'Julius Vogel was one of New Zealand’s most colourful premiers and prime ministers, as much for the range of his imaginative ideas that tumbled from his nimble mind as for his slightly exotic appearance and the singular way he conducted his political life’ (Ian Grant, 2003).
Julius Vogel was born in London in February 1835 – the son of Albert Leopold Vogel and Phoebe Isaac. He set out for Australia in 1852 and in 1861 he moved to New Zealand, to Otago, where he became an outstanding journalist. He helped to establish the Otago Daily Times, New Zealand’s first daily newspaper – still being published, it is thus the country’s oldest daily paper – and became its editor, age 26.
Age 28 and in parliament
In 1863 he was elected to the Provincial Council. In those days New Zealand had provincial governments. At the same time he was elected to the House of Representatives. His Jewish identity was in evidence as he took the oath in the New Zealand Parliament while wearing a hat, his hand on the Jewish Bible – the Five Books of Moses. Although not a Wellingtonian, he resided there a great deal of his time to attend to his Parliamentary and other duties. Vogel became New Zealand’s Treasurer – the equivalent of today’s Minister of Finance – in 1869. He held the position for 10 years, as governments came and went.
Daring public works
Vogel was one of New Zealand’s true ‘founding fathers’, establishing a daring and bold public works programme, building roads, railways and telegraphs, and introducing policies designed to bring in thousands of new immigrants and new capital for the colony. In 1873, almost 32,000 immigrants arrived in New Zealand, followed by 18,000 the following year. Vogel served as Premier twice – from 1873 to 1875, and again in 1876 – giving New Zealand a Jewish head of government at a time when Jews had few opportunities for political advancement elsewhere. He was also head of the Otago provincial government from 1868 to 1869. A knighthood was conferred upon him during a visit to England in May 1875. Sir Julius Vogel can also lay claim to being New Zealand’s first diplomat: he was appointed the colony’s overseas representative – the Agent-General – to London in 1876, a position he held until 1880.
Full support for women’s sufferage
Vogel returned to England again, for the last time, in 1888. While there he wrote a remarkable book – a novel, Anno Domini 2000: A Woman’s Destiny – foreseeing a world in which women would have equality with men and where New Zealand has a woman Prime Minister. This was at a time when women had not yet even gained the vote. As Vogel’s vision of a future world could be regarded (for its time) as a type of ‘science fiction’, the New Zealand awards for science fiction writing – the Sir Julius Vogel Awards – are named in his honour. There are numerous suburbs named for him – Vogeltown, in both Wellington and New Plymouth. Vogel House (in Lower Hutt) was donated by the Vogel family to the people of New Zealand in 1965 and has served as the official residence of New Zealand’s Prime Minister. There is also the building, Vogel House, near parliament . The State Dining Room at Government House – the Wellington residence of the Governor-General – is graced by the Vogel silver, presented to Government House by Jocelyn Vogel, the wife of Vogel’s grandson.
Death in Surrey, UK
Vogel died in Surrey, England, in March 1899. He ended his life as he began it – as a Jew. His gravesite is to be found in London, in Willesden Jewish Cemetery. His eldest son, Henry, practised for some years as a solicitor in Wellington.