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New Zealand's Burning — The Settlers' World in the Mid 1880s


page 250

New Zealand's settler society of the 1880s had a crying need for effective leadership in all areas of community life. Old World ways of managing and leading could not be transferred in any simple manner to the new situations. The very shape and purpose of these new communities had to be threshed out even while many of their members were still wrestling with basic subsistence issues. In its founding decade a new district went through more change than the Old World village was likely to experience in a century. There was a clamant need for quick decisions on a whole range of matters, and there was the particularly vital need of deciding what the economic objectives should be. Cutting across these persistent calls for leadership in development were urgent cries for ad hoc leadership in sudden emergencies, such as the 1885–86 fires.

In tackling this topic we will first define the kinds of leadership activities we will investigate and give a preliminary overview of how leadership was operating in the colony in the mid 1880s. We will then present three case studies: responses to the 1885–86 fire crises in Hawke's Bay and in Taranaki; and decision making concerning the rural economy in 1880s Taranaki. Since ‘leadership flourishes only in a problem situation’1 the first two case studies should get well to grips with settler public leadership, and since ‘only in a dynamic world does the entrepreneur become a robust figure’2 the third should bring to the fore the workings of leadership in the realm of private enterprise.