in a state of intoxication, he sticks a pole in the ground, runs up the Union Jack…and proclaims the land British territory.' McDougall was an independent, pragmatic MP who was mainly concerned with local issues. He fiercely opposed speculation and land aggregation, likening it to a man having two or three wives. He disliked anything that he considered to be a waste of parliamentary time and fought strongly for his own constituents, believing that those who had faith in him and sought his help were entitled to a fair deal from politicians and government servants. His speeches continued to be uninhibited, and although disapproved of by some critics, they were suited to the views of his supporters. On what he deemed to be suitably important occasions, he wore a tartan waistcoat to proclaim his ancestry. According to the Otago Daily Times, 'This, combined with a somewhat serious countenance, seems to add ferocity to his protests against any attacks upon his friends, who, on either side, endeavour to restrain him.'
Although he was re-elected in 1931 as a coalition United candidate, he became increasingly disillusioned with the government's policies and actions, particularly with regard to unemployment, conditions for relief workers, and the plight of the small farmer. In October 1933, because of the government's failure to assist wheat farmers by regulating prices, he voted with Labour members on a no-confidence motion and was then excluded from the government caucus. Remarking that he was no longer constrained by a leg-rope, for the remainder of his parliamentary career he was an independent member. Although re-elected in 1935 in a three-cornered election, he was defeated in 1938 by the New Zealand National Party candidate, T. L. Macdonald. He retired to Dunedin, where he died on 7 November 1943, survived by eight sons and four daughters. His wife, Christina, had died in 1929.
It was part of David McDougall's nature to feel deeply for those who, like himself, had been brought up in a tough world and deprived of benefits such as education. He was described by John A. Lee, with whom he shared many political beliefs, as 'a radical who did a lot for hilarity'.