Open discussion on the evolution of Australian and New Zealand Thought

Friday, 28 September 2007

Transmission of ideas and the New Zealand Workers Educational Association 2

Photo: Professor Horace Belshaw.

This short series focuses on the transmission of ideas, using the New Zealand WEA and those associated with it as an entry point.

I left my first post hanging at the point where Professor Condliffe studied in the UK, in so doing coming in contact with John Maynard Keynes, among others. Here I drew out the point made by the NZDB article on Professor Condliffe that contact with leading British economists, especially Keynes, reinforced Professor Hight's early teaching that economics should be used for solving economic and social problems.

This, to my mind, draws out another important thread in the history of thought in both Australia and New Zealand, the changing way in which economists have seen their role. These early economists were influential in a way that their modern colleagues can only marvel at.

In 1920 Condliffe returned to New Zealand as professor of economics at Canterbury College. He initiated research into the New Zealand economy, and in collaboration with several students, notably Horace Belshaw, published seminal work on the agricultural sector and trade cycles.

I mentioned my uncle in my first post.

Horace Belshaw was born in Wigan, Lancashire, England, on 9 February 1898, so he was some seven years younger than Professor Condliffe.

Horace's parents migrated to New Zealand in 1906. He matriculated from Christchurch Boys' High School at 15, and went pupil-teaching at his old primary school until he was old enough, at 17, to go to training college. Brief periods as an agricultural instructor and in military service in New Zealand were followed by secondary school teaching in Ashburton. His university study was all done extramurally through Canterbury College; he focused first on geology, but switched to economics under the influence of James Shelley and J. B. Condliffe.

In 1921 Horace Belshaw was awarded an MA with first-class honours for a thesis on the dairy industry. Canterbury College appointed him a tutorial class lecturer in economics, first on the West Coast and then in Timaru.

Family tradition records this as a WEA tutorship. However, there is probably no conflict here because of the close links between Professor Condliffe and the WEA. I suspect that it was both.

There is a striking difference with Australia of the same period. I know of no Australian university or adult education mechanism mounting the same type of sustained remote area adult education

In 1924 Horace Belshaw received an award to study at Gonville and Caius College, University of Cambridge. There J. M. Keynes brought him into the vigorous discussions of the Political Economy Club. Family tradition has it that Keynes described him as the brightest student ever to come to Cambridge from the Dominions!

Linking this to my theme about the transmission of ideas, there is (I think) a modern pre-conception about the remoteness of Australia and New Zealand in this period. By implication, both countries were cut-off from trends in western thought. This is, in fact, far from clear. If we look at Horace Belshaw, we can see how his links with Professor Condliff gave him access to economic thought that was at the leading global edge of the time.

At Cambridge, Horace completed his doctorate on agricultural fluctuations and published an important article based on it in 1926. His ability was recognised by appointment to a temporary lectureship at Cambridge in 1926--27 and then, at the age of 29, to the foundation chair of economics at Auckland University College.

Returning to Professor Condliff, he published A short history of New Zealand in 1925. In addition he completed doctoral research on industrial organisation in the Far East and was awarded his DSc in 1927. He also completed most of his research for New Zealand in the making (1930), one of the first economic histories of the country.

I will return to this story at a later point, tracing out (among other things) some of the contributions that New Zealand academics have made to the development of global studies in development economics.

First post in the series. Next post.


Holmes, Frank. 'Belshaw, Horace 1898 - 1962'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

Fleming, Grant. 'Condliffe, John Bell 1891 - 1981'. Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007 URL:

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