Superintendent (New Zealand)

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Superintendent was the elected head of each Provincial Council in New Zealand from 1853 to 1876.

Historical contextEdit

Provinces existed in New Zealand from 1841 until 1876 as a form of sub-national government. After the initial provinces pre-1853, new provinces were formed by the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 (UK). This Act established the first six provinces of Auckland, New Plymouth, Wellington, Nelson, Canterbury, and Otago. Other provinces were established later. Each province elected its own legislature known as a Provincial Council, and elected a Superintendent who was not a member of the council. The elections for council and superintendent were not necessarily held at the same time.[1]

Following abolition, the provinces became known as provincial districts. Their only visible function today is their use to determine, with the exception of the Chatham Islands, Northland, and South Canterbury, the geographical boundaries for anniversary day public holidays.[2]

Role of superintendentsEdit

The provincial councils and the House of Representatives were "locked into a battle of supremacy that would last for 20 years."[3] The 1852 constitution defined thirteen areas where law making was reserved for the House of Representatives: customs, post-office, shipping dues, lighthouses, weights and measures, currency, bankruptcy, judiciary, marriage, Crown lands and native land (i.e. lands held by Māori), criminal law, and inheritance law.[4] For a variety of reasons, the provincial councils were more effective than the national Parliament. Initially, this was partially because Parliament was made up of strong personalities with strong and differing regional interests, who had no prior experience of acting for the greater good of the country as a whole.[3] Consequently, the role of a provincial Superintendent was more highly regarded than those of Members of Parliament.

The constitution had given the Governor substantial powers over the provincial councils, but many anomalies resulted in an increase in the power of the Superintendents. The Governor could dissolve the provincial council at any time, veto its enactments, or remove the Superintendent from office if voted by the majority of provincial councillors or disallow the Superintendent's elections (the latter two both within three month of the Superintendent's election). However, only Superintendents had the power to convene a provincial council, and by simply delaying the first meeting beyond the three months threshold, much of the power of the Governor was negated. So in practice, Superintendents were more powerful than had been anticipated by the constitution.

Another practicality was that Parliament had long breaks between sessions due to the difficulty of travel at the time. In one instance, the Wellington Provincial Council passed an act that empowered itself of raising a £25,000 loan. By the time Parliament next convened and repealed the act, the loan had already gone to the council.[4]

Hence, the role of the Superintendents went much beyond the act of presiding over a provincial council. The post came with a lot of honour and responsibility.[4]

Elections of superintendentsEdit

To be eligible to vote in the provincial (or national) elections, voters had to be male owners of property valued at £50, or leasehold valued at £10.[3] The election for Superintendent, to be held every four years, was a major event in the provinces for weeks and months leading up to it. It was such an exciting event that even the children of that time could remember it later in their adult lives.[4]

It was not uncommon that newspapers would be founded with the purpose of supporting a candidate and attacking the opponent. The Press, for example, these days the largest newspaper in the South Island, was founded by James FitzGerald (1st Superintendent of Canterbury) to oppose the Lyttelton Rail Tunnel proposal by his opponent William Sefton Moorhouse (2nd Superintendent of Canterbury). Moorhouse had tried to use the Lyttelton Times for this purpose, a newspaper that he was the first editor of in 1851 but no longer had control over, but that newspaper backed the Moorhouse tunnel.[5]

The electors' excitement stemmed from the fact that the outcome of an election might significantly impact on their district; where one candidate might have promised a school, roads and bridges, another candidate might not deliver the same for their locality.

Amongst other things, taxation, education, charitable aid and temperance were important issues back then. Initially, an open voting system was used, where those enrolled would tell the electoral officer their choice of candidate, who would note this on the electoral role. All of this was reasonably public, and unofficial tallies of the count would circulate. These tallies may well have been adjusted to suit a particular outcome. For example, where more than two candidates stood for election, a preferred candidate might be shown as so far behind that the remaining voters may be encouraged to vote for another candidate, in order to prevent the unwanted rival from gaining office. These unofficial tallies were still circulated after voting at the ballot box had been introduced.[4]

Drunkenness, fighting and the throwing of flour bags and rotten eggs on election day were common.

List of superintendentsEdit

From 1853 to 1876, New Zealand had 41 superintendents across its ten provinces.

Auckland ProvinceEdit

The Auckland Province had nine superintendents:

Canterbury ProvinceEdit

The Canterbury Province had four superintendents:

Hawke's Bay ProvinceEdit

The Hawke's Bay Province had four superintendents:

Marlborough ProvinceEdit

The Marlborough Province had five superintendents:

Nelson ProvinceEdit

The Nelson Province had four superintendents:

Otago ProvinceEdit

The Otago Province had five superintendents:

Southland ProvinceEdit

The Southland Province had three superintendents:

Taranaki ProvinceEdit

The Taranaki Province (initially called the New Plymouth Province) had four superintendents:

Wellington ProvinceEdit

The Wellington Province had two superintendents:

Westland ProvinceEdit

The Westland Province had one superintendent:


  1. ^ Wilson, John (1991). Canterbury Provincial Council Buildings. Christchurch: Canterbury Regional Council. ISBN 1-86937-135-6.
  2. ^ "NZ public holiday dates 2010-2013". Department of Labour. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  3. ^ a b c King, Michael (2003). The Penguin History of New Zealand (20 ed.). Auckland: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-301867-1.
  4. ^ a b c d e Cyclopedia Company Limited (1897). "Superintendents Of Wellington". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Wellington Provincial District. Wellington. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  5. ^ "Fitzgerald and the Newspapers". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  6. ^ "Captain John Chilton Lambton Carter". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay & Wellington Provincial Districts]. Christchurch: Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1908. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  7. ^ The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Nelson, Marlborough & Westland Provincial Districts]. Christchurch: Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1906. Retrieved 21 May 2010.
  8. ^ Foster, Bernard John (1966). "BONAR, James Alexander (1840–1901). Superintendent of Westland". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington. Retrieved 9 October 2006.
  9. ^ Minehan, Francis (7 April 2006). "Bonar, James Alexander 1840 - 1901 Merchant, shipping agent, company director, politician". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington. Retrieved 9 October 2006.