Major the Hon. Sir Harry Albert Atkinson,
K.C.M.G., M.L.C., was one of the foremost politicians in New Zealand for a period of about thirty years. During this time, he held office in ten different Ministries, in five of which he was Premier of the Colony. Born at Hurworth a village in the north of England, in 1831, he was brought up in Kent, whither his family removed soon after his birth. He came to New Zealand in 1831, and settled in Taranaki, where he lived at the time of the Maori War. In those troublous times he came to the front, raised a band of volunteers, whom he led, and proved to be more effective than the regular troops. At Waireka, in March, 1860, Captain Atkinson and his men distinguished themselves greatly; he took part in the capture of several pas at Kaitaki, and was present at the battles of Mahœtahi and Matarekoriko. For his services he was thanked by the Government and promoted to the rank of Major. In 1863 Major Atkinson entered the House of Representatives, and in November of the following year joined the Weld Ministry as Minister for Colonial Defence. In October, 1865, his Government was defeated,
and it was some nine years before the honourable gentleman again succeeded to the Treasury Benches. He joined the first Vogel Administration in September, 1874, as Secretary for Crown Lands and Minister for Immigration. On the defeat of that Government, in July, 1875, he was invited to join the Pollen Ministry with the same portfolios, and in addition the Colonial Treasurership. In February of the following year, the second Vogel Ministry was constituted, and Sir Harry continued to hold the offices of Secretary for Crown Lands and Minister for Immigration, and became Commissioner of Customs. He was soon called upon to become Premier, and on the 1st of September, 1876, formed his first Ministry, taking also the portfolio of Colonial Treasurer. After twelve days the Ministry was re-constituted,
Photo by Wrigglesworth and Binns.
Sir Harry taking, besides the Premiership and Treasurership, his old office of Secretary for Crown Lands and Minister for Immigration; the two latter offices he retained for four months only. His Ministry was defeated in October, 1877, and was succeeded by the Grey Government, who, in turn, gave place to the Hall Administration in October, 1879. In this Ministry, Sir Harry became Colonial Treasurer and Commissioner of Customs and Stamp Duties. The next Government, of which Mr. (afterwards Sir) Frederick Whitaker was Premier, succeeded in April, 1882, and the subject of this sketch took office as Minister of Marine, besides the three other offices, which he again accepted. In September, 1883, on the resignation of the Hon. F. Whitaker, as Premier, Major Atkinson was entrusted with the formation of his third Ministry. He became Premier, Colonial Treasurer, and Minister of Trade, Customs, Marine, and Stamp Duties, and this Government continued till August, 1884, when the Stout-Vogel Ministry had an innings of twelve days. The fourth Atkinson Government followed, but only lasted six days, when the Stout-Vogel party again came into power, and held office for over three years. The fifth, and last, Government which Sir Harry formed came into office in October, 1887, and remained in possession of the Government Benches till January, 1891. In this Ministry he held the offices of Premier, Colonial Treasurer, Minister of Marine and Stamps throughout, and for two years of the time he was also Postmaster-General, and Commissioner of Telegraphs, Trade and Customs, and for a short time Minister of Education. On the accession of the Ballance Ministry, Sir Harry became Speaker of the Legislative Council, which office he held from the 23rd of January, 1891, up to the time of his death which occurred in the Speaker's room of the Council on the 28th of June, 1892. Sir H. A. Atkinson was created a K.C.M.G. by Her Majesty, in recognition of his distinguished services, in 1888. He had a long and most interesting career, of which further particulars will be found under the heading “Ex-Speakers of the Legislative Council.”