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.
Mr. Charles Brown
held office as the first and third Superintendent of Taranaki. He was first elected on the 16th of July, 1853, and retired from the position on the 4th of January, 1857; was again elected on the 24th of May, 1861, and held office until the
4th of September, 1865. Pioneering, commercial enterprise, politics, journalism, war, successively or concurrently, claimed his attention. In 1855, he received his commission as captain of the Taranaki Militia, and held that office until the Maoris rose in rebellion in the year 1860. In that year the first formidable engagement took place between the colonists and the Maoris, at Waireka Hill, where Captain Brown commanded a force of fifty militia and one hundred volunteers. Many of these were youths under twenty years of age, and it was the first time the Taranaki settlers had met the Maoris—trained fighters and well armed with rifles—in organised, close deliberate combat. They acquitted
themselves in a most creditable manner. Through the retirement of their supports—a company of the 65th Regiment, under Colonel Murray—they were left in a most critical position, and had it not been for the gallant assistance of some sailors and marines from Her Majesty's ship “Niger,” they would probably have been crushingly defeated by the large force of three or four hundred Maoris, whose base was a strongly fortified pa on Waireka Hill. As it was, many were killed and wounded on both sides, and the losses of the rebels included their chief Taurua and seventeen of their principal men. At the crisis of the engagement, when Captain Cracroft, with his men from the “Niger” irresistably attacked and took the pa, the other rebels, who were firing in the neighbourhood on Captain Brown and his men, decamped, and the militia and volunteers were then able to retire in peace. Captain Brown was afterwards second in command at Mahoetahi, and was in charge of the advanced line of skirmishers at Omata on the 23rd of February, 1861, when his conduct was brought to the notice of the general commanding the forces. He was afterwards paymaster of militia and volunteers; later on, he performed field officer's duty for some time, and was gazetted Major on the 7th of November, 1864. Major Brown was in command of the local forces when the Rev. John Whiteley and Lieutenant Gascoigne were murdered by the Maoris, but he afterwards resigned his military office in order to retain his seat as a member of the House of Representatives. Altogether, he was a man who served his country well in peace and in war; and he retained his mental vigour and physical activity to the end of his life, which was cut short by a railway accident. He is further referred to as a former member of the House of Representatives.
Mr. George Cutfield
was Taranaki's second Superintendent. He was returned on the 14th of January, 1857, and held office until the 24th of May, 1861. Mr. Cutfield is further referred to in another article as a former member of the Legislative Council.
Mr. Henry Robert Richmond,
who was the fourth Superintendent of Taranaki, was elected to the position on the 4th of September, 1865, and held it until the 15th of October, 1869. He was a brother of Mr. Justice Richmond, and arrived in Taranaki about the year 1852, when he settled on bush land, in the neighbourhood of New Plymouth. Later on, he held a commission in the Taranaki militia, and was subsequently, for a time, a school teacher. Then he qualified as a barrister and solicitor of the Supreme Court, and practised his profession in New Plymouth up to the time of his death. Mr. Richmond was a member of the Taranaki Provincial Council, before he became Superintendent.
Mr. Frederick Alonzo Carrington,
the fifth and last Superintendent of Taranaki, was elected to the position on the 15th of October, 1869. He was re-elected on the 22nd of November, 1873, and held the office until the provinces ceased to exist, on the 1st of November, 1876. Mr. Carrington was born in England in the year 1808, and when a young man he was appointed by the Duke of Wellington to a position in the Ordnance Survey Department. His ability in survey work and topographical delineation
attracted the attention of the engineers of the day, and on the passing of the Reform Bill, in 1832, he was selected by the Parliamentary Commissioners to describe the boundaries of the boroughs from Bristol to Manchester; and for that service he received the thanks of the Commissioners. He was specially selected by the Plymouth Company as its chief surveyor to go to New Zealand, and choose a site for the new settlement. On his arrival at Wellington, Colonel Wakefield gave him every assistance, and after securing the services of “Dickey Barrett” (a well known whaler) as guide, Mr. F. Carrington and his family, with his brother, Mr. Octavius Carrington, as chief assistant, and the survey party, went to Taranaki in February, 1841. The country was then covered with fern and undergrowth, which made it difficult to select the site of the township; and after visiting Waitara to judge of its capabilities as a port, Mr. Carrington finally fixed on the present position of New Plymouth as a site for the proposed town. It was only with great trouble that the lines were cut through the dense vegetation, and the area laid out and surveyed. Mr. Carrington returned to England in 1843, when he found that the directors of the New Zealand Company (which had absorbed the Plymouth Company) were thinking of ceasing their functions for a time; and he retired from their service, after receiving a very complimentary testimonial from them. Mr. Carrington was next engaged in the formation of railways in England. He surveyed lines, and made models of engineering works where particular difficulties existed, and some of his models were sent to Buckingham Palace at the request of the Prince Consort, who personally thanked Mr. Carrington. During the time he was in England, between 1844–51, Mr. Carrington gave much time and attention to New Zealand affairs, particularly to Taranaki ironsand, a sample of which he took Home and had analysed by Messrs Dymond, of Holborn; but although the principal men of the day were impressed with the high quality and value of the samples, Mr. Carrington was unable to bring the matter to a successful result. He, however, sent to the great Exhibition of 1851, a bar of iron obtained from the sand, and the attention of the Quartermaster-General of the Ordnance Department was called to it. After visiting California several times in connection with mines, water-races and railways, Mr. Carrington returned to New Zealand, with the object of utilising the ironsand, and to prosecute other schemes affecting the district. The North Island was then in an unsettled state, owing to the native assuming a hostile attitude towards the Europeans; and war broke out in 1860, and lasted about ten years. About 1862, Mr. Carrington was appointed Government engineer and surveyor for Taranaki, and carried out, in connection with the military authorities, a large amount of road construction in the district. On peace being restored, he gave his attention to local affairs, was nominated as Superintendent of Taranaki, and returned by the electors, and continued to hold office until the abolition of the provinces in 1876. He also had a seat in the House of Representatives for several years, but owing to the great strain on his health he retired from politics in 1880. Mr. Carrington was always active in agitating for the formation of the protective harbour works, and it was chiefly through his exertions that a fourth of the land revenue
of the district was set aside for harbour purposes, and a Harbour Board created. In February, 1881, he laid the first stone of the New Plymouth breakwater, which enables vessels to lie alongside the wharf in all weathers, Mr. Carrington, as a thorough colonist, naturally took a great interest in the welfare of the district, which he looked upon as a flower of his own rearing; and, almost up to the last, his well known, erect figure was to be seen daily in New Plymouth, where he was ever greeted by old and young with tokens of love and respect. He passed away in his sleep, on the morning of the 15th of July, 1901, and therefore lived to be ninety-three years of age. His brother, Octavius Carrington, who had assisted him to lay out the town of New Plymouth, died in September of the same year.