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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke's Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]


Before the establishment of responsible government in Taranaki, and the introduction of Provincial Councils, the district was under the control of a Chief Commissioner, appointed by the directors of the original Settlement Company. The first batch of settlers arrived in the year 1841, by the ship “Amelia Thompson,” which also brought out Captain Henry King, in the interests of the Plymouth Company, as the first Commissioner for the new settlement. He was succeeded, on the 3rd of October in the same year, by Captain Liardet, who took the title of Resident Agent for the Plymouth and New Zealand Land Companies, which had amalgamated under the style of the New Zealand Company. Captain Liardet held the office till the following year, when he was succeeded by Mr John Tylson Wicksteed, who discharged the duties of the position till the year 1847. In that year Mr. Wicksteed was succeeded by Mr. Francis Dillon Bell (afterwards Sir Francis), who continued in office until the New Zealand Company surrendered its charter, in 1850. For the three succeeding years the settlement of Taranaki was virtually without a government; but then, in the year 1853, the system of government by Provincial Councils came into operation.

The Constitution Act was passed in 1853. The Act divided the colony into six provinces, each of which was to be governed by a Superintendent, and an elective Provincial Council of not less than nine members. But the Central Government now constituted—the Governor, Legislative Council, and House of Representatives—had power to supersede any laws passed by the Provincial Councils; and it is to this conflict between central and focal authority, that we may trace the rise of the difficulties that finally led to the abolition of the Provincial system. Pursuant to the Act, the first election for the Superintendency of Taranaki took place in 1853. The three candidates were Mr. W. Halse, Mr. J. T. Wicksteed, and Mr. Charles Brown. The polling resulted as follows: Brown 173, Halse 138, Wicksteed 12 votes; and Mr. Charles Brown, the son of the friend of Keats and Hunt, Landor and Byron, was the first Superintendent of Taranaki.

For the election of members to the Provincial Council, Taranaki was divided into three districts—Bell and Grey, Omata, and the town of New Plymouth. The land to the south of the town was then largely forest-clad, and populated only by Maoris; while Wanganui, which was but a small village, was, of course, in Wellington province. The election resulted as follows—for Omata, Messrs T. Good, R. Rundle, and G. R. Burton; for Grey and Bell, Messrs P. Elliot, G. Cutfield, R. Parris, and R. Chilman; for New Plymouth town, Messrs Isaac Newton Watt, and S. Vickers. During the same month (August) the election of members of the House of Representatives took place. The districts were the same as for the Provincial Council, but only one member was to be returned for each. Mr. F. Gledhill and Mr. W. Crompton were returned unopposed for New Plymouth and Omata respectively. The Grey and Bell seat was contested by Messrs T. King and T. Hirst, and the returns were—King, 90; Hirst 36. The first session of the Provincial Council was opened in September, 1853, and Mr. Isaac Newton Watt was chosen Speaker. Mr. Chilman was appointed Provincial Treasurer (at a salary of £40); Mr. Christopher Richmond, Clerk to the Council and Provincial Attorney, at a salary of £150, and the Superintendent's salary was fixed at £250 a year. The local Government of Taranaki was thus started on anything but extravagant lines, and the ability of the public servants of the settlement was unquestionable. But all interest in local affairs was soon submerged in the more serious questions involved in the trouble that arose with the natives, on the lands immediately adjoining the settlement.