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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]


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In the old provincial days—the good old days, to which early colonists still look back with feelings of affection—the office of Superintendent was the highest in the direct gift of the people. A mere Member of Parliament was a comparative nobody. Almost all matters with which the people were most intimately concerned, such as roads, bridges, schools, proposed railways, and even much of the business now undertaken by the municipalities—were in those days controlled by the Provincial Councils, and in these bodies the Superintendents were all but all-powerful.

In a short but interesting article corresponding to this in the Wellington Volume, information is given which applies to provincial councils generally, and which need not be repeated here. Suffice it to say that through defects in the constitution these councils became possessed of power which it was never intended they should have; and this no doubt hastened the downfall of the institutions, which, kept within their legitimate sphere, might have remained to this day the most useful governing bodies under the constitution. The Provincial Councils are all gone, however, and, though there is occasionally some talk about new institutions for local government similar to what it was at first intended the provincial bodies should be, it is practically certain that never again will there be in New Zealand any governing bodies similar to what these councils really were.

The Auckland Provincial Council was one of the most important in the Colony. For more than ten years prior to abolition it had the old House of Parliament for its meetings exclusively, and this, and the relatively greater importance of its part of the Colony in those days, gave to the Auckland Provincial Council in its later years a significance and a dignity attained by few, if any, of the others. And nearly all this importance and dignity centred round the office and in the person of the Superintendent. He it was who held in his hands the destinies of the people, and to all classes it was a matter of great importance who should be the chosen of the electors.

The election of the Superintendent every four years, and often more frequently, caused the greatest excitement, especially in the days of open voting. A special roll had to be prepared and printed for the superintendency election. The coming event was for weeks the one absorbing topic of conversation and speculation, and few can recall, without feeling the tameness of the present day elections, the mass meetings in front of the Courthouse or on the Barrack Hill, and the throngs of excited electors and committee-men round and about the old Mechanics' Institute—now laughing, now haranguing, but always in such condition that a word or a wink to “Paddy” Bonfield would be enough to start a disturbance, resulting in a score of sore heads. Those days are gone, and with them, General Wynyard, William Brown, John Williamson, Robert Graham, Sir Frederick Whitaker, Thomas Bannatyne Gillies, and the last to fill the office, Sir George Grey. But Auckland is fortunate in having among her citizens, still active in business, her third Superintendent, Dr. Logan Campbell, who held office more than forty years ago.

Among the old councillors, who were prominent in their day, but who are now numbered among the dead, may be mentioned: The Hon. Dr. Pollen, F. W. Merriman, T. H. Bartley, J. M. Dargaville, Reader Wood, Hon. P. Dignan, Jerome Cadman, David Sheehan, John Sheehan, Every Maclean, Allan O'Neill, James O'Neill, John Lundon, Thomas Beckham, R. J. Creighton, Dr. Nicholson, W. J. Hurst, Thomas Macready, G. M. Reed, Joseph Newman, Andrew Bevenidge, Archibald Clark, James McCosh Clark, James Dilworth, Hugh Carleton, J. A. Gilfillan, Richard Ridings, Benjamin Tonks, A. K. Taylor, J. C. Taylor, Joseph May, W. T. Buckland, William Rowe, Sir R. Douglas, and last, but by no means least notable, George Staines.

Of prominent provincial councillors still in the land of the living, the best known are: Sir G. M. O'Rorke, who sat for the last eleven years of the Council's existence, and occupied during the whole time the important office of Speaker; Mr. C. B. Davy, after wards Chief Judge of the Native Lands Court, who resigned fro the Council in 1869 to enter the Government service as Warden and Resident Magistrate at the Thames; Mr David Goldie, the present Mayor of Auckland; the Hon. W. Swanson, W. Kelly, and G. B. Morris; Captain Daldy; and Messrs P. A. Phillps, W. L. Rees, F. M. P. Brookfield, G. S. Graham, F. L. Prime, and J. T. Boylan.

These names of superintendents and councillors are sufficient to show that the Auckland Provincial Council was largely composed of men, who had made or were destined to make their mark in the political world of New Zealand, and they are also a guarantee that the keenest interest was taken in the affairs of the Council.

To give a complete list with pictures and biographical sketches of those who took part in the deliberations of this interesting body would at this distance of time be impossible; but the dates and some other particulars of the sessions are given, that the vicissitudes of the institution, and relations between the Council and the various Superintendents, may, to some extent, be gauged.

