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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Canterbury Provincial District]

Mr. Alfred Saunders

Mr. Alfred Saunders is an Old Colonist who has had a most interesting career. He was born in Lavington, Wiltshire, England, on the 12th of June, 1820. He was educated at Dr. Day's Academy, Bristol, and brought up as a farmer and miller. Arriving in Nelson in 1842 in the first immigrant ship, “Flfeshire,” he was the first to step on shore, and was closely identified with the Nelson Provincial District for fully twenty-five years. He was elected a member of the Nelson Provincial Council for Waimea South in 1855, and represented the district continuously until he became Superintendent of the Province. He was re-elected to this important position in 1865, and only resigned in 1867 to visit England with his family. He was appointed a Justice the Peace by the Stafford Government in 1858. In the following year Mr. Saunders was criminally prosecuted for writing a letter to the “Nelson Examiner” charging District Judge Travers with giving a verdict at variance with evidence and with sending a garbied report to the Press. A fine of £150 was inflicted, Mr. Saunders' name struck off the Commission of the Peace, and he was sentenced by Judge Johnston to six months' imprisonment. By the interposition of the visiting justices of the gaol and the good-will of the Nelson settlers, what the judge intended for a punishment was converted into a real good time, and Mr. Saunders was released by the Governor without reference to the judge as soon as an answer could be returned to the petition signed by more than a thousand of his fellow-settlers. In consequence of his imprisonment Mr. Saunders resigned his seat in the Provincial Council, but was re-elected whilst still in durance without opposition. This event seems to have had a considerable influence upon his political career, as he was immediately afterwards elected to Parliament for Walmea, his name was restored to the Commission of the Peace, and in the year immediately following he declined the position of Colonial Treasurer offered to him by the Premier, Sir W. Fox. Mr. Saunders remained in England from 1867 to 1871, when he returned to the Colony and settled in Canterbury. He was elected to the House of Representatives for Cheviet, for which constituency he was again elected in 1879. In 1880 he was appointed chairman page 371 of the only New Zealand Civil Service Royal Commission which had not been composed of civil servants, and brought up a very drastic report which led to the removal of the Chief Railway Commissioner in both islands and a large number of other officials, and to an annual reduction of £130,000 upon the civil service expenditure. The report advised a much larger reduction, but neither the House nor the Government would consent to that. From 1889 to 1891 he sat as member for Lincoln and from 1891 to 1895 for Selwyn, being defeated at the general election of 1896 for the latter constituency. Mr. Saunders has been a total abstainer all his life and became secretary of the Lavington Temperance Society at the age of sixteen. In 1840 he was one of the delegates for the Bath Temperance Society for the great conference held at Bridgewater, and during his visit to England he became president of the Bath Society. During his voyage to New Zealand on the “Fifeshire” he formed the first New Zealand Temperance Society with only five members, and soon after landing in Nelson advocated the cause so vigorously that the Nelson Temperance Society became 350 strong. As an author. Mr. Saunders published “Our Domestic Birds” in 1883 and “Our Horses” in 1885, and has published “The History of New Zealand.” Mr. Saunders has been prominently connected with educational movements, having been frequently elected a governor of the Nelson College, Ashburton High School, and a member of the Nelson and North Canterbury Education Boards. He was married in 1847 to a daughter of the late Mr. William Flower, of Nelson, and of the offspring, five sons and three daughters are living. Mrs. Saunders died on the 26th of May, 1898. Some time afterwards Mr. Saunders went to England, where he still (1902) resides, and on the 6th of October, 1899, married Sarah, youngest daughter of the late Mr Richard Box, of Fremantle Lodge, Shirely, Southampton.