James O'Brien (New Zealand politician)

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James O'Brien
Jim O'Brien.jpg
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Westland
In office
1922 – 1925
Preceded byTom Seddon
Succeeded byTom Seddon
In office
1928 – 1947
Preceded byTom Seddon
Succeeded byJim Kent
Personal details
Peter James O'Brien

(1874-06-08)8 June 1874
Forest Creek, Victoria, Australia
Died28 September 1947(1947-09-28) (aged 73)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political partyLabour
Kate Teresa Flaherty (m. 1909)

Peter James O'Brien (8 June 1874 – 28 September 1947) was a New Zealand politician of the Labour Party.

Early life[edit]

O'Brien was born in 1874 at Forest Creek, near Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia. His parents of Irish descent were Terence O’Brien, a miner, and Bridget O’Leary. He was christened Peter James, but his first name was never used; many knew him as Jim or Briney. After having worked as a miner in various Australian states, O'Brien emigrated to New Zealand in 1904 and found employment as a coalminer in Reefton.[1] O'Brien became active in the socialist circles that developed on the West Coast. He became president of the Westland Certificated Engine-drivers' and Firemen's Union, and was the president of the Runanga Co-operative Society.

Political career[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1922–1925 21st Westland Labour
1928–1931 23rd Westland Labour
1931–1935 24th Westland Labour
1935–1938 25th Westland Labour
1938–1943 26th Westland Labour
1943–1946 27th Westland Labour
1946–1947 28th Westland Labour

Standing on a socialist ticket, he was voted onto the inaugural Runanga Borough Council in 1912. In 1913, he supported Paddy Webb's successful by-election campaign in the Grey electorate for the Social Democratic Party, and later became the president of the Runanga branch of the party.[1] He was a member of the Greymouth Borough Council for eight years and he was deputy mayor for three of them. He was also a member of the Grey Power Board. O'Brien was twice president of the Grey branch of the Labour Party and helped to establish the Grey River Argus as a Labour daily newspaper.[2]

He represented the Westland electorate in Parliament from the 1922 election, when he defeated Tom Seddon.[3] He lost the electorate in the 1925 election to Tom Seddon, but won it back in 1928, and held it to 1947, when he died.[3] He was the senior Government whip from 1939 until his promotion to the cabinet in 1942.[4]

He was a Minister in the First Labour Government. He was Minister of Transport (9 December 1942 – 28 September 1947), Minister of Marine (9 December 1942 – 28 September 1947), Minister of Labour (27 June 1946 – 19 December 1946) and Minister of Mines (27 June 1946 – 19 December 1946).[5] He remained an MP until his death, which caused a by-election held in December 1947 that was won by Labour's Jim Kent.[6]

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[7]

Family and death[edit]

O'Brien married Kate Teresa Flaherty on 29 June 1909 in Greymouth. He died in Wellington on 28 September 1947. His wife survived him; they had no children.[1]


  1. ^ a b c Richardson, Len. "O'Brien, James". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 21 January 2012.
  2. ^ "Political Career". Otago Daily Times (26578). 29 September 1947. p. 4.
  3. ^ a b Scholefield 1950, p. 129.
  4. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 280–281.
  5. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 51.
  6. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 210.
  7. ^ "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. CXIX (105). 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 17 November 2013.


  • Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Tom Seddon
Member of Parliament for Westland
Succeeded by
Tom Seddon
Succeeded by
Jim Kent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert McKeen
Senior Whip of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Arthur Shapton Richards