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


Taranaki had amongst its pioneers and earlier colonists men whose names are distinguished, or deserve to be distinguished, in the history of New Zealand. Indeed, on account of the long continued trouble with the Maoris, colonisation was a more strenuous business there than it was in any other part of the country, and many men whose names are now practically forgotton, attempted or achieved things entitling them to honour and grateful remembrance at the hands of their countrymen. Perhaps, however, no man filled a larger amount of space in the early history of the province than Mr. Frederick Alonzo Carrington. He came out to New Zealand in 1840, as surveyor to the New Zealand Company, and returned to England in 1844. Until 1851 he followed his profession as surveyor and civil engineer in England; and between 1851 and 1856 he made several journeys for professional purposes to the Continent. He left England for New Zealand once more in 1857, intending to settle with his family in Taranaki, and hoping to bring the famous Taranaki ironsand into commercial importance. When the native rebellion broke out he was appointed engineer-in-chief, for the purpose of road-making through the district. He played an active part in the long conflict with the natives; and was from 1869 to 1876 Superintendent of the province. For many years after the abolition of the provinces he was member for the district of Grey and Bell in the House of Representatives; and throughout his long career in the colonies, he displayed marked energy and enthusiasm in everything that he undertook, and enjoyed a high reputation for personal integrity and public spirit.

There was, however, another Taranaki pioneer who won a still more distinguished place in colonial if not in provincial history. Sir Harry Atkinson, perhaps better known as Major Atkinson, was a Taranaki settler who did good service in the local forces during the Waitara war. In 1863 he entered the House of Representatives, and became Minister of Defence in the Weld Ministry in November, 1864. He successively represented Grey and Bell, New Plymouth and Egmont in Parliament, and between 1876 and 1891 he was head of no fewer than five ministries. Sir Harry Atkinson's character has been often discussed by friends and foes; and, in spite of many differences of opinion, all agree that he possessed remarkable abilities, and many eminent public virtues. He was extremely self-reliant; and with this faith in himself went great moral courage. He had had no financial training, but his industry and ability enabled him to become a very successful Colonial Treasurer. He was never exactly popular, for he was rather abrupt and dogmatic in his manner of speech; and Gisborne has said in his “New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen” that he subordinated policy and measures to tenure of place. But no one ever doubted his honesty, or the public spirit which actuated his political life. In 1891 he was appointed page 118 Speaker of the Legislative Council, and, in spite of increasing illness, he persevered with his work till the very end of his life.

Closely allied with Sir Harry Atkinson in the work of pioneering and politics, was the Richmond family. Mr. W. H. Richmond was one of Taranaki's Superintendents; Mr. J. C. Richmond was one of the province's members of Parliament for nearly the whole of the period, 1860–70; and Mr. Christopher Richmond, better known as Judge Richmond, was member for New Plymouth from 1856 to 1861, and it is said that during that period he did more than any other colonist to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to adopt a coercive policy towards the natives; thus, in the opinion of his opponents, directly expediting the unfortunate native wars. Indeed, of the Atkinson-Richmond family it has been truly written, that, for more than a generation, what they said and wrote and what they did, helped much to form an important part of New Zealand history. and it has further been said with justice that “whatever difference of opinion exists—and a great difference does exist—as to the merits of their public policy, no one suspects their political integrity, or doubts the zeal, industry and talents, which they devoted to a cause which they, and many others at the time, honestly believed to be the best on the whole for the interests of both races in New Zealand.”

Perhaps, however, the man who was, in a wide human sense, the most interesting of Taranaki's early colonists, was one who lived but a short time in New Zealand, and had little opportunity to influence the course of its progress. Mr. Charles Armitage Brown, the father of the first Superintendent of the province, was born so far back as 1786; and when the New Plymouth settlement was formed he determined to cast in his lot with the colonists. His son reached New Plymouth in the “Amelia Thompson” in 1841, and he himself followed later in the year, in the “Oriental.” He died after only seven months' residence in the colony, and was buried on Marsland Hill. But the chief interest of his history lies in his association with great literary celebrities earlier in life. He had lived a great part of his time in Italy, and had been the intimate friend of Byron, Leigh Hunt and Walter Savage Landor, and was one of the most
View Of Mount Egmont, From The Road To The Mountain House. Collis photo.

View Of Mount Egmont, From The Road To The Mountain House. Collis photo.

page 119 affectionate and devoted of the many admirers and patrons of the poet Keats. On his departure for New Zealand, in 1840, he confided to Lord Houghton a valuable collection of literary remains which he had intended to form the basis of a biography of the dead poet. He was a most interesting figure of the literary life of the age, and it is a curious paradox that a man of such antecedents should end his days almost forgotton and unknown in a secluded corner of this distant land. Very likely many a colonist—even many a Taranaki colonist—has never heard of him, and may fail to see why he should be spoken of as an object of interest; but the letters of Keats, and Lord Houghton's life of the poet, will make his name and personality familiar to ages and countries, to which Taranaki may not even be a name, unless it, too, in the fulness of time, should produce a genius as great as Keats; and why should it not? In the meantime it has had, and still has, names worthy of honour within its own borders and throughout New Zealand, and of these some at least are mentioned in the pages of this volume.