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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.


SIDEY, Sir Thomas Kay



A new biography of Sidey, Thomas Kay appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Thomas Kay, second son of John Sidey and Johanna Murray of “Corstorphine”, Dunedin, was born on 27 May 1863. His father, a prosperous Edinburgh merchant and a member of the Otago Association, had arrived in Otago on the ship Blundell in 1848. Sidey was educated in private schools in Dunedin and Napier and at the Otago Boys' High School. In 1882 he entered the University of Otago and, after graduating B.A. in 1885 and LL.B. in 1889, started legal practice on his own account. A man of independent means, idealistic and high principled, he determined to devote himself to public service. He served first on the Caversham School Committee. A member of the Caversham Borough Council from 1892 to 1902, he was elected Mayor for three terms. He contested the Caversham seat unsuccessfully in 1896 but was elected to Parliament in 1901, retaining his seat until his retirement. Although a Liberal, Sidey won the allegiance of his predominantly Labour electorate by his wholehearted concern for their welfare. From 1905 to 1929 he was a member of the Otago High Schools' Board and from 1899 was a member of the Council of the University of Otago, becoming vice-chancellor in 1921 and chancellor in 1925. In Parliament he was a vigorous advocate of educational reform and chairman of the Educational Committee for some years. In 1904 he introduced the Dentists' Bill which raised the status of the profession by placing training under the control of the University and in 1930 he sponsored a Bill for the reorganisation of legal education. He introduced many measures to promote legal reform and the equitable administration of justice. His most controversial undertaking was the “Summertime Bill”, first introduced in 1909. It aroused intense public suspicion, particularly among the farming community, but with typical persistence Sidey worked to win support for the Bill which was finally passed in 1927.

His lengthy service in the Lower House ended in 1928. After the elections he was called to the Legislative Council as Leader and Attorney-General, and from 1929 to 1930 he was Minister of Justice. During his term as Attorney-General a number of important legal reforms were introduced, notably the Law Practitioners' Amendment (Solicitors' Fidelity Guarantee) Act and the consolidation of the Law Practitioners' Act. His support for the proposal to extend the revision of Halsbury's Complete Statutes to cover the British Dominions did much to ensure the success of the New Zealand consolidation published in 1932. An ardent imperialist, Sidey represented New Zealand with the Prime Minister at the Imperial Conference in 1930.

Small featured and slightly built, with a light, colourless voice, Sidey was not an impressive political figure. But his able legal mind, integrity, and immense industry earned respect while his courtesy and kindliness won the regard of his associates. Not an original thinker, he accepted the ideas of others and worked for the advancement of those proposals which won his support. Sidey's interests were wide and his name is honoured in an annual award by the Royal Society of New Zealand of the T. K. Sidey Medal and Prize. He served every cause he adopted with unflagging loyalty. His ability as a legislator increased with experience and he was at his best as Attorney-General. A devout Presbyterian, he was a generous benefactor to many causes, particularly to his church and the University of Otago.

Sidey married Helena, daughter of David Baxter, in 1903, and by her had one son. He died on 20 May 1933. He was created Knight Bachelor in 1930.

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

  • Sidey Papers (MSS), Hocken Library
  • Hon. Sir Thomas Kay Sidey—A Record and an Appreciation of Public Service, Paul, J. T. (1933)
  • Dominion, 22 May 1933 (Obit).


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