James Edward FitzGerald (1818-96)


Life
b. 1818 at Bath, England; youngest son of Gerald FitzGerald, an Anglo-Irish land-owner at Kilminchy, Queen’s County, Ireland, and Catherine O’Brien, his second wife; ed. in Bath and at Christ’s College, Cambridge; grad. BA, 1842; prevented from joining Royal Engineers by poor eyesight; appt.a junior assistant in the Department of Antiquities at the British Museum, 1844; took walking tours in Scotland and Ireland, alerting him to the problems of poverty and famine, 1946-48; appt. assistant secretary of the Museum, 17 Jan. 1848; advocated Irish Famine Relief Committees in pamphlet of 1846; devised scheme for the colonisation of Vancouver Island, to be called “New Ireland”; challenged Hudson’s Bay Company claim to proprietary rights and joined with W. E. Gladstone and Lord Lincoln in attacks on the Company;
 
estab. Colonial Reform Society with Lord Lyttelton, Sir William Molesworth, Charles Adderley, Joseph Hume, Richard Cobden, Baron Wodehouse, and elected first secretary, 1850; considered plans for colonisation in India; appt. secretary of the Canterbury Association assisting a Church of England colony in New Zealand in conjunction with Edward Gibbon Wakefield, 1849; drafted constitution of the Society of Canterbury Colonists; appointed emigration agent of the association; Frances (Fanny) Erskine Draper, then 18, at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, 22 Aug. 1850; engaged in bitter quarrel with her merchant father; sailed with her for Canterbury on the “Charlotte Jane”, reaching Lyttelton on 16 Dec. 1850, being first ashore; appt. sub-inspector of police by the colonial government; carried on as emigration agent for the Canterbury Association;
 
fnd. weekly Lyttelton Times, 11 Jan. 1851; moved from home overlooking Lyttelton Harbour to raise dairy cattle at Springs station, west of Christchurch, 1853; dogged by heart disease; elected superintendent of the Canterbury province, 1852, defeating Colonel James Campbell and Henry Tancred; introduced responsible government into New Zealand; created an executive council to fill void between the superintendent and the legislature, making the executive responsible to the legislature; established road from Lyttleton to Christchurch, opened the route in his dog-cart in four hours via Sumner, on 24 Aug. 1857; established a college there, named after his alma mater; attended the first session of the General Assembly, 1854; co-opted with others from the House to the Executive Council by acting governor, Colonel R. H. Wynyard, and treated as leader of government business in the Assembly, while remaining unsecured in post due to administrative difficulties; prevented by illness from attending the Assembly when responsible government was implemented, April 1856;
 
accordingly, Sewell was called to act as first premier, to be followed more successfully by Edward Stafford with Sewell as colonial treasurer; ordered to rest for a year due to angina, July 1856; resigned his Assembly seat, 1857; declined to stand for re-election as superintendent; returned to England, and continued as Canterbury’s emigration agent to 1860; dispatched 4,000 migrants and promoted a provincial railway system; supported erection of Christchurch Cathedral and Christ’s College; declined governorships of British Columbia and Queensland; returned to New Zealand and his Springs station, 1860; represents Akaroa on the Canterbury Provincial Council, June 1861-Dec. 1863; unsuccessfully opposed the scheme of his successor, W. S. Moorhouse, for a direct rail tunnel linking Lyttelton and Christchurch, attacking his opponent in the Press , which he founded, 25 May 1861; became the first New Zealand daily, St Patrick’s Day 1863; sole proprietor in 1862;
 
incurred large debts and relinquish control to a company in 1868; engaged in colonial politics during the wars of the 1860s; MHR for Ellesmere, 1862-66, and for Christchurch, 1866-67; outspoken advocate of Maori rights, race assimilation, and peace; issued pamphlet calling for transfer of Maori affairs to responsible ministry, 1860; opposed Governor Thomas Gore Browne’s alternative scheme for placing Maori affairs under a council responsible to the Crown; made eloquent plea for equal civil and political rights for all New Zealanders, 6 August 1862; proposed that Maori chiefs be brought into the administration and the Legislative Council, suggesting one-third of all representation for the Maori people in the House of Representatives, legislative bodies and courts of law; sought recognition for the Maori King, permitting him to be “Superintendent of his own province”;
 
declared that ‘there are only two possible futures before the Maori people. You must be prepared to win their confidence, or you must be prepared to destroy them’; castigated land confiscation as an ‘enormous crime’; opposed colonisation by military settlers and called for the withdrawal of British troops; appt. minister for native affairs, 1865; introduced unsuccessful measures to defuse racial tensions; failure of govt. to implement Native Rights Act, confirming Maori people as British subjects, and Native Lands Act, protecting Maori land; appt. Comptroller of the Public Account, and retired from politics, Jan. 1867; moved from Canterbury to Wellington; combined offices of Comptroller and Auditor General from 1878 to his death; accomplished watercolourist and author of verse and drama;
 
well-known as orator, pamphleteer and contributor to the literary reviews; lectured at the New Zealand Institute; member of the Union Debating Society; fo-founder of the Wellington Citizens Institute; His wife Frances, with whom he had 13 children, was prominent in Wellington Ladies’ Christian Association and other charities; took part in discussions on the formation of a civil servants’ union, late-1880s; elected first president of Public Service Association with the aim ‘of maintaining its character and increasing its efficiency’ rather than ‘for the purpose of enlarging its emoluments’; d. 2 Aug. 1896; bur. Bolton Street cemetery, Wellington; prematurely aged at 40 but lived to 78.

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Reference
W. David McIntyre, ‘FitzGerald, James Edward 1818-1896’, in Dictionary of New Zealand Biography , Vol. 1: 1769-1869 (1990). Bibl. cites N. E. S. Smith, “James Edward FitzGerald” (MA thesis, Canterbury 1932), E. Bohan, Blest Madman: FitzGerald of Canterbury, Christchurch (1998), W. J. Gardner, ed., A History of Canterbury (1971), et al. [Accessed online, 09.07.2009].

Note: the biography in Life [supra] is entirely abstracted from McIntyre’s article.

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