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Featherston, Isaac Earl (DNB00)


FEATHERSTON, ISAAC EARL (1813–1876), New Zealand statesman, fourth son of Thomas Featherston of Blackdean, Weardale, and Cotfield House, Durham, was born 21 March 1813, and educated at a private school in Tamworth. After spending some time abroad, he entered as a student at the Edinburgh University, studied medicine, and graduated M.D. in 1836. In 1839 he married, and the next year ill-health led him to migrate to New Zealand. He settled at Wellington, and soon became conspicuous by advocating the cause of the settlers who had purchased land under the New Zealand Company. In 1852, when their claims were admitted, his services were recognised by the presentation of an address and a piece of plate. The governor, Sir George Grey, opposing a scheme of constitution offered by Lord Grey, on the ground of probable difficulty with the Maoris, the Settlers' Constitutional Association, in which Featherston was prominent, was formed in 1849 to promote the measure. An act for this purpose was finally passed in 1852 by the imperial parliament, and in 1853 the New Zealand Constitution Act came into force. Featherston was elected superintendent of the province of Wellington, which office he retained by constant re-election until his appointment as agent-general in 1871. Under the new act he was also elected to the general assembly as a representative, at first for Wanganui, and afterwards for the city of Wellington. In the general assembly he became known as one of the most determined supporters of ‘provincialism.’ His desire to retain the office of superintendent of the province of Wellington led him to reject office, except during a particular crisis. Featherston was strongly opposed to the disregard of the tribal forms of tenure among the Maoris, and held that the attempt to dispossess a tribe of its property was in direct defiance of the treaty of Waitangi (1842). He denounced (1860) the war which ensued as ‘unjust and unholy,’ and gained the regard of the natives. In 1861 he warned the governor of the growing distrust among the native tribes, and his temporary acceptance of office in July 1861 marked the accession to power of the peace party. On the renewal of the war in 1863 his influence decided the Maoris of the province of Wellington not to join the insurrection, and in 1865 he induced a native contingent to follow General Chute in his celebrated march to Taranaki.

Featherston assisted in establishing and developing the lines of steam communication between Australia and New Zealand. In 1869 he was sent as representative of the colony to Australia to urge the necessity of retaining troops in New Zealand, and for the same purpose was nominated as one of two special commissioners to England in the