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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Wellington Provincial District]

The Hon. Sir Robert Stout

The Hon. Sir Robert Stout, K.C.M.G., the senior member for the City of Wellington, is one of New Zealand's illustrious colonists; and the story of his life shows how, in his case, at any rate, success and distinction have been no gifts from fickle fortune, but the just rewards of honest study, untiring industry, and determination to achieve the highest possible excellence in his every undertaking. A very interesting sketch of Sir Robert's life up to the beginning of 1885, appeared in that year's March number of a Melbonine magazine entitled Once a Month of which the following is in part a condensation. The subject of this article was born at Lerwick, in the Shetland Isles, of which it is the county town. His father was a merchant and landed proprietor, and the future knight was sent to the best school in the island, and one which ranked high among the academies of northern Scotland. That the boy knew how to learn was evidenced by the fact that at the age of thirteen he was installed as a pupil teacher; and that he soon learned how to teach is shown by the fact that at the age of sixteen he had passed all his examinations with such credit to himself that he was “one of a very few specially mentioned in the Privy Council Reports.” Two years later, when his term as teacher was completed, he determined to seek a wider field for his energies, and at the age of eighteen left his island home, and, by way of Scotland and England, came to New Zealand. This was in 1863, when New Zealand was famous for two things—the wars of the north, and the gold-rushes of the south; and Mr. Stout chose the latter. Landing in Dunedin early in 1864, he at first thought of adopting the profession of land surveyor, for which a general study of mathematics and special aptitude for that science well fitted him. He had passed examinations in surveying before leaving, No opening offering in that line, however, he secured an appointment as second master of the Dunedin Grammar School; and was soon transferred to a similar position in the North Dunedin District School. Here he continued till 1867, when he decided to study for the law. Though but twenty years old he had already gained a high reputation as a master, and his influence outside the school was of no ordinary kind. He had already been chiefly instrumental in founding the Otago Schoolmasters' Association, which has since developed into the Otago Institute. After three years careful study of the law, Mr. Stout was admitted a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court of New Zealand, and in 1871 he began his illustrious career as a lawyer. To New Zealanders it is quite unnecessary to say anything of Sir Robert Stout's success in this respect; that is well known throughout the length and breadth of the Colony. Even when his professional duties were mainly in the south, his presence in Wellington at the Court of Appeal was as regular as the sittings of that exalted court. In the Supreme Court he gained laurels in his first criminal case; and he soon became noted as a sound lawyer, and as a successful pleader, particularly effective in addressing juries. The first session of the University of Otago was held the year of Sir Robert's admission to the bar; and he continued his studies thereat. Attending the course of lectures in mental and moral science, he gained first prize for essays on these subjects, and stood first in the political economy class of the next session. During the three sessions following (1873, 1874 and 1875), he was law-lecturer in the University, but resigned the position on becoming a member of the House of Representatives in 1875. This, however, was by no means his first appearance as a politician. In 1872 he was elected to a seat on the Provincial Council, and in the following year became Provincial Solicitor in the Executive of which Mr Donald Reid was the head. Three years after his election to the House of Representatives, Mr. Stout was invited by Sir George Grey to accept the position of Attorney-General, which he filled with credit to his party and to the complete satisfaction of the country till June of the following year, when he was compelled to resign owing to the serious illness of his partner, Mr. Sievwright. Beginning his political career as a Liberal of the most advanced type, Sir Robert has seen no need to change his views. Many of his so-called fads of twenty years ago have long since passed into law. Few men have had a greater influence upon the legislation of his time. In 1877, as a member of the House of Representatives, he was on the Waste Lands Committee and had charge of the Land Act of that year in its passage through the House. No mean compliment was paid him, therefore, by the Atkinson Ministry in 1882 in appointing him a member of the Land Board of Otago. While on that board Sir Robert proved his usefulness by his energetic and faithful exposure of “dummyism.” His views on the land question are most liberal; but probably the name of Sir Robert Stout is most page 260 inseparably connected with the Temperance cause and the cause of Education. All classes, but especially the working men of this Colony, are deeply indebted to Sir Robert, Some Education Acts dealing with higher education, the Trades Union Act, and many others have either been initiated or greatly advanced by him. In 1884, after an absence from Parliament of about five years, Sir Robert (who, by the way, was not Sir Robert until 1886) offered himself for election, and was returned by a large majority. This election decided the fate of the Atkinson Ministry, and Sir Robert became head of the Ministry known as the Stout Vogel Administration, which however, resigned in less than a fortnight, when it was replaced by the Atkinson party for less than a week. Then on the 3rd of September, 1884, on the resignation of the Atkinson Government, the Stout-Vogel Ministry, having the The Hon. Sir Robert Stout confidence of the country, entered upon earnest work, and continued in office until the 8th of October, 1887. At the general elections of 1887, Sir Robert stood for re-election by his old constituency, but was defeated by a bare majority. This was very deeply regretted on all sides, and was quite unexpected. Offers were made by several members to throw their constituencies open for him by resignation, but Sir Robert would not hear of any seat being vacated for him. In 1893, on the resignation of Mr. R. Reeves, he was returned for Inangahua. He had been urged by Mr. Ballance before his death to re-enter political life, and at this urgent solicitation he stood for Inangahua. In 1893 Sir Robert announced himself a candidate for his suffrages of the electors of the City of Wellington, and his overtures were received with enthusiasm. Over 6000 voters declared at the ballot-box that Sir Robert was in their opinion a man whose ability, steadfastness and courage fitted him to be their representative. In returning Sir Robert Stout and Messrs. Bell and Duthie, Wellington did herself infinite credit, and it is to be hoped that the Empire City will never allow so brilliant a candidate to woo her electors in vain. Further particulars of Sir Robert's political and professional career are given under the headings “Past Premiers” and “Legal.”