The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts]
Superintendents Of Marlborough
Superintendents Of Marlborough.
The provincial history of Marlborough is a very interesting record of the struggles and failures and successes that went to make up colonial progress in the early days. When provincial Government was first established in 1853, the Wairau had one representative in the Nelson Council—Mr. Joseph Ward. By 1858, in a Council of twenty-four, the Marlborough members were four in number—Messrs Balfour, Wemyss, Elliot, and John Tinline. About this time the eastern district began to agitate for a more equitable distribution of the burdens and benefits of provincialism; and the Nelson settlers who had taken up land on the Wairau, resenting the democratic policy of the new Superintendent, Mr. J. P. Robinson, determined to cut themselselves adrift from the parent settlement. According to Mr. Buick, the New Provinces Act was “specially designed to enable the landed proprietors of Nelson to place themselves beyond the reach of a Radical Superintendent and his followers”; a view which is to some extent confirmed by the special provision introduced into the Act, dealing with the minimun distance of the boundaries from Nelson town. The squatters practically secured the legal power to assess their land, and to levy taxation to suit themselves. But they could never have won over the small settlers to their way of thinking if it had not been for the genuine grievances of which the whole district justly complained. The Nelson Government had sold nearly £160,000 worth of land in Marlborough district as against only £33,000 worth in Nelson proper; and with the exception of about £200, all this large sum had been expended for the benefit of Nelson city and its immediate neighbourhood. Beyond this, not content with robbing Marlborough of her land fund and her Customs' duties, Nelson failed to supply either police protection of facilities for education to the settlers, or to spend any money whatever on their social, moral or material advancement. Under these circumstances an energetic canvass of the settlers by Mr. W. B. Earl in favour of separation produced results beyond the most sanguine expectations; and in October, 1859, in response to a heavily signed petition, Marlborough was gazetted as a separate and independent province.
The elections of the first Provincial Council were held in 1860, and resulted in the return of ten gentlemen of whom seven were runholders: Messrs W. Adams, W. D. H. Baillie, C. Goulter, J. Godfrey, W. H. Eyes, H. Dodson, J. Sinclair, A. P. Seymour, Charles Elliot, and Joseph Ward. Mr. Adams was elected Superintendent, and Mr. Goulter Speaker of the new Council; and for purposes of economy the new administration began without an executive. Subsequently the Superintendent took Messrs Seymour and Ward into his confidence, and the first legislative acts of the new Government included a successful attempt to free the sheep-farmers from taxation and to increase the imposts already levied on the small agricultural holdings. But hitherto the small settlers had submitted without demur to the will of their wealthy and more influential brethren. The first cause of disunion in the new Council was the rivalry between Mr. Eyes and the Superintendent, combined with the bitter local jealousy that had already sprung up between Picton and Blenheim. In the first session of the Council it was resolved, on the proposal of Mr. Seymour that the Provincial Buildings be erected at Picton; and this removal of the seat of government from Blenheim was for many years the chief motive cause at work behind all Marlborough political controversies. Of the Blenheim party, led by Mr. Eyes, Mr. Buick has said that “it seemed to them that any compact was justified, any opposition legitimate, which might harass their opponents, to bring about a dissolution of the Council, so that in the chances of an election fortune might favour them, and they would go back with a majority sufficient to turn the scales against Picton.” This one fact alone is sufficient to explain the intensity of political party feeling in Marlborough, the frequent dissolution of the Council, and the brief tenure of office allowed to the various Superintendents.
In 1861 the first steps were taken toward the connection of Blenheim and Picton by rail. Mr. Eyes, as leader of the Blenheim faction, opposed the Railway Loan Bill, urging that a road could be made for £10,000, as against £60,000 required for the railway. The Fox Government vetoed the Loan Bill, and at this juncture Mr. Adams resigned the position of Superintendent — for which his political experience and practical ability eminently fitted him—for the more desirable post of Commissioner of Crown Lands. The net results of his administration had been financially successful for the province as a whole. Land, especially in and near the towns, had risen enormously in value; town acre lots, which had been assessed at £17 10s by the Nelson Government, were now valued at £97 7s. But the chief benefit of the new administration had certainly gone to the pastoralists, whose land had actually dropped in assessed value, while the small farmers were penalised out of all proportion to their resources.
