1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Fox, Sir William

21717921911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 10 — Fox, Sir WilliamWilliam Pember Reeves

FOX, SIR WILLIAM (1812–1893), New Zealand statesman, third son of George Townshend Fox, deputy-lieutenant for Durham county, was born in England on the 9th of June 1812, and educated at Wadham College, Oxford, where he took his degree in 1832. Called to the bar in 1842, he emigrated immediately thereafter to New Zealand, where, on the death of Captain Arthur Wakefield, killed in 1843 in the Wairau massacre, he became the New Zealand Company’s agent for the South Island. While holding this position he made a memorable exploring march on foot from Nelson to Canterbury, through Cannibal Gorge, in the course of which he discovered the fertile pastoral country of Amuri. In 1848 Governor Grey made Fox attorney-general, but he gave up the post almost at once in order to join the agitation, then at its height, for a free constitution. As the political agent of the Wellington settlers he sailed to London in 1850 to urge their demands in Downing Street. The colonial office, however, refused to recognize him, and, after publishing a sketch of the New Zealand settlements, The Six Colonies of New Zealand, and travelling in the United States, he returned to New Zealand and again threw himself with energy into public affairs. When government by responsible ministers was at last initiated, in 1856, Fox ousted the first ministry and formed a cabinet, only to be himself beaten in turn after holding office but thirteen days. In 1861 he regained office, and was somewhat more fortunate, for he remained premier for nearly thirteen months. Again, in the latter part of 1863 he took office: this time with Sir Frederick Whitaker as premier, an arrangement which endured for another thirteen months. Fox’s third premiership began in 1869 and lasted until 1872. His fourth, which was a matter of temporary convenience to his party, lasted only five weeks in March and April 1873. Soon afterwards he left politics, and, though he reappeared after some years and led the attack which overthrew Sir George Grey’s ministry in 1879, he lost his seat in the dissolution which followed in that year and did not again enter parliament. He was made K.C.M.G. in 1880.

For the thirty years between 1850 and 1880 Sir William Fox was one of the half-dozen most notable public men in the colony. Impulsive and controversial, a fluent and rousing speaker, and a ready writer, his warm and sympathetic nature made him a good friend and a troublesome foe. He was considered for many years to be the most dangerous leader of the Opposition in the colony’s parliament, though as premier he was at a disadvantage when measured against more patient and more astute party managers. His activities were first devoted to secure self-government for the New Zealand colonists. Afterwards his sympathies made him prominent among the champions of the Maori race, and he laboured indefatigably for their rights and to secure permanent peace with the tribes and a just settlement of their claims. It was during his third premiership that this peace, so long deferred, was at last gained, mainly through the influence and skill of Sir Donald M‘Lean, native minister in the Fox cabinet. Finally, after Fox had left parliament he devoted himself, as joint-commissioner with Sir Francis Dillon Bell, to the adjustment of the native land-claims on the west coast of the North Island. The able reports of the commissioners were his last public service, and the carrying out of their recommendations gradually removed the last serious native trouble in New Zealand. When, however, in the course of the native wars from 1860 to 1870 the colonists of New Zealand were exposed to cruel and unjust imputations in England, Fox zealously defended them in a book, The War in New Zealand (1866), which was not only a spirited vindication of his fellow-settlers, but a scathing criticism of the generalship of the officers commanding the imperial troops in New Zealand. Throughout his life Fox was a consistent advocate of total abstinence. It was he who founded the New Zealand Alliance, and he undoubtedly aided the growth of the prohibition movement afterwards so strong in the colony. He died on the 23rd of June 1893, exactly twelve months after his wife, Sarah, daughter of William Halcombe.  (W. P. R.)