Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Fox, William (1812-1893)

1386295Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 2 — Fox, William (1812-1893)1901William Pember Reeves

FOX, Sir WILLIAM (1812–1893), prime minister, colonial secretary, and native minister of New Zealand, born at Westoe, Durham, in 1812, was the son of George Townshend Fox, deputy-lieutenant of Durham county. He was admitted commoner of Wadham College, Oxford, on 28 April 1828, graduated B.A. on 23 Feb. 1832, and M. A. on 6 June 1839. He was called to the bar from the Inner Temple on 29 April 1842, and in the same year he emigrated to New Zealand. There in 1843 the New Zealand Company appointed him their resident agent at Nelson, in succession to Captain Arthur Wakefield, killed in the so-called Wairau massacre [see under Wakefield, William Hayward]. Five years later Governor (Sir) George Grey [q. v. Suppl.] made him attorney-general for the south island of the colony; but Fox, who had thrown himself into the agitation for self-government, then at its height, resigned his post as a protest against the governor's dilatory action in the matter. The New Zealand Company then made him their principal agent in the colony, and the settlers of the central districts chose him to represent them on a mission to London to urge at Downing Street their demands for a constitution. The colonial office, however, refused to receive him, and he returned to New Zealand after travelling in the United States.

The first New Zealand parliament met in 1854, the second in 1856. It was on 20 May of that year that Fox ousted the short-lived Sewell ministry [see Sewell, Henry] and first took office, only to be himself ejected thirteen days afterwards by Mr. (afterwards Sir Edward) Stafford. Five years later he turned the tables upon his opponent, and this time retained the premiership for thirteen months (1861-2), a period which curiously enough was almost precisely the duration of his third tenure of office (1863-4). In January 1869, after again defeating Mr. Stafford, he formed a ministry with the aid of (Sir) Julius Vogel [q. v. Suppl.], which lasted until September 1872. Beaten then by his old adversary he quickly had his revenge, but did not resume his position as head of his party except for five weeks in 1873. His voluntary resignation of the premiership in March 1873 ended his career as minister, for it was followed by his retirement from parliament; and though in 1879 he came back again to lead the conservatives against Sir George Grey, and carried a vote of no-confidence against Grey's ministry, he lost his own seat after the dissolution which ensued, and never again took part in politics. He did most useful work in 1880 as joint commissioner with Sir Francis Bell in settling the native land claims on the west coast of the north island in an equitable manner a work the unfair postponement of which had bred great discontent and alarm, and after doing which Fox was knighted. The rest of his public life was devoted to an earnest advocacy of temperance. The prohibition movement, now so strong in New Zealand, owes much to his long and zealous help.

Fox's active career was chiefly marked by the part he took in gaining self-government for New Zealand; by his efforts, finally successful (thanks to the skill of Sir Donald McLean, native minister in his fourth cabinet), to arrange a lasting peace with the native tribes; by the support he always gave to provincial institutions, and by his vigorous defence of the New Zealand colonists against the charges made against them in England of forcing on wars with the Maori in order to grab their lands. His chief book, 'The War in New Zealand' (London, 1860, 8vo; another ed. 1866), is not only a warm vindication of his fellow-colonists from these accusations, but a trenchant, and in places caustic, criticism of the conduct of the native war by the English military leaders. It remains one of the best written and most interesting books on any period of New Zealand history. Another volume, 'The Six Colonies of New Zealand' (London, 1851, 8vo), has some value as a brief sketch of the colony in 1851. His other publications were: 'A Treatise on Simple Contracts' (London, 1842, 8vo), written before his emigration; a pamphlet, 'How New Zealand got its Constitution' (Auckland, 1890, 8vo); and a 'Report on the Settlement of Nelson in New Zealand' (London, 1849, 16mo).

Fox died at his residence near Auckland, New Zealand, on 23 June 1893, aged 81 (Times, 24 June 1893). Fox's generous nature and quick impulsive temperament made him an impatient critic alike of Sir George Grey's devious tactics, and of the slow-moving policy of the colonial office. The same qualities caused him to show to better advantage as the fighting leader of an opposition than when on the defensive as minister. But as his colony's strenuous champion and as the far-sighted advocate of peace and temperance, he is remembered with reverence in New Zealand.

[Gardiner's Reg. Wadham College; Fox's The Six Colonies of NewZealand, London, 1851; The War in New Zealand, London, 1866; Gisborne's New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen, London, 1897; Rusden's History of New Zealand Melbourne, 1896; Mennell's Dictionary of Australasian Biography, London, 1892; Cox's Men of Mark in New Zealand, Christchurch, New Zealand, 1886.]

W. P. R.