Page 1: Biography
Socialist, journalist, newspaper editor, poet
This biography, written by Les Cleveland, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Robert Hogg was born in Blochairn, Glasgow, Scotland, on 28 January 1864, the son of Samuel Hogg, an iron puddler, and his wife, Elizabeth Pearson. Robert began his working life at the post office at Musselburgh, where he worked for 14 years. He also edited a monthly socialist newspaper. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party and was friendly with Keir Hardie and other prominent socialists. On 25 January 1888 he married Mary Smith, a muslin warehouse woman, at Glasgow.
Robert and Mary Hogg, together with three sons and two daughters, emigrated to New Zealand in 1900; two more children were born after their arrival. Robert tried farming near Shannon, then became a proofreader and a sub-editor on the New Zealand Times until 1908. In that year he became president of the Wellington branch of the New Zealand Socialist Party and stood as a socialist candidate in the Wellington South electorate. He was considered by some to be quarrelsome and doctrinaire. Hogg also edited a socialist newspaper, the Commonweal, in 1903–4, and from September 1906 until 1911 when it ceased publication. This contained a column about 'The world of work' by 'Blochairn', a pseudonym used by Hogg. Another column, by 'Busy Bee', was also written by him and displayed an expert knowledge of Scottish literature and dialect.
For a brief period in 1911 Robert Hogg edited the Maoriland Worker then became its manager. He resigned in December 1911 and went to Broken Hill, Australia, where in 1912 he edited the Barrier Daily Truth, a labour newspaper. His editorials dealt with industrial conflict, the class war, the objectives of the labour movement, the doctrines of socialism, land tenure, and nurses' wages and hours of work. A column entitled 'Women's sphere' by 'Maggie May' suggested that working women should get the same pay as men.
On his return to New Zealand in 1913 Hogg obtained an editorial position with New Zealand Truth, one of a chain of weekly papers owned and conducted by John Norton, an eccentric Australian newspaper magnate. He occupied a variety of positions including leader writer, special parliamentary representative, literary editor and, finally, managing editor. A paragraph in Truth announcing his retirement in 1922 stated that for the last nine years he had controlled the paper's literary activities 'with unswerving loyalty to principle and the traditions of the "People's Paper" '.
From its inception, Truth was a muck-raking weekly with a strong working-class circulation base. The radical influence of Hogg is apparent in its content. Articles drew attention to the plight of underpaid women workers in the public service, and to the poor accommodation offered servant girls in the homes of the rich. A column of 'Political palaver' was devoted to parliamentary reportage. A leading article in the issue of 5 July 1913 described the speech of the governor (Lord Liverpool) at the opening of Parliament as 'tomfoolery' and 'the stupidest phase of the Imperial farce'.
Truth gave full-page coverage to the conviction and gaoling for sedition of H. E. Holland, the socialist editor of the Maoriland Worker, but its treatment of the First World War was inhibited by censorship regulations. In 1916 the paper declared its opposition to conscription and warned that New Zealand had been asked to do too great a task. 'The workers are the class greatly affected, and they should watch and be wary, lest they be betrayed,' an editorial stated. In 1917 the prosecution for sedition of Paddy Webb and other labour leaders was reported, and irregularities in the operation of the ballot system were also revealed. An editorial described obstacles to peace being created by 'those who profit by carnage', while news items drew attention to the activities of the international armaments ring. 'Political palaver' also reported criticism of Major General Alexander Godley (commander of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force) and referred to a climate of unconcealed hostility and dislike among all ranks.
Throughout Hogg's tenure, Truth also covered the field of international socialist politics and criticised big business. It campaigned for better conditions for women in the workforce and it advocated sterner measures for the treatment and prevention of venereal disease. The paper advocated reform of the liquor trade, but opposed the introduction of six o'clock closing in 1917 as part of its populist stance against 'wowsers'. Robert Hogg personally campaigned against prohibition and advocated state control of liquor.
Following the adoption of conservative editorial policies by a new owner of New Zealand Truth, Robert Hogg was removed from his editorial post in 1922 and given six months' leave on full pay. He visited Scotland and retired from journalism on his return to New Zealand.
Hogg never lost his early love of Scottish literature. He was an honorary bard of the Glasgow United Burns Clubs, a foundation member of the Wellington Burns Club, president of the Wellington Scots Social Club and editor of the NZ Scotsman. He claimed to be descended from James Hogg, 'The Ettrick Shepherd', a Scottish poet considered second only to Robert Burns. Hogg bequeathed his extensive collection of Scottish literature to the Alexander Turnbull Library. It includes several volumes of his own lyric poems in Scots dialect which deal with Scottish themes and personal relationships; he had published four volumes between 1917 and 1920 under the name Robert Blochairn. Most of this verse is undistinguished, but a brilliant satire on the Marquis of Bute is composed in the style of Burns.
Robert Hogg died on 9 May 1941 at Wellington, survived by his wife, Mary, four sons and two daughters. Throughout his life he was an accomplished speaker, an influential propagandist for working-class struggle, an advocate of radical socialist reform and a journalist campaigning for the broad interests of the labour movement.