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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 8, Issue 9 (January 1, 1934)


Among the founders of the several British settlements in New Zealand there were many men of great intellectual gifts, culture and statesmanlike outlook, and the most brilliant of all, probably, was James Edward Fitzgerald. He arrived in the first of the “Pilgrim Ships” at Lyttelton. in 1850, helped to form the Canterbury settlement and Christchurch City, and established and edited the first newspapers in Canterbury. In politics he was an active figure for many years. He was the first Superintendent of Canterbury Province; he was Premier of the first (and short-lived) representative Ministry in the colony, and he was Native Minister in the Weld Cabinet. He was an orator of grace, force and fire, the most enthralling speaker of his day among the many eloquent men in New Zealand's early Parliaments.

James Edward Fitzgerald (1818–1896).

James Edward Fitzgerald (1818–1896).

The Irish have played a leading part in the making of New Zealand. There were more Irishmen than English in the British regiments which did most of the fighting against the Maoris. It was the lads from Inneskillen and Cork, the Wicklow Mountains, and the glens of Antrim, who enforced with rifle and bayonet the mana of the English flag in our war days. Turning to more peaceful scenes, it is in the nature of a paradox also that three Irishmen were the foremost figures in the pioneering and shaping of that most English of settlements, the Canterbury Province and the City of Christchurch. These three were John Robert Godley, Charles C. Bowen, and James Edward Fitzgerald. They were foundation-layers and builders, carrying out the plans drawn by the Canterbury Association, with Lord Lyttelton at its head, for the establishment in the new raw land of a complete cross-section of English society. Godley was the advance agent of the Association; Bowen (who came from County Mayo), and Fitzgerald, landed from the first of the Four Ships of 1850. The three worked together in the construction of the Canterbury colony; they gave expression to the ideas of the great Englishmen who schemed out this little bit of the Homeland overseas, and they made, or helped to make, Christchurch the leading town of young New Zealand in the cultivation of the arts and the amenities of life which redeemed the primitive places from the roughness of newly broken-in wilds.

Fitzgerald came of an Irish family on both sides, and although he was born in England he was a true Irishman in temperament and sympathies. He had the impulsive heart, the ready wit, the fervid oratorical manner, and the poetic taste of his forebears. His father, Gerald Fitzgerald, was a man of Queen's County, his mother was an O'Brien, from County Clare. His education was in England, but he travelled much in Ireland, and he always remained a worshipper of the Irish traditions. He was a graduate of Cambridge; he studied at Christ's College for three years, and after taking his degree he joined the staff of the British Museum and attained the position of Under-Secretary of that institution.