Bob Semple

Bob Semple

Robert Semple (commonly known as Bob Semple, 21 October 1873 - 31 January 1955) was a union leader and later Minister of Public Works for the first Labour Government of New Zealand.

He was born in Sofala, New South Wales, Australia. He started working at an early age as gold miner in Australia. In 1903 he was involved in a miner’s strike in Victoria Australia. The strike was defeated and Semple ended up being blacklisted.

To avoid the blacklist Semple moved to the West Coast of the South Island of New Zealand. By 1907 he was president of the Runanga Miner’s Union and earned himself nick name 'Fighting Bob Semple'.

He was jailed in 1913 for supporting the general strike and again in 1916 after fighting conscription for overseas service during World War I.

Parliamentary career

Semple was elected to the seat of Wellington South Parliament for Labour in a 1918 by-election, but lost the seat in the 1919 general election. In 1928 he won the Wellington East seat, and held it until 1946, when it was renamed Miramar. He then held Miramar until 1954, when he retired.

During his term in Parliament, Semple held many important infrastructure portfolios, such as Minister of Public Works and Minister of Railways. Semple was seen by many as the public face of the first Labour government's infrastructure investment. During World War II he designed and had built the 'Bob Semple tank', made from corrugated iron and a tractor base. The tank had numerous design flaws and other practical problems and was never put into production, although it was and continues to be regarded with affection by many New Zealanders.

He did not seek re-election in the 1954 election, and died in New Plymouth in January 1955.


* [ Biography in 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand]

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