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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

The Agent-General's Department

The Agent-General's Department.

Like all other departments, the Agent-General's began in a humble and unpretentious way. Mr. John Morrison, a London merchant who had clients and a considerable interest in the young Colony undertook the duties of New Zealand Government Agency, and for many years he performed the duties satisfactorily for the Colony and without remuneration, except for costs out of pocket, at an office in No. 3 Adelaide Place, King William Street, London. The total expenditure including salaries of clerks, rent, etc., did not amount to £600 per annum, although Mr. Morrison made arrangements for a large number of considerable contracts for the Colony during the many years he was its London agent, and frequently made advances of funds on behalf of the Colony, having full faith that the irregular mails in the fifties and sixties would sooner or later recoup him for his temporary accommodation. As the Colony grew and the native wars of 1869 rendered it imperative that it should be represented in London by a gentleman with a more intimate knowledge of its then condition and necessities, Dr. I. E. Featherston went Home as joint commissioner in that year with Mr. Dillon Bell to arrange for assistance from the Imperial Government to carry on war operations. This visit led first of all to the guarantee of one million by the British Government for defence purposes and public works to assist in quelling the native troubles. In the following year the great public works scheme rendered it imperative that an agent-general should be appointed to reside in London, who, by his knowledge of the Colony, his social standing and his ability would be in a position to confer and arrange matters with the Imperial Government, with the representatives of other States and colonies, with financial institutions and other associations or individuals page 117 who might have dealings with New Zealand, in a manner creditable to the Colony. Dr. Featherston was selected, and from 1871 till his death at Brighton in June, 1876, he filled the post with credit to himself and advantage to the Colony. During Dr. Featherston's period he was joined by Mr. Walter Kennaway in 1874 as secretary, a position he still holds. This gentleman proved himself a valuable colonist from the early days of the Canterbury Settlement as a farmer for some seventeen years. He then became Provincial Secretary and Secretary for Public Works for about three-and-a-half years, during 1870-1874, the busiest years of road and railway building in that province. The important harbour works in Lyttelton were also commenced and prosecuted with vigour during his time. Mr. Kennaway was a true friend to education, and by his advocacy and exertions in the Provincial Council, areas which aggregate 300,000 acres of the pick of the Canterbury Plains were set aside as reserves for non-sectarian education; the Canterbury College and School of Agriculture, now both thriving and highly appreciated training schools, both owe their endowments to Mr. Kennaway's exertions. He was made a C.M.G. in 1891, and still does good service for the Colony. Dr. Featherston was succeeded by Sir Julius Vogel (q.v.) who held office until February, 1881; and he was succeeded by Sir Francis Dillon Bell who represented the Colony for ten years, and during his règime he was recognised by the agents-general of all the Australasian colonies as their leader and guide in all matters of a complicated or international character. His services at the Paris Exhibition as a member of the Mansion House Committee as well as the representative of New Zealand were so greatly appreciated that the French Government bestowed on him the dignity of Commander of the Legion of Honour, and in England he was made a K.C.M.G., and subsequently C.B. He retired from the position of Agent-General in 1891, being succeeded by Mr. (now Sir) W. B. Perceval, the present Agent-General, who although born in Tasmania, may be considered a New Zealander to all intents and purposes. Sir Westby, although yet a young man, has proved himself a capable representative. Particulars of his career will be found in the article under his name. New Zealand has been singularly fortunate in the selection of her agents-general, for they have all been men of the highest probity, and have been held in the highest estimation by those with whom they have come in contact, and it must be conceded that the agents-general of the colonies have duties to perform, and the conventionalities of life to conform with in society which are unknown or not familiar to colonists as a rule. The buildings now occupied by the Agent-General are situated in one of the most frequented parts of London at No. 13 Westminster Chambers, Victoria Street, S.W., where the staff is accommodated in a style calculated to impress the visitor with a conviction that a Colony with such an establishment in the chief city of the world cannot fail to be one of wealth and importance. On the ground floor is a spacious library with books of reference and descriptions of the Colony, with piles of newspapers from every part of it, while the walls are adorned with photographs of the glorious scenery of the Sounds, the glaciers, the gorges, the plains, the public buildings, the harbours and rivers, the gardens, and other marvels so well known in the Colony, though not fully appreciated, but which are delightful dreams to the people who gaze on the pictures, which thus form magnificent advertising agents for the Colony. The first floor has offices for the staff, and access is gained to it by a peculiar spiral staircase, ornamented with more views of the Colony, and the whole establishment is furnished with a luxuriance and taste which never fail to impress the visitor, whether a colonist on a trip page 118 Home, or an intending emigrant in search of information. Altogether there are nine officials to transact the duties pertaining to the department, and the annual cost of the establishment is £4350.

Sir Westby Brook Perceval, K.C.M.G., K.G.S., Agent-General for the Colony in London, is the eldest son of Mr. W. Hawkshaw Perceval, of Rangiora. Sir Westby was born in Tasmania in 1854, and educated at Christ's College Grammar School, Christchurch, and at Stonyhurst. He matriculated at the London University in 1875, and entering the Middle Temple the same year, was called to the English bar in 1878. Returning to the Colony, he entered on the practice of his profession in Christchurch. In 1887 Sir Westby was elected member of the House of Representatives for Christchurch City, and was re-elected at the general election of December, 1890. In the following year he was appointed Chairman of Committees, which position he resigned on accepting the office he now holds. He left New Zealand to take up his duties in the Metropolis in October, 1891. Sir Westby has justified the selection made on his appointment. He has been indefatigable in bringing the Colony prominently before the British public, and has always acted in the best interests of New Zealand. In 1892 he was appointed to represent the Colony on the Board of Governors of the Imperial Institute. His Holiness the Pope has conferred on Sir Westby the title of Knight Commander of St. Gregory. In 1894 Her Majesty the Queen recognised the subject of this notice by creating him a K.C.M.G. Sir Westby was married in 1880 to Jessie, youngest daughter of the late Hon. J. Johnston, M.L.C., of Wellington.

Photo by Kinsey.Sir W. Perceval.

Photo by Kinsey.
Sir W. Perceval.