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Pioneers of Rugby in Wellington: 011 Alfred Newman

Profiling many of the people that built and helped shape the game in Wellington, from its inception in 1870 through to the WRFU’s 50th Jubilee year in 1929.

Known as the “Little Doctor,” Dr Alfred Kingcome Newman did big things for rugby and sport and in public life in Wellington over four decades.

Newman was President of the Poneke Rugby Football Club (1886–1924), the Wellington Rugby Football Union (1904–24), and the New Zealand Rugby Football Union (1916).

Rugby was his first love, but he was also a long-time President of the Midland Cricket Club and Vice President of the Wellington Cricket Association and interested in tennis and athletics. He loved horse racing and was a thoroughbred owner and served as steward and life member of the Wellington Racing Club.

That was just his sporting interests.

Newman was a man about town in Wellington, serving on the city council (1881–85) and education board, the Wellington College board of governors, the Wellington Special Settlement Association, the hospital committee, and the Wellington Agricultural and Pastoral Association. He was mayor in 1909–10.

He had a long political career at a national level. He became MHR for Thorndon (1884–90), Hutt (1890–93) and Wellington Suburbs (1893–96), and MP for Wellington East (1911–22). From 1923 until his death in 1924 he sat in the Legislative Council. He advocated reducing taxes and spending, economic development, and freehold land tenure. Nationally, he helped establish the Tongariro National Park and was an advocate for women’s rights and temperance reform.

Born in India in 1849, the Newman family migrated to New Zealand in 1853. He was educated in the Hawke’s Bay and Auckland, before spending 12 years in England between 1863-1875 and becoming a Doctor of Medicine.s

Settling in Wellington, Newman took over from the club’s first President W.H Levin and held the post for an impressive 38 years.

Whilst President of Poneke, the club won the Wellington club rugby Senior Championship in 1886, 1887, 1888, 1889, 1892, 1893, 1894, 1903, 1909, 1919 and 1921.

T.EY. Seddon, commenting in the book Wellington Prospect, and republished in Poneke’s history A Willing Band of Youths, had this to say about Newman:

“In sport, racing, athletics and rugby he took the keenest pleasure in sport of all kinds and in his demise the rugby game has lost one its most ardent supporters.

“It was to rugby that he was most devoted. His familiar figure would be seen regularly at matches at Athletic Park. He went there not as a spectator, but as a personal friend of many of the players. He knew them intimately.”

There were many highs in Newman’s two-decade tenure as WRFU President. In this time, Wellington won the Ranfurly Shield and were consistently the most successful provincial side in the country.

Low points were the Great War, which cost the lives of many young rugby players whom he would have known. Rugby was virtually at a standstill the year of his NZRU Presidency in 1916, bouncing back slowly from 1917 onwards.

The popular Newman died of heart failure at his residence at the Wellington Club on the Terrace, Wellington, on 3 April 1924, aged 75. His death was a shock and numerous Wellington dignitaries and sporting people attended his funeral at Karori Cemetery. Newman Terrace in Thorndon is named after him.

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