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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]

Mr. William Acton-Adams

Mr. William Acton-Adams, J.P., was born at Wilden Manor, Worcestershire, England, in 1843, and is the eldest son of the late Mr. William Adams, an English solicitor, who took up two runs in the Wairau, and afterwards became leader of the separation movement between Nelson and the Wairau, afterwards called Marlborough, of which latter province he was the first Superintendent; he was also the first Commissioner of Crown Lands, and afterwards member of the House of Representatives for Picton. The family arrived in Nelson by the ship “Eden,” in 1850, and while Mr. Adams, senior, was engaged in politics, his son had his first experience in sheep-farming, in the management of his father's runs. Mr. Adams, senior, on retiring from political life, took Mr. Travers' place in the firm of Travers and Kingdon, of Nelson, the style being altered to Adams and Kingdon. Mr. Travers came to Christchurch and established the well-known legal firm known afterwards as Harper and Co. Mr. Acton-Adams was articled in 1862 to his father's firm, and was admitted a barrister and solicitor in 1867. For two years, subsequently, he studied at the Inner Temple, London, returned to Nelson, in 1869, and became a junior partner in the firm of Adams and Kingdon. The business of this firm largely increased, and was the leading legal firm in Nelson and surrounding districts. During ‘Mr. Acton-Adams’ visit to England, he married the eldest daughter of the late T. R. Leadam, M.D., 1 York Place, Portland Square, London. After some years of successful practice in Nelson. Mr. Acton-Adams in 1878 purchased a half-share in the Tarndale run from the Hon. N. Edwards, and subsequently acquired the other half from that gentleman's partner, Mr. John Kerr. During the seventies, Mr. Acton-Adams represented Nelson in the Provincial Council, and as leader of the Opposition carried and established the principle of the responsibility to the Council of the Executive, which had up to that time been nominated by the Superintendent. In 1872, as treasurer of the Nelson and West Coast Railway League, he drew the first scheme for constructing the line by means of land grants, the principles of which were afterwards adopted in connection with that, and with the East and West Coast railways. Mr. Acton-Adams was elected a member of the House of Representatives by a large majority for Nelson in 1878, after one of the most keenly contested elections ever held in that town. Colonel Pitt being his opponent. He entered the House as a supporter of Sir John Hall, and voted with the want of confidence motion carried against the Grey Government. In the election which followed immediately on the resignation of that government. Mr. Acton-Adams was again returned for Nelson as a supporter of the Hall Ministry. In 1881 over-work produced a very serious illness, and although he was requested by an influential deputation at his bedside not to resign, Mr. Adams thought it fairer to retire from polities as his medical advisers held out no hope of his recovery, and meanwhile his constituents were unrepresented; and it is interesting to note that the seat thus vacated has not since been occupied by a member of his party. Retiring from the firm of Adams and Kingdon in favour of his brother, and from all his public positions, Mr. Acton Adams went on an extended trip to Europe to regain his health, taking his family with him. Rest and freedom from worry worked wonders, and after two years, Mr. Acton-Adams returned to the Colony, settling in Christchurch in 1883, in consequence of an agreement not to practise in Nelson. Having been a supporter of the West Coast Railway, Mr. Acton-Adams joined the Christchurch League in 1885, and with his friends carried the principle of connection with Nelson and formed the East and West Coast and Nelson Railway League, of which on the retirement of Mr. Chrystall he became chairman. Mr. Acton-Adams worked enthusiastically in connection with the Railway League, and supervised the issue of the well-known “History of the East and page 355 West Coast, and Nelson Railway League,” the result of the operations of which was the establishment of the Midland Railway Company. Mr. Acton-Adams joined Mr. T. I. Joynt in the firm of Joynt and Acton-Adams, a prominent legal firm in Christchurch for many years. On the dissolution of that firm, he founded the firm of Acton-Adams and Kippenberger. After settling in Canterbury, Mr. Acton-Adams continued his interest in sheep-farming, adding the Molesworth station to his well-known Tarndale station, purchasing the Hopefield-Woodbank station in the Amuri district, acquiring Island Farm and the Salop Downs estates in Selwyn County, and finally by purchasing a part of the Motunau property and other adjoining lands he founded the Tipapa Estate. The whole of the improvements on this fine property have been carried out by Mr. Acton-Adams, several thousand acres of tussock land having been converted into English grass pastures. It is a matter of history that about 1890 the Amuri was invaded by rabbits from Kaikoura and Blenheim in such numbers as to practically ruin the back country runs. Mr. Acton-Adams sustained very severe financial losses on this account. The attention necessary to fight this pest, and the consequent financial depression, compelled him to devote most of his time to farming matters and practically to retire from the law. His untiring efforts in this direction enabled him to surmount many of the difficulties that surrounded him. Mr. Acton-Adams is still one of the largest landholders in Marlborough and Canterbury, and counting all his properties, shears some 75,000 sheep annually. His sons are, Herbert of Tipapa, Reginald of Woodbank, and Percy of Island Farm, and he has one daughter.