A biography of William Reece, businessman and Mayor.
William Reece was born in Christchurch, the son of Edward Reece (1836-1887) and his wife Isabella Asher. Edward Reece was the founder of the hardware and ironmongery business, Edward Reece and Sons.
After attending West Christchurch High School and completing his business education in England, William Reece took over management of the business in 1879. It was said of the firm that
they can supply anything in the shape of ironmongery from a cambric needle to a plough-share or a kedge anchor, and their reputation for supplying only the best goods has brought them to the front as one of the leading houses in the colony.1
Born to take command
Reece was known
as a man of sterling business integrity2. His obituary suggested that his personal magnetism, good heart and strong, quick intelligence
marked him as one born to take command.3 He was active in a number of business organisations, serving as president of the Chamber of Commerce, the Employers’ Association and the Canterbury Agricultural and Pastoral Association.
He was the first chairman of the Christchurch Tramway Board (1903-1906), in which role he was described as being
able and assiduous4 William Reece, largely responsible for the sound basis on which the Board was founded. Later he served for 16 years as a director of the Bank of New Zealand, and he was also on the boards of the New Zealand Shipping Company, the Christchurch Gas Company and the Westport-Stockton Coal Company.
Mayor of Christchurch
Reece was Mayor of Christchurch in 1900-1901, during which time Canterbury Province celebrated its 50th Jubilee.
He was instrumental in the formation of the Canterbury Natives’ Association, becoming its first president, and was a member of the executive committee of the Jubilee Exhibition. He was said to have carried out his public duties in these capacities and as Mayor in a manner which gave great satisfaction.
During this period, Reece also served as chairman of the Canterbury War Fund Committee which raised and equipped the Third Contingent of Roughriders for service in South Africa. He had always been interested in the Volunteers and as a young man had himself been a captain in the Canterbury Mounted Rifles.
The 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition
Following the resignation of Robert Allan in August 1906, Reece was appointed to the 1906 New Zealand International Exhibition’s Executive Committee. It was hoped by the press and the public that he and G.T. Booth, (appointed at the same time) would be able to exert more control over the deeply unpopular government-appointed chairman, G.S. Munro. The difficult relationship of Munro with Robert Allan and the other commissioners had been widely publicised. In fact, neither Reece nor Booth found Munro any easier to work with than their predecessors, and within months they too threatened to resign. This threat led the Minister in charge of the Exhibition, William Hall-Jones, to intervene. In mid-November 1906, he took over responsibility for the Exhibition decision-making himself, while Munro became general manager.
William Reece had a wide range of interests including both charitable work and the arts. An omnivorous reader, he bequeathed his library to one of his sons, and significant art works to each of his other children.
His concern for bettering the lives of others inspired him to take an active interest in the work of the Nurse Maude District Nursing Association, of which he was chairman for several years, and he was also heavily involved with the Boys’ Gordon Hall, the Y.M.C.A., the Prisons Board and the Male Voice Choir.
Reece was apparently
supremely happy5 in his home life. He married Eva Raine (1861-1926) in 1880 and they had five sons and two daughters between 1881 and 1892. He and his family are buried in Linwood Cemetery, Christchurch.
- 1. Blair, W. The industries of New Zealand, Edward Reece & Sons, p 113
- 2. Blair, W. The industries of New Zealand, Edward Reece & Sons, p 113
- 3. In memoriam : William Reece, The Press, 22 July 1930, p 13
- 4. Mr. W. Reece, The Press, 1 November 1906, p 8
- 5. In memoriam : William Reece, The Press, 22 July 1930, p 13
- Blair, W. The industries of New Zealand, 1887
- Christchurch City Council Cemeteries Database
- The cyclopedia of New Zealand : industrial, descriptive, historical, biographical facts, figures, illustrations, Vol. 3, pt. 1. , p 315-316
- Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Lyttelton : transcript of marriage registers, 1851-1880
- In memoriam : William Reece, The Press, 22 July 1930, p 13
- Mr. W. Reece, The Press, 1 November 1906, p 8
- The monumental transcripts of Linwood Cemetery, Christchurch, N.Z.
- Obituary, The Press, 18 July 1930, p 11
- The Press, 21 July 1930, p 13
- St Barnabas Anglican Church, Fendalton : transcript of marriages, 1883-1943