1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Atkinson, Sir Harry Albert

15711371911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 2 — Atkinson, Sir Harry Albert

ATKINSON, SIR HARRY ALBERT (1831–1892), British colonial statesman, prime minister and speaker of the legislative council, New Zealand, was born at Chester in 1831, and in 1855 emigrated to Taranaki, New Zealand, where he became a farmer. In 1860 the Waitara war broke out, and from its outset Atkinson, who had been selected as a captain of the New Plymouth Volunteers, distinguished himself by his contempt for appearances and tradition, and by the practical skill, energy and courage which he showed in leading his Forest Rangers in the tiresome and lingering bush warfare of the next five years. For this work he was made a major of militia, and thanked by the government. Elected to the house of representatives in 1863, he joined Sir Frederick Weld’s ministry at the end of November 1864 as minister of defence, and, during eleven months of office, was identified with the well-known “self-reliance” policy, a proposal to dispense with imperial regulars, and meet the Maori with colonials only. Parliament accepted this principle, but turned out the Weld ministry for other reasons. For four years Atkinson was out of parliament; in October 1873 he re-entered it, and a year later became minister of lands under Sir Julius Vogel. Ten months later he was treasurer, and such was his aptitude for finance that, except during six months in 1876, he thenceforth held that post whenever his party was in power. From October 1874 to January 1891 Atkinson was only out of office for about five years. Three times he was premier, and he was always the most formidable debater and fighter in the ranks of the Conservative opponents of the growing Radical party which Sir George Grey, Sir Robert Stout and John Ballance led in succession. It was he, who was mainly responsible for the abolition of the provinces into which the colony was divided from 1853 to 1876. He repealed the Ballance land-tax in 1879, and substituted a property-tax. He greatly reduced the cost of the public service in 1880, and again in 1888. In both these years he raised the customs duties, amongst other taxes, and gave them a quasi-protectionist character. In 1880 he struck 10% off all public salaries and wages; in 1887 he reduced the salary of the governor by one-third, and the pay and number of ministers and members of parliament. By these resolute steps revenue was increased, expenditure checked, and the colony’s finance reinstated. Atkinson was an advocate of compulsory national assurance, and the leasing as opposed to the selling of crown lands. Defeated in the general election of December 1890, he took the appointment of speaker of the legislative council. There, while leaving the council chamber after the sitting of the 28th of June 1892, he was struck down by heart disease and died in a few minutes. Though brusque in manner and never popular, he was esteemed as a vigorous, upright and practical statesman. He was twice married, and had seven children, of whom three sons and a daughter survived him.  (W. P. R.)