Colonel (afterwards General) R. H. Wynyard, the first Superintendent of the Auckland Province, was elected to that office on the 1st July, 1853; and in accordance with the constitution the page 35 first Council was elected immediately thereafter. Colonel Wynyard's opponent was Mr. William Brown, merchant, still well-remembered as a member of the firm of Brown, Campbell and Co. The first contest was fairly severe, but the gallant Colonel won by a majority of 102 votes. He called his Council for the 18th of October, 1853, and on that day, Mr. T. H. Bartley, solicitor, was elected without opposition to the office of Speaker. The session was prorogued on the 16th of February, 1854.

The second session was opened on the 25th of October of the same year, and was prorogued on the 18th of January, 1855, on which day the Superintendent resigned, having found the office incompatible with his more important positions as Commander of the Forces and Administrator of the Government, during the prolonged interregnum between the departure of Governor Grey and the arrival of Governor Gore Browne.

To fill the vacancy thus caused in the Superintendency, Mr. W. Brown, the previously defeated candidate and Mr. (afterwards Sir) Frederick Whitaker went to the poll, and though Mr. Whitaker had been a prominent member of Colonel Wynyard's Provincial Executive, Mr. Brown was returned, on the 14th of March, 1855, by a majority of 149 votes.

The third session was called by the new Superintendent for the 26th of the same month, within a fortnight of his election. As was probably expected, the Superintendent, being of the party opposed to that which had heartily supported his predecessor, found himself at the head of a Council with which it was impossible for him to work amicably, and to reform which he had been elected. Proroguing the Council by proclamation dated the 30th of April, 1855, he endeavoured to secure dissolution, so that those who had elected him might have an opportunity of choosing a Council to support him. After two unsuccessful appeals to Acting-Governor Wynyard, the fourth session was held, and lasted from the 15th of August to the 22nd of September, and then Mr. Brown succeeded in his aim as the new Governor, Colonel Thomas Gore Browne, C.B., dissolved the Council on the 25th of September.

This, of course, necessitated a fresh election of Superintendent, and Mr. Brown was preparing for this third contest when illness in his family made his return to England an imperative duty. Thus the “Progress Party,” as his supporters had named themselves, were placed in a dilemma, but Dr. Campbell, Mr. Brown's partner—who would himself have gone Home had Mr. Brown been able to remain in the Colony—was persuaded, though with difficulty, to place himself in the hands of the party. The other side again put up Mr. Whitaker, and a very keenly contested election, held on the 25th of October, 1855, resulted in a majority of ninety-eight for Dr. Campbell. On the following day, the electors of the second Provincial Council accommodated the popular doctor with a bare majority of “Progressives,” and he called the new Council for the fifth session, on the 28th of January, 1856. The first business of the Council was the election of a Speaker, and Mr. Bartley was again chosen for the office without opposition. Though the Auckland Provincial Council never availed itself, as did some Council in the South, of the privileges of “Responsible Government,” there were generally two very decided parties in the Council. Of the twenty-four members, thirteen favoured the Superintendent, and pleasant relations were maintained throughout the session, which was prorogued on the 23rd of April. It was Dr. Campbell's only session, however, for the Governor accepted his resignation on the 17th of September of the same year, on account of the doctor finding it necessary to pay a second visit to the Old Land. Of the eight gentlemen who in Auckland held the high office of Superintendent, Dr. Campbell is the only one now living—a most worthy link between the past and the present.

On the 28th of October, 1856, another very hard fought contest took place, when Mr. John Williamson was elected by a majority of 162 votes, his opponent being Mr. J. A. Gilfillan, who, like Mr. Whitaker, had been a member of General Wynyard's Provincial Executive.

The sixth session of the Provincial Council was called by the new Superintendent for the 9th of December, 1856, and by the 20th of the following February the strained relations between the Superintendent and the Council culminated in one of the most disgraceful scenes, which ever occurred even in the Auckland Provincial Council. A seat of the Council had become vacant, through the resignation of a member, and the want of harmony resulted in writs for the election of a successor being issued by both the Council and the Superintendent, and two members were returned to dispute the seat on the floor of the Council. In connection with this squabble, the whole Council was locked up for a night and a day. During the night, the rowdy crowd, which was outside hurled stones at the building, and even passed through an open window a cat with a tin of turpentine tied to its tail. This disgraceful scene was ended by the Superintendent sending in a memorandum to the effect that as the Council's attitude held out no prospect of that body carrying on the business of the province, he would conduct it himself, and with that intention he prorogued the Council.

During the recess the binary members resigned, and many hoped and believed that in that way the difficulty of the extra member would be got over. It so happened, however, that in those days it was the rule to insert in the body of the writ, the name of the member whose resignation had caused the vacancy, and as the dispute as to who held the seat had never been settled, it was impossible to say who had resigned it. Whatever the real object may have been, the Superintendent caused writs to be issued for both. The opposition put up only one man, but had him nominated for both vacancies, or, rather, the double vacancy. The supporters of the Superintendent, however, nominated a man for each, and, a high authority having decided that the time allowed was insufficient for the purposes of legality, the opposition party took but little interest in the election, and the two supporters of the party in power were declared by very large majorities.

With this disturbing question still unsettled the seventh session of the Provincial Council was called for the 17th of August, 1857. The Superintendent had not stated his intention of being present, and when the councillors had assembled the Chief Executive Officer was conspicuous by his absence. The two claimants for the one seat were page 36 there, however, which revived the old difficulty of the extra member. A motion for adjournment was moved, and though it was declared on the voices to be carried, one of the “ayes” called for a division, as the most formal and formidable ways of bringing under the Speaker's notice the fact that there were in the Chamber two persons whose legal standing as members was disputed. Both those gentlemen voted, but many of the leading members of the Council declared that it was the Speaker's duty to treat both names as mere blots on the division list. This placed the Speaker—Mr. T. H. Bartley, who had held the office from its inception—in an unpleasant position; but he had proved himself equal to many awkward occasions, and he promptly erased both names as being those of persons unknown to him as members of the Council. That settled the adjournment, which was for eight days; but within an hour thereafter a Provincial Government Gazette appeared containing a proclamation by the Superintendent proroguing the Council. This session, which lasted an hour and a half, is a record for shortness.

For some months prior to this seventh session, the Governor had been asked by the Superintendent, by a minority of the Council, and by about thirteen hundred petitioners, to dissolve the Council, but a counter petition had been sent in praying His Excellency not to grant a dissolution, until new and purified rolls had been prepared. But this short session led to a settlement of the point, for on the following day Governor Gore Browne dissolved the Council, in terms the reverse of complimentary.

The new rolls were not ready, and the party which had clamoured for them for so many months declined to nominate a candidate for the superintendency, on the ground, ostensibly, that there were too many “dead heads” to fight, who, it was not over-delicately hinted, would be somehow secured for the party in power. Thus Mr. Williamson was returned unopposed on the 15th of September, 1857.

The new Council—the third—which was elected about the end of October, was called together for the 25th of November, and elected Mr. William Powditch to the office of Speaker. This session—the eighth—was prorogued on the 24th of March, 1858. The ninth session lasted from the 4th of October to the 24th of December, 1858; the tenth, from the 2nd of May to the 12th of May, 1859; the eleventh from the 11th of July to the 1st of November, 1859, with many long adjournments; the twelfth, from the 31st of January to the 1st of June, 1860 (when it was prorogued by proclamation, most of the meetings during the preceding month having lapsed through want of a quorum, the Speaker being frequently the only member present); and the thirteenth, from the 21st of November, 1860, to the 27th of February, 1861. This was the first Council allowed to continue its full term of four years.

On the 24th of October, 1861, Mr. Williamson was re-elected to the Superintendency by a majority of forty-nine votes, his opponent, Dr. Stratford, polling 1,117, as against Mr. Williamson's 1,166. Early in November the fourth Council was elected, and met for the fourteenth session on the 6th of January, 1862, when Mr. William Powditch was re-elected to the office of Speaker. The prorogation by proclamation of the Superintendent took place on the 7th of May, 1862.

Exactly eleven months after his election, Mr. Williamson resigned the Superintendency, giving as his reasons want of harmony with the Provincial Council, and the passing by the General Assembly of the “Native Land Act,” both of which he considered had the effect of limiting his efforts for the adadvancement of the province. Mr. Robert Graham was just then the most popular man in the province, in consequence of services rendered and brave deeds done in connection with the wrecks of the “White Swan” and “Lord Worsley.” Mr. Graham was asked to accept nomination for the highest office in the gift of the people, and he consented, the only candidate then in the field being Mr. Joseph Newman. Mr. Newman, however, retired, but Mr. Williamson was nominated for the position just vacated by himself. The contest, which took place on the 26th of November, 1862, resulted in 1,625 votes being cast for Mr. Graham and 1,141 for Mr. Williamson.

The Council was called by the new Superintendent for its fifteenth session on the 27th of December, 1862, and was prorogued on the 21st April, 1863. The sixteenth session lasted from the 25th of September, 1863, to the 21st of April, 1864, and the seventeenth from the 5th of October to the 17th of November, 1864. The eighteenth session was called in great haste for the 21st of December of the same year, the objects being the protest against the removal of the seat of Government to Wellington, and the furtherance of the desire to obtain for Auckland, or at least for the North Island, separation from the remainder of the Colony. The particular business for which the Council was summoned was exhausted in two days, and the Council adjourned until the 19th of January, 1865, and was prorogued by proclamation on the 11th of May.

A few months later the office of Superintendent became vacant by the effluxion of time, and Messrs Graham and Williamson were again in the field. Both, however, agreed to retire if Mr. (afterwards Sir Frederick) Whitaker could be induced to accept the position, as it was felt on all sides that a man of exceptional ability was needed to fight Auckland's battles against both the Imperial and the General Government. Mr. Whitaker was with difficulty persuaded to accept nomination, and on the 25th of October, 1865, he was elected unopposed to the office, which, ten years earlier, was given over his head to Mr. William Brown.

During the following month the fifth Council was elected, and on its meeting for the nineteenth session, on the 12th of December, 1865, Mr. (now Sir Maurice) O'Rorke was elected to the office of Speaker. Like the previous Speaker, Mr. O'Rorke represented the town of Onehunga. Mr. Powditch was nominated for re-election for Onehunga, but failed to secure even the second seat, to which Mr. David Kirkwood was elected. Mr. James O'Neill was also proposed for the office of Speaker, but Mr. O'Rorke, who sat that day as a councillor for the first time, and was nominated by Messrs John Williamson and Hugh Carleton, carried off the honour. This was the first time there had been a contest for the office of Speaker of the Council, and although open voting was the method in vogue for both the superintendency and the page 37 council elections, this election was, on the motion of Mr. Buckland, conducted by ballot. This session of the Council was prorogued on the 21st of March, 1866. The twentieth session opened on the 12th of November, 1866, and was prorogued by proclamation on the 8th of February, 1867.

At the beginning of the following month Mr. Whitaker resigned the Superintendency, and the act was generally considered as a confession that he had not been eminently successful in the difficult work he had undertaken. Mr. John Williamson was thereupon elected without a contest, the only other candidate, Mr. C. F. Mitchell, withdrawing on the day of nomination, the 17th of April, 1867. Sessions of the Council followed rapidly, the twenty-first sitting from the 17th to the 26th of June; the twenty-second, from the 28th of November, 1867, to the 5th of March, 1868; the twenty-third, from the 15th of June to the 3rd of July; and the twenty-fourth from the 7th of December, 1868, to the 2nd of March, 1869.

Mr. T. B. (afterwards Judge) Gillies was the next to hold the office of Superintendent of Auckland. The retiring holder of that position, Mr. John Williamson, offered himself for re-election, and the contest was the most severely fought of any in the annals of Auckland's days of provincialism. The struggle was on a purely personal basis, for as might be expected both candidates were avowed provincialists. The 18th of November, 1869, was the day fixed for the election, but the excitement was rife for ten days thereafter, during the whole of which time returns were dropping in from the country polling-booths, and altering the positions of the candidates. At the first announcement Mr. Williamson led by over two hundred, but this lead gradually vanished, and Mr. Gillies at length was in the ascendant. Finally, it was discovered that 2,531 votes had been cast for Mr. Gillies, giving him the very narrow majority of fifty-two. In these days of telegraphs and homing pigeons ten days would seem like an age to the candidates and their friends, if they were kept so long in suspense; but communication, been in the province of Auckland, has made great strides in thirty years.

The Council—the seventh—elected immediately after Mr. Gillies's successful contest was such that that gentleman was enabled to hold office satisfactorily for the full term of four years—an achievement which had been accomplished by only one of his predecessors, Mr. Williamson, and by that gentleman only once. The twenty-fifth sessions was called for the 19th of January, 1870, when Mr. O'Rorke was re-elected Speaker without opposition. This session closed on the 18th of February, the remaining sessions of Mr. Gillies's Council sitting as follows: The twenty-sixth, from the 25th of October, 1870, to the 31st of January, 1871; the twenty-seventh, from the 22nd of November to the 22nd of December, 1871; and the twenty-eighth, from the 19th of November, 1872, to the 17th of December, 1872.

Mr. Gillies did not seek re-election, and the contest of 1873, which took place on the 6th of November, lay between Messrs John Williamson, J. M. Dargaville, and H. H. Lusk. The election was keenly fought, and Mr. Williamson polled 2,929; Mr. Dargaville, 2,440; and Mr. Lusk, 1,817. This was Mr. Williamson's fifth and last election.

The seventh and last Council was elected immediately thereafter, and was called together on the 16th of December, 1873, for the twenty-ninth session. Mr. O'Rorke was again elected to the office of Speaker without a contest, for though Mr. Hugh Carleton was nominated, his name was afterwards withdrawn. The session was prorogued by the Superintendent on the 17th of June, 1874; but the thirtieth and last session was called by proclamation of his successor, Sir George Grey.

On Tuesday, the 16th of February, 1875, the Auckland Provincial Government Gazette appeared in mourning, announcing that at half-past two that morning His Honour the Superintendent had departed this life at his residence, Great North Road, and that the funeral would take place at half-past four on the afternoon of the following Saturday.

By the death of Mr. Williamson, Mr. O'Rorke, the Speaker, became Deputy-Superintendent, and conducted the business of the Superintendency until the 24th of March, when Sir George Grey was elected without opposition. Mr. Dargaville had entered the lists, but he retired on the day on which Sir George consented to stand.

The thirtieth and last session was called for the 10th of May, 1875, and was prorogued on the 28th of the same month by the Superintendent, who seemed to expect that there would be at least another session. The House of Representatives, however, on the 29th of September, 1875, resolved that the Abolition of Provinces Bill “do pass, and the title be ‘An Act to Provide for the abolition of Provinces.’” This Bill enacted that no further meetings of Provincial Councils should be held, and that the Superintendents of the Provinces were to exercise their functions, subject to the will of the Governor-in-Council, until the day following the prorogation of Parliament in 1876. The delay in the effect of the abolition clause or the Bill, was doubtless intended for the dual purpose of allowing sufficient time to elapse for the careful winding up of the affairs of the provinces, and for the remote possibility that the general elections in the following January might result in the choice of a majority pledged to repeal the Bill. By some, the faint hope was indulged that the Abolition Bill might be upset as ultra virus, even after it was quite clear that the majority of the new Parliament was in favour of abolition. Indeed, Sir George Grey himself moved that the House should go into Committee to consider an address to the Governor, praying that a sum of £5,000 might be placed on the supplementary estimates as a fund for testing the validity of the Act. The motion, however, was negatived by an overwhelming majority, and on the 1st of November, 1876—the session of Parliament having closed the previous day—the Provinces of New Zealand unceremoniously dropped out of existence.

In the case of Auckland, the particulars here recorded point very clearly to the fact that its existence as a province was not by any means rosy. During its twenty-three years of existence there were eight superintendents, and twelve superintendency elections, the average term being less than two years; only two terms—Mr Gillies's and Mr. Williamson's second—lasted the full page 38 four years; and only one man held the office more than once. There were seven Councils, of which the first and second were dissolved, and there were thirty sessions varying in duration from less than two hours to more than six months. This affords a very striking contrast to the condition of provincial matters in Wellington, where the superintendency was held for the first eighteen years by one man, Dr. Featherston, who resigned to accept the Agent-Generalship, and for the remaining five years, by the worthy doctor's chief supporter, Sir William Fitzherbert. It may be worthy of mention that Dr. Featherston, who had been so strongly attached to provincialism in Wellington, and Mr. John Williamson, who was equally if not more fervently attached to provincialism in Auckland, should both have lived to see the provinces doomed, but not dead.