‘Radicalism and Patrician Conservatism in Aotearoa New Zealand: The Case of William Downie Stewart Jr.’

Martin George Holmes

University of Otago



Journal of Australian, Canadian, and Aotearoa New Zealand Studies 2 (September 2022): 6-39, https://doi.org/10.52230/DMSM8775


In this article, I analyse the conservatism of William Downie Stewart Jr. (1878–1949), a prominent Aotearoa New Zealand statesman and historian. The existing historiography is ambiguous: Stewart has been called the last influential patrician politician in Aotearoa New Zealand, and yet his radical tendencies have sparked disagreement about whether he really merits the label ‘conservative’. This disagreement is symptomatic of a larger debate over the existence of other Aotearoa New Zealand patrician conservatives with radical views. I argue that the radicalism of Stewart and his fellows stemmed from their desire to create a Better Britain in the Antipodes. However, I argue that they were still conservatives because they sought to defend their Better Britain from forces that risked undermining it. To help elucidate this point, I briefly draw on the experience of Canadian Red Toryism.


William Downie Stewart, Aotearoa New Zealand conservatism, Red Tory, colonial conservatism, William Rolleston