On the resignation of Mr. Adams Captain W. D. H. Baillie was unaimously elected Superintendent, chiefly on account of his manly and vigorous character. Mr. Eyes and his friends succeeded in reducing Mr. Adams' salary, and that gentleman left the district for Nelson, where page 306 he founded the legal firm of Adams and Kingdon. But the most important event of Captain Baillie's term of office was the opening of the Opawa Breach—that is, the flooding of the lower Wairau Plain by the scouring out of portions of the terraces, that, up to that time, had deflected the course of the Opawa. The Provincial Council called in an engineer of Australasian repute, Mr. Fitzgibbon, who spent £14,000 in constructing a barrier against the river; but the stream swept the whole structure away in the next flood. Under Mr. Carter, the Council subsequently passed a bill charging all moneys spent on the protection works upon the land benefited; and under Mr. A. P. Seymour a further effort was made at defensive embankinents, which were all overwhelmed in the great flood of 1868. The Seymour embankment was the last of these works undertaken by the Provincial Government, as in 1874 the Lower Wairau River Board and the Spring-Creek River Board were formed, and took charge of these operations. The system of “log dams,” proposed by Mr. W. Donslin, had no better success than its predecessors. Then Mr. Charles Redwood devised a scheme of “pile and wire dams” at the Breach, which proved so effectual that they threatened to drive the water back into its old course, the Wairau river. The Spring Creek settlers, fearing that they in turn would be flooded out, succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to issue an injunction against these works; and the Wairau River Board had to be content with cutting a channel in 1881 to drain off the superfluous water. But these efforts at counteracting the forces of Nature have left Blenheim still liable to floods, though less exposed to damage and destruction than the township was twenty years ago.
In 1862 the growth of population made it advisable to increase the size of the Provincial Council. A long series of intrigues and coalitions followed, the pastoralists endeavouring to secure an undue share of representation, and being assisted thereto by the Blenheim party, who hoped as the price of their aid to get enough help from the pastoralists to bring back the seat of Government to Blenheim. The Council was enlarged to seventeen members, several of whom were hostile to the party in power and Captain Baillie prorogued the Council as a means of averting the struggle. The Opposition denied the Superintendent's right to pro-rogue the Council at will, called a meeting of their own number, and elected Mr. Eyes Superintendent. For a month the new Council and the new Superintendent held their ground, and then, finding the position impossible, Mr. Eyes pro-rogued his own Council and appealed to the Supreme Court. After six months' delay, during which the provincial officers received no salary, Judge Johnston gave his decision in favour of Captain Baillie; and the Governor then dismissed the Council. The election of 1863 was in favour of the Picton party, and it was not felt advisable that Captain Baillie should continue to be Superintendent. The choice of his party fell upon Mr. Thomas Carter, a Wairau Valley runholder. The executive consisted chiefly of Captain Baillie and of Mr. Goulter, who had held various oilices ever since the foundation of the province, and now assumed his old duties as Provincial Treasurer. At this time the agricultural interests of the colony were at a rather low ebb. The heavy expenditure on public works had raised the wages of unskilled labour, and thus rendered farming expensive; and the outbreak of the Wakamarina diggings, in 1864, reduced the amount of labour available for casual work, and still further raised wages against the farmer. The Wakamarina was a very rich field, and yielded at least 32,000 ounces of gold, valued at DpD130,000 in less than two years. But it was soon deserted, and many companies have since lost money there in a vain attempt to bottom the rich leads. After the excitement of the “rush” had subsided, Mr. Carter had most of his energies occupied in finding work for the unemployed, and in attempting to devise a more or less safe and permanent tenure for the pastoral runholders. His difficulties increased so fast that in 1864 he resigned the Superintendency. He is described by Mr. Buick in “Old Marlborough” as slow and deliberate in thought and action, but careful, shrewd and thoroughgoing; has great practical ability made him not only a successful Superintendent, but one of the largest landholders and the wealthiest men in the province.
Mr. Carter's successor in office was Mr. Arthur P. Seymour, a runholder from the Awatere district. From the outset he found himself unable to keep his Executive in check or to satisfy the discontented members of the Council; and the difficulties of his position soon encouraged the Blenheim faction to make another determined effort to wrest the premier position from Picton. After a desperate struggle, in which Mr. A. Beauchamp created a reputation and a record by speaking for nearly eleven hours at a stretch in defence of Picton, the Superintendent and his friends were beaten, the seat of government was removed again to Blenheim, and with the close of this long struggle Mr. Seymour's Superintendency came to an end.
The extension of settlement in the direction of Wairau and Kaikoura had greatly increased the power of the Blenheim party in the Council. Next session Mr. Goulter was once more elected Speaker, and Mr. Eyes, who had been for so many years champion of Blenheim's cause, was chosen Superintendent. Mr. Eyes opened his official career at Blenheim with a vigorous attempt to improve the provincial finances by throwing the formation and maintenance of roads upon local rates. The new Superintendent had a difficult duty to perform, but he was a fluent speaker and an experienced politician, and for four years he held his party together largely by the dominating force of his own strong personality. His land regulations, however, were not altogether popular, and his advocacy of the abolition of provincial government certainly cost him some supporters. In 1869 the general election left him in a minority, and to save himself for the time he prorogued the Council. But he could not carry on the administration without supplies, and page 307 he was at last driven to confine his efforts to preventing the re-election of Mr. Seymour. His party favoured Mr. Goulter, who at last decided to refuse nomination, and finally Mr. Seymour was elected. But within two years from this date Mr. Eyes found it possible to enter Mr. Seymour's Executive as Provincial Secretary, while Mr. Seymour with his assistance was enabled to defeat Mr. Joseph Ward in a contest for Mr. Eyes' old seat at the Wairau. Even at this distant date it does not seem a very intelligible compromise, and the feeling roused at the time by this incident was very strong. Mr. Seymour was absent in England on private business for a time, but on his return was again elected Superintendent after a contest with Captain Baillie. He sat once more for the Wairau in the House of Representatives, and became Chairman of Committees, holding that office till 1881. Mr. Seymour was the last of Marlborough's Superintendents; and the provincial regime closed to tar as Marlborough was concerned on the ist of November, 1876, when a great fire destroyed the Provincial offices, consumed the archives, and demolished most of the business part of the town. Thus ended Marlborough's period of provincial government, exactly seventeen years after its inception.
Mr. William Adams , the first Superintendent of the province of Marlborough, was born on the 21st of March, 1811, at Upton, Herefordshire, England. In the year 1850, he left his native land for New Zealand, and arrived at Nelson in the barque “Eden.” He went to Wairau, and settled on the Rodwood rim, in the Avondalp Valley. During his Superintendence, he held the position of Commissioner of Crown Lands. After resigning the former office, he was appointed legal adviser to the Provincial Council, but, on his political opponents voting for a reduction of his provincial emoluments, he resigned the Commissinnor-ship, removed to Nelson, and there founded the legal firm of Adams and Kingdon. Long before this he had acquired a pastoral run, on the north bank of the Wairau river, and there he afterwards died, in the year 1884. His grave, hewn out of the solid rock, on the site of an old Maori fighting pa, at Langley Dale, is one of the most picturesque spots in Marlborough.
The late Mr. W. Adams.
Mr. A. P. Seymour.
Mr. W. H. Eyes.