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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Mr. Robert Graham

Mr. Robert Graham, who was Super-intendent of the Province of Auckland from 1862 to 1865, may very justly be classed amongst Auckland's prominent pioneers. He was born near Glasgow, Scotland, in 1820, and was the third son of a farmer and coalmine owner, who, though wealthy, trained his sons in a manner well calculated to fit them for useful work. While not more than sixteen years of age, Mr. Graham was entrusted with the management of an important branch of his father's business, and very nearly lost his life. The colliers had struck, and young Graham was descending the pit himself, but some of the strands of the rope had been page 41 cut by treacherous hands, and the boy manager was precipitated to a depth of over a hundred feet. He, however, became entangled in one of the ropes, and in that way his life was saved, though for several weeks he was confined to his bed. After recovering from the shock, he entered a wholesale warehouse, and spent six years in acquiring a thorough knowledge of mercantile affairs. In 1842, Mr. Graham left Greenock in the “Jane Gifford,” one of the first ships which left Great Britain direct for Auckland, at which she arrived on the 9th of October. Mr. Graham lost no time in getting into harness. Chartering the “Black Hawk,” a new cutter belonging to Mr. Brandon, he loaded her with goods, and, with nothing in the shape of a chart, sailed for the Bay of Islands. There he met his brother David, who had preceded him to the Colony, and the brothers started business under the style of R. and D. Graham. More goods were obtained from Sydney, and a branch of the firm's business was established at Auckland itself. Mr. Graham seems to have made friends with the Maoris, for he was warned by Hone Heke of impending trouble, and managed to get his whole stock away from Kororareka, just in time to escape the spoliation, which was to become an incident in New Zealand history. In 1850 the partnership was dissolved, and Mr. Robert Graham made two or three trips to San Francisco, and on one occasion remained in California about three years. On returning to Auckland, he greatly improved his estate at Ellerslie, and bought many other properties. As showing the scale upon which Mr. Graham carried out his ventures in those early days, it may be mentioned that he purchased the Island of Motutapu, and in one year put 1200 acres under grass. He was the founder of the Colony's health resorts at Waiwera and Rotorua. As early as 1844 he purchased the Hot Springs property at Waiwera, from the chief of the district, Te Hemara, and was not long in establishing a sanatorium, which has gradually grown into the establishment that now flourishes at Waiwera. Mr. Graham was a member of the Colony's second Parliament, in which his force of character and experience in the management of the natives were willingly placed at the disposal of his fellow colonists. From 1856 to 1858 he represented what was then known as the Southern Division and from 1861 to 1867 he sat for Franklin, which was part of his original constituency. He strongly opposed the removal of the seat of Government, but after that had been decided on he was on board the “White Swan” when she was wrecked on her way to Wollington with the Government records; and it was he who, with three of the sailors, volunteered to find a safe landing place, and further helped successfully to get other passengers ashore. Mr. Graham also led a small party to Wellington and obtained the assistance required to complete the rescue. In doing this he and his companions had to ford rivers and pass through the lands of dangerous, though not actively hostile tribes. Unfortunately while returning from Wellington in the “Lord Worsley,” Mr. Graham and his fellow passengers again suffered shipwreck, and this time the party fell into the hands of bloodthirsty and fanatical natives in the Waitara district. The chief, Wiremu Kingi, was, however, found to be friendly on being approached by Mr. Graham. Nevertheless, the natives flocked to the wreck, made prisoners of the passengers and crew, and at two o'clock in the morning of the fifth day a Maori boy warned Mr. Graham and Captain Butler that the Maoris intended to tomahawk the whole party, which numbered about sixty. Mr. Graham immediately went out to the natives and told them, as they were assembled round their fire, that the party had been cast into their power by the sea, and that the murder of defenseless and innocent men would be revenged by the soldiers and men-of-war. Te Whiti, who was present, had some influence even in those days, and his protest against the massacre, led to the shipwrecked party obtaining a day's respite. Mr. Graham had a two hours' interview next day with about sixty of the principal natives, who, after much persuasion, consented to allow the shipwrecked party to go on to New Plymouth. That, however, did not end the incidents connected with the wreck. The Maoris discovered £6000 worth of gold dust in the safe of the wrecked steamer. Mr. Graham became fully aware of this circumstance when ten miles on his journey towards New Plymouth, and, not withstanding the perilousness of the enterprise, he determined to return to break open the chief's padlocked door and overcome all the objections which that redoubtable personage might make to the removal of the gold. The facts of this daring undertaking are graphically set forth in the “Federal Australian” of the 28th of February, 1885. In recognition of the services so gallantly rendered by him, Mr. Graham received numerous letters of thanks, and a testimonial of £1000 from the insurance companies that held risks on the gold. It was almost immediately after this that Mr. Graham was requested to consent to be nominated for the office of Superintendent of the Province of Auckland. He yielded, and though opposed by the sitting Superintendent, Mr. John Williamson, won the election by more than 500 votes. During his three years of office, Mr. Graham was very active in the interest of the province. He and his Executive started the Waikato railway, and secured the erection of the post office, supreme court, asylum, and other public buildings, and such works as the Panmure bridge. He was first elected to the Auckland Provincial Council in 1856. At the conclusion of his term of Superintendent he was returned to the Council, and was re-elected in 1868. An interesting item of Mr. Graham's history is furnished by the manner in which he acquired his Rotorua property. In 1878, he made a trip to that wonderful region, and on his return was induced to use his influence with the Maoris in furthering the settlement of a land dispute, between two hostile tribes at Maketu, between whom war was imminent. After much delicate negotiation he persuaded them to submit their differences to the Land Court for decision, and the Rotorua chiefs, in their gratitude, presented Mr. Graham with the land with which his name was afterwards so intimately associated, and with great ceremony, they placed him upon it and handed him a title in perpetuity. Ten years before this Mr. Graham had formed Grahamstown, Thames, and did much to connect it by rail with Tararu, this being one of the earliest rail ways in the Colony. In many other ways, Mr. Robert Graham was prominently connected with the progress and prosperity of the Auckland district, in which few men were ever better known or exercised a larger in fluence. In his later life when times were less stirring, and the Colony's affairs more settled, he was able to live more quietly, but
Mr. R. Graham.

Mr. R. Graham.

page 42 his wonderfully active nature kept him in touch with all matters of importance. Mr. Graham died in Auckland on the 26th of May, 1885, and was buried in St. Mark's Cemetery, Remuera.