James FitzGerald

For other people named James FitzGerald, see James FitzGerald (disambiguation).
The Honourable
James FitzGerald

formal portrait of an older man

James Edward Fitzgerald ca 1890
6th Minister of Native Affairs
In office
12 August 1865  16 October 1865
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Lyttelton
In office
1853  1857
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Ellesmere
In office
1862  1866
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for City of Christchurch
In office
1866  1867
1st Superintendent of Canterbury Province
In office
20 Jul 1853  Oct 1857
Personal details
Born 4 March 1818
Bath, England
Died 2 August 1896(1896-08-02) (aged 78)
Wellington, New Zealand
Spouse(s) Frances (Fanny) Erskine Draper (married 1850)
Relations Richard Fitzgerald (grandfather)
Lucius O'Brien (grandfather)
Gerard Fitzgerald (brother)

James Edward FitzGerald (4 March 1818 – 2 August 1896) was a New Zealand politician. According to some historians,[1] he should be considered the country's first Prime Minister, although a more conventional view is that neither he nor his successor (Thomas Forsaith) should properly be given that title. He was a notable campaigner for New Zealand self-governance. He was the first Superintendent of the Canterbury Province.

Early life

FitzGerald was born on 4 March 1818[2] in Bath, England.[3] His parents, Gerald FitzGerald[3] and Katherine O'Brien,[3] were Irish, and FitzGerald is known to have cherished his connection with Ireland.[3] Both his grandfathers, Colonel Richard Fitzgerald and Sir Lucius O'Brien,[4] were MPs in the Irish House of Commons. He was educated first in Bath, and then at Christ's College of the University of Cambridge.[5] He initially sought a commission in the Royal Engineers, but poor eyesight made this impossible. Instead, he began working for the British Museum's Antiquities department, and became the museum's Assistant Secretary.[6]

FitzGerald gradually became concerned with the alleviation of poverty, an interest spurred by the problems of the Irish Potato Famine. His suggested solution to poverty was emigration to the colonies, where more opportunities might exist for prosperity. As such, he became heavily involved in the promotion and planning of new colonies. In 1849, he became secretary of the Canterbury Association, responsible for the Anglican settlement at Christchurch, New Zealand. The settlement was well organised by the Canterbury Association; the printing press for the colony's newspaper was sent with the First Four Ships (FitzGerald becoming the first editor of the Lyttelton Times) and the main building for the settlement's school, known these days as Christ's College Big School, was designed by FitzGerald in 1850 in England.[3][7] The building was constructed in 1863 and is the only building known to have been designed by FitzGerald.[7]

FitzGerald married Frances Erskine Draper on 22 August 1850,[6] and soon afterwards quarrelled with her father. As a result, FitzGerald and his wife themselves left for Christchurch. They arrived in Lyttelton, the port of Christchurch, on 16 December 1850 on board of the Charlotte Jane.

In Christchurch, FitzGerald had a number of roles. He continued to act as an agent for the Canterbury Association, but also became a sub-inspector of police. He later established a cattle and dairy farm, and became the founding editor of the Lyttelton Times. Gradually, FitzGerald became one of the prominent public figures of the area.

Political career

Provincial superintendent

In November 1852, a deputation put a requisition to John Robert Godley, asking him to allow himself to be nominated for the first election for Superintendent of the Canterbury Province; Fitzgerald was part of that deputation. Godley declined,[8] and in July 1853, FitzGerald, Colonel James Campbell and Henry Tancred contested the election. They received 136, 94 and 89 votes, respectively. Campbell protested about the election, as the returning officer had indicated to the voters that he could not be elected, as he had been struck off the electoral list.[9][10] But the protest came to nothing, and Fitzgerald was declared the first Superintendent of the Canterbury Province.[11]

A major part of his work as Superintendent was an attempt to increase Canterbury's self-government, drawing the province's "cabinet" from the elected Council rather than appointing it himself. His goal was to make the province's executive responsible to its legislature. He remained Superintendent until he retired on 28 September 1857.[12]

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
18531855 1st Lyttelton Independent
18551857 2nd Lyttelton Independent
18621866 3rd Ellesmere Independent
18661867 4th Christchurch Independent

When the 1st New Zealand Parliament was called, FitzGerald was elected MP for the Lyttelton electorate, and represented it from 1853 to 1857, when he resigned during the term of the 2nd New Zealand Parliament. Despite his election to Parliament, he chose to retain the Superintendency of Canterbury, a decision criticised by some. In Parliament, FitzGerald argued strongly in favour of "responsible government" once again, attempting to make New Zealand's executive responsible to Parliament rather than the Governor. The acting Governor, Robert Wynyard, eventually agreed to appoint FitzGerald, Henry Sewell, Frederick Weld, and Thomas Bartley to the Executive Council. They were later joined briefly by Dillon Bell, a member of the Legislative Council.

FitzGerald was chosen to lead this delegation, which lasted from 14 June to 2 August, and is therefore sometimes said to have headed New Zealand's first "cabinet". He had no formal title, however, and did not have sufficient powers to actually govern. As such, most historians do not consider him to have been Prime Minister as the term is used today. FitzGerald accepted the position in the belief that full authority would later be transferred from Wynyard's appointees to the new cabinet, and was consequently angry when Wynyard claimed that royal assent (which had not been given) was necessary for this change to occur. Seven weeks after their appointment, FitzGerald's cabinet resigned, and was replaced by another cabinet of four persons headed by Thomas Forsaith.

Later, when the 2nd New Zealand Parliament managed to obtain the power that had eluded the 1st, FitzGerald was too ill to attend. Instead, Henry Sewell (one of FitzGerald's colleagues in the first attempted cabinet) was asked to form a government. Sewell is generally considered to be New Zealand's first real Prime Minister. In 1857, FitzGerald resigned from Parliament on the advice of his doctors, and also decided not to seek re-election as provincial superintendent.[3] Instead, he left Lyttelton on 30 September on the James Gibson for Sydney[13] and returned to England, where he resumed his work for the Canterbury Association. During his time in England, he was offered governorships of both British Columbia and Queensland, but his ill health prevented him from accepting.

Statue of FitzGerald, Cashel St, Christchurch

By 1860, he had returned to New Zealand on the Matoaka, and shortly afterwards won election to the Canterbury Provincial Council; first for the Akaroa electorate in May 1861, and then in the Town of Akaroa electorate from September 1861 to December 1862.[14] He also founded The Press, which remains Christchurch's largest newspaper today. In 1862, he returned to national politics. The resignation of Thomas Rowley in the Ellesmere electorate caused the 12 July 1862 Ellesmere by-election, which FitzGerald won. He represented the electorate until the end of the parliamentary term in 1866, and then successfully stood in the City of Christchurch electorate in 1866, from which he resigned the following year.[15]

In Parliament, he strongly advocated peaceful negotiations in the New Zealand Wars, supporting Māori rights and condemning land confiscation as an "enormous crime". He also campaigned to have primary responsibility for relations with the Māori transferred from the Governor to Parliament. Other suggestions he made included reserving a third of Parliament for Māori politicians, recognition of the "Māori King" movement, and the withdrawal of British troops from New Zealand. FitzGerald strongly believed that if Māori and colonists did not make a deliberate attempt at reconciliation, one or both would eventually be destroyed.

On 5 November 1863, he attempted to convince Parliament that the NZ Settlements Act 1863 was contrary to the Treaty of Waitangi "which distinctly guaranteed and pledged the faith of the Crown that the lands of the natives shall not be taken from them except by the ordinary process of law-that is, taken within the meaning of the Treaty." He also stated that in his opinion, the purpose of the Act was to acquire Maori land.[16]

In 1865, he had a two-month term as Minister of Native Affairs in the government of Frederick Weld (another colleague from the first provisional cabinet), but did not succeed in implementing many of his policies.

His brother Gerard represented the Hokitika electorate for one term in Parliament.[17]

Later life

Oriental Bay, Wellington showing Fitzgerald's house on top of the hill

In 1867, FitzGerald retired from politics completely. He was subsequently moved to Wellington and was appointed comptroller of the public account, supervising all government expenditures. Later, he also acted as Auditor-General. He retained these positions until his death. He was also seriously involved in the establishment of the Public Service Association, a union for all government employees.

FitzGerald was also active in the cultural life of the capital. He was known as a painter (mostly watercolours), public speaker, and debater, and also wrote poetry and drama.

FitzGerald died in Wellington on 2 August 1896, aged 78.[3] He was buried in the Bolton Street Cemetery. Two of his children who both died in 1880 share the grave, as well as a female relative who died in 1886. His wife died on 8 July 1900 and is also buried in this plot.[18] The grave is stop number 26 of the lower Bolton Memorial Trail.[19]


  1. Mennell, Philip (1892). "Wikisource link to FitzGerald, James Edward". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource
  2. Blain 2007, p. 31.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 McIntyre, W. David. "FitzGerald, James Edward 1818–1896". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 15 September 2012.
  4. Lundy, Darryl. "Rt. Hon. Sir Lucius O'Brien, 3rd Bt.". The Peerage. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
  5. "Fitzgerald, James Edward (FTST837JE)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  6. 1 2 "James Edward Fitzgerald". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 7 January 2010.
  7. 1 2 "Christ's College Big School". Register of Historic Places. Heritage New Zealand. Retrieved 27 May 2012.
  8. "Deputation to Mr Godley". Lyttelton Times. II (97). 13 November 1852. p. 5. Retrieved 9 September 2013.
  9. "Lyttelton". Taranaki Herald. II (59). 14 September 1853. p. 3. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  10. "Saturday, August 13, 1853.". New Zealand Spectator and Cook's Strait Guardian. IX (838). 13 August 1853. p. 2. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  11. Wilson, John; Duncan Shaw-Brown (1991). Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings : Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch: Canterbury Regional Council. ISBN 1-86937-135-6.
  12. Scholefield 1950, p. 188.
  13. "CANTERBURY.". XIV (1084). Daily Southern Cross. 17 November 1857. p. 3. Retrieved 1 May 2010.
  14. Scholefield 1950, p. 193.
  15. Scholefield 1950, p. 106.
  16. Parliamentary Debates New Zealand. Parliament. House of Representatives 3rd Parliament. Hansard. 1861–1863. pp. 783–784.
  17. Cyclopedia Company Limited (1906). "Former Members Of The House Of Representatives". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts. Christchurch. Retrieved 21 July 2010.
  18. "Details for FITZGERALD James Edward". Friends of Bolton Street Memorial Park. Retrieved 26 May 2010.
  19. "Memorial Trail" (PDF). Bolton Street Memorial Park. Retrieved 17 November 2012.


Wikimedia Commons has media related to James FitzGerald.
New Zealand Parliament
New constituency Member of Parliament for Lyttelton
Succeeded by
Crosbie Ward
Preceded by
Thomas Rowley
Member of Parliament for Ellesmere
In abeyance
Title next held by
John Hall
Preceded by
John Cracroft Wilson
Member of Parliament for Christchurch
Succeeded by
William Travers
Political offices
New office Superintendent of Canterbury Province
Succeeded by
William Sefton Moorhouse
Preceded by
Walter Mantell
Minister of Native Affairs
Succeeded by
Andrew Russell
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