Former New Zealand Premier John Ballance was born in 1839 in a cottage next to the current Ballance House in Glenavy, Northern Ireland. His father was a tenant farmer on the local Hertford Estate. The cottage was situated to the rear of the present house. It appears on a survey of 1837. The cottage was built of stone with a thatched roof.
A two storey farm house was built in the 1840s to accommodate the growing Ballance family. This is what is now known as Ballance House. The exterior of the house was carefully restored to its original appearance.
Inside the house the parlour has been furnished in the style of the 1850s, when young John Ballance was living there. Over the fireplace hangs a photograph of Ballance at the age of 14. Another photograph on display is a portrait of his mother, Mary Ballance, née McNeice.
Ballance appears to have been uninterested in farming. When he was 14 he left school and was apprenticed in the hardware trade in Belfast. When he was 18 he left Ireland, never to return. He first went to Birmingham, still in the ironmongery business, but was always looking for self-improvement and business opportunities.
Upstairs in Ballance House is a large exhibition space which was originally two bedrooms. The floor space above the front door is a step lower than the exhibition area and family members have said that this area always had pot plants and was a favourite place for children to play. It is possible that this area was originally intended as a conservatory; it was, however, never completed.
Also upstairs is the Wellington Room which contains a print of Wellington at the time Ballance was Premier. The room also contains a New Zealand interest library and visitors are encouraged to learn about New Zealand history. The next room is The Ballance Room which displays a portrait of Ballance and details his life.
In 1863 Ballance married Fanny Taylor. Because of her ill health, the couple decided to join her brother in Wanganui where Ballance established the Evening Herald, later renamed the Wanganui Herald. Fanny died in 1868.
Ballance remarried in 1870, to Ellen Anderson. In 1875 he was elected to Parliament as an Independent. In 1890 he led a Liberal coalition as Premier. This period triggered a great burst of social legislation in New Zealand. A world first was Women’s Suffrage in 1893, which was actively supported and promoted by Ballance.
John Ballance’s leadership qualities ensured that his Liberal Party was able to retain office for 20 years, long after his death. A contemporary cartoon shows him firing the cannon of land tax to dispel the clouds of depression, thus earning him the nickname of “The Rainmaker”. Ballance died in office in 1893 at the age of 54.