Page 1: Biography
Ries, Hans Madsen
Lutheran pastor, farmer, businessman, local politician
This biography, written by Ian McGibbon, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1996.
Hans Madsen Ries was born at Stenderup, Haderslev, Denmark, on 5 December 1860, one of 18 children of Andreas Madsen Ries, a farmer, and his wife, Kjestine Marie Hansen. After an education in public schools, Hans became a teacher. He soon decided to devote his life to the church, and undertook a five-year course at a school of divinity in Schleswig. He had intended to go to India as a Lutheran missionary, but because of declining health he accepted a call to the Scandinavian settlement at Norsewood, New Zealand.
Arriving there in early 1886, he successfully passed the examination for holy orders in July of that year and was ordained in September 1887. As pastor he received a stipend of £150, a parsonage and a few acres of land. On 10 September 1887 at Norsewood, shortly after he was naturalised, he married Kirsten Lauridsen, newly arrived from Denmark; they would have four daughters and two sons.
Ries and his wife lost everything but their buggy in a disastrous bushfire which swept Norsewood in 1888. With the church no longer able to pay his stipend he turned to dairy farming. His progressive bent and entrepreneurial nature were evident in the butter and cheese factory, the first in the district, which he established in 1892 and managed for six months. He also developed a piggery.
Ries visited Denmark in 1890, and returned with his widowed mother and three of his sisters, as well as 24 young Danes. Elected president of the Evangelical Lutheran Emmanuel Convention of New Zealand and Queensland, he travelled widely throughout New Zealand in support of the scattered Lutheran communities. (In 1897 he tried unsuccessfully to obtain government support for this work.) Ries also visited Queensland. In 1895 he became minister in Dannevirke, an honorary post which he combined with farming activities, probably dairying and horse-rearing, at Mangatera where he resided. He founded a business, H. M. Ries and Sons, which sold farm vehicles, implements and horses, successfully tapping a market created when the bushlands surrounding Dannevirke were opened up for dairy farming.
Ries became deeply involved in the civic affairs of the rapidly developing community. He served as a borough councillor from November 1898 until May 1903 and was a member of the Waipawa County Council. In 1899 he was appointed a justice of the peace. Ries played a leading role in the establishment of Dannevirke Hospital, served as a hospital trustee and represented Dannevirke on the Waipawa and Hawke's Bay United Charitable Aid Board. He was also heavily involved in the development of education in Dannevirke: he sat as a foundation member of the board of governors of Dannevirke High School and served on the Hawke's Bay Education Board (1906–9). A strong advocate of no-licence, he served on the Waipawa Licensing Committee.
In 1903 Ries was elected mayor of Dannevirke in a closely fought contest in which he claimed he was a 'progressive' who 'did not mean to stand still or go back'. Despite his promise to serve only one one-year term, he was re-elected unopposed in 1904. He declined to stand in 1905, but was so incensed by criticism of his administration that he sought re-election in April 1906, decisively defeating the sitting mayor. Energetic, conscientious and determined – even stubborn – Ries oversaw a number of important local public works, including drainage facilities, the cemetery, the abattoirs and municipalisation of the gasworks. He retained office until 1910 when he decided, reluctantly, that his health was not up to another election campaign and retired. He may also have been conscious that his electoral appeal was waning: he had failed ignominiously in a recent contest for a Dannevirke seat on the district hospital board.
Ries's political skills, local backing and reputation as a strong supporter of the Liberal government made him a potential candidate for the local parliamentary seat; he declined invitations to stand, probably because of his poor health. He remained active in Dannevirke's public affairs, both as a clergyman and as a businessman. A leading member of the Hawke's Bay District of the Ancient Order of Foresters, he was also prominent in the local Chamber of Commerce, serving as vice president. In 1925 he was elected to the Dannevirke Electric-power Board. Soon afterwards, he was diagnosed as having stomach cancer, which eventually rendered him an invalid. He died at Dannevirke on 14 April 1926. Kirsten Ries survived him by 13 years. As pastor, businessman and politician, Ries played a leading role in the development of Dannevirke. He is commemorated in Ries Street.