This Day in Jewish History / A New Zealand Premier Is Born

Julius Vogel rejected all setbacks, worked tirelessly to advance the Kiwi cause and had a vision of women running the world.

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February 24, 1835, was the birthday of Julius Vogel, the first Jew to become premier of New Zealand. (The country’s current prime minister, John Key, is also Jewish by birth.) He served in that position twice, in 1873-1875 and for six months in 1876.

Julius Vogel was born in London, the son of a Jewish mother, Phoebe Isaac, and a Dutch Christian father, Albert Leopold Vogel. The couple separated when Julius was 6, after which his mother moved back to her parents’ home with Julius and his two surviving siblings.

Julius left school at age 15, returning a few years later to study metallurgy and chemistry. In 1852, he and a friend, A.S. Grant, sailed for Melbourne, Australia, where they established an assaying firm.

After several years of running various businesses in and around the gold fields in Australia, the friend, Grant, returned to England and Vogel settled in Dunolly, a gold-rush town in central Victoria state, where he began to work in journalism. For several years, he was editor of the Marlborough and Dunolly Advertiser, but when recession hit and the paper failed, and an initial attempt by Vogel to run for the state assembly flopped too, he crossed the Tasman Sea to New Zealand, which had become a British colony in 1841. In October 1861, he arrived in Dunedin, a newly founded gold town in Otago province of New Zealand’s South Island.

In less than two months, Vogel had established a new newspaper, the Otago Daily Times, where he remained as editor until 1868. Simultaneously, he began running for political office, serving first on the Otago Provincial Council, from 1863 to 1869.

In 1867, he married Mary Clayton, the daughter of a neighbor in Dunedin, with whom he had four children.

Vogel was a strong advocate for regional development, and administrative independence for the South Island.

In both business and politics, Vogel was ambitious and not overly concerned with appearances. When he lost an election for one district, he immediately changed constituencies to run (successfully) in another district. When the owners of the Daily Times fired him, he set up a competitor paper, and when that quickly failed, he and his family moved to Auckland, on the North Island.

In his new home, Vogel continued in journalism, but also became involved in national politics. He joined forces with William Fox, when the latter challenged the government of Edward Stafford, in 1869.

When Fox succeeded Stafford, Vogel became colonial treasurer. He used the position to encourage immigration to New Zealand, to expand the colonial infrastructure, and to buy lands from the indigenous Maori, with whom he generally worked to achieve reconciliation rather than confrontation.

He was an advocate of women’s suffrage (although women did not get the vote in New Zealand until 1893).

Vogel’s “Great Public Works” plan was dependent on the borrowing of large sums of money for New Zealand at low rates of interest, by way of stock offerings in England.

Julius Vogel, a man serially ahead of his time. Credit: Wikipedia
Julius Vogel advocated reconciliation with the Maori rather than confrontation.Credit: Reuters

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