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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

General Robert Henry Wynyard

General Robert Henry Wynyard, C.B., was the first Superintendent of the Province of Auckland, holding that honourable position from July, 1853, to January, 1855. Born in Windsor Castle in the year 1801, he entered the military service at an early age, and rose rapidly in the service. In 1842 he came to New Zealand in charge of the 58th (Rutlandshire) Regiment, sent out for the protection of the infant Colony. He was decorated with the honour of Commander of the Bath in 1846 for his services in the first New Zealand war. Appointed Commander of the forces in New Zealand in January, 1851, he held that position until his departure from the Colony. He was Lieutenant-Governor of the Province of New Ulster (North Island of New Zealand) from April, 1851, to September, 1853. While holding this office he successfully arranged with the natives of Coromandel an agreement whereby the gold, then first discovered, was allowed to be peacefully won. On Sir George Grey's departure from New Zealand in December, 1853, Colonel Wynyard was appointed Acting-Governor and continued in that office until September, 1855, when he was relieved by Colonel Gore Browne. The first session of the New Zealand House of Representatives under the Constitution Act was opened by him as representative of the Crown, in May, 1854. Owing to the absence in the Act of any provision for securing that the executive should be represented in the Legislature, the Acting-Governor was unable without reference to the Imperial authorities' togrant responsible government in its entirety. The House demanded as its right that the old executive, who had been appointed by the Crown as permanent advisers, should be discharged, and a new executive from among themselves appointed. Acting under Instructions from his constitutional advisers, Colonel Wynyard expressed his inability to comply fully with these demands, until he had explicit instructions from the Home Government, who had appointed the old executive. The House immediately became hostile, but the Acting-Governor, remaining firm in his position, awaited the desired instructions and finally, after several scenes between the members of the House, prorogued parliament for a fortnight. This step had the desired effect of bringing members to a more rational state of mind and they acknowledged the reasonableness of the position taken up by the Acting-Governor by a resolution, passed on the 1st of September, 1854, to the effect that “until responsible government in a complete form should be established by competent authority the executive government of the Colony should be continued as formerly under the exclusive management of the public officers, who at present derive their authority from and are responsible to Her Majesty.” After this, the work of law-making, which had been totally lost sight of by the members in their contest with the Government, proceeded smoothly, and on proroguing the Assembly, Colonel Wynyard was able to congratulate the members on the number of useful and necessary enactments passed. About six months later the Acting-Governor, in answer to his dispatches, received intimation from England that the Imperial Minister had sanctioned the establishment of responsible government in New Zealand on condition that the old executive should receive adequate pension. But the House was not now eager for responsible government, and although Colonel Wynyard at the commencement of the session of 1855, informed parliament that it then rested with itself to take the necessary steps, nothing was done during that session. It was only in the year 1856 and when the then Governor, Colonel Gore Browne, informed the House that he would postpone all important matters not requiring
General R. H. Wynyard.

General R. H. Wynyard.

page 39 immediate attention until the contemplated change had taken place, that the House moved itself in the matter at all. The following copy of the inscription on the central piece of plate presented to Colonel Wynyard on his departure from the Colony bears an interesting connection with this part of his career. “The under-signed settlers of the Provinces of Auckland. New Plymouth. Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago, desirous of placing upon record in the family of Colonel Wynyard an expression of their deep obligation to his Excellency, as the Officer temporarily administering the Government of New Zealand during the absence of Governor, Sir George Grey, for having as soon as possible called into action the suspended Constitution of General Government for the Colony, and still more, for having without delay established real constitutional government by means of ministerial responsibility, at a time and under circumstances of great embarrassment to himself and danger to the country, respectfully pray that his Excellency may be pleased to accept this lasting testimonial of their sentiments. William Brown, and 500 others, Monday, 12th of June, 1857.” After he was relieved of the Governorship of the Colony, Colonel Wynyard remained in New Zealand in command of the forces, until his regiment left for England in 1858. He received the rank of Major-General in October of the same year. Early in the following year he was sent out to the Cape of Good Hope, where he had command of the forces. He was also Acting-Governor at the Cape (curiously enough again in succession to Sir George Grey), from August, 1859, to July, 1860, and again from August, 1861, to January, 1862. In 1863 he returned to England on sick leave, and died there on 6th of February, 1864, aged sixty-three years. After his death his widow and children returned to New Zealand and established themselves in Auckland, where they and their descendants have since lived. A number of streets and public places in Auckland, in the retention of Colonel Wynyard's surname, bear evidence of his popularity in the northern city. As showing the estimation in which the gallant Colonel was held by the Imperial authorities, the following letter needs no comment: “Horse Guards, 28th February, 1856. Sir, in obedience to the directions of the Field-Marshal Commander-in-Chief, I do myself the honour to acquaint you that his Lordship has recently received a letter from the Secretary of State for War with another from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, regarding your retirement from the office of Governor of New Zealand on the assumption thereof of Colonel Gore Browne, and calling attention to the satisfactory manner in which you have performed the duties that have devolved upon you since you have been in the Islands, and in making the communication to you, I am directed to state that while it affords the Field-Marshal great satisfaction to have the means of recording so strong a testimonial to your services, both civil and military, he desires to assure you that it is not more than he would have expected from the character which you have always borne in the service.—I have, etc., C. Yorke, Military Secretary.—Colonel R. H. Wynyard, C.B., Commander of the Forces in New Zealand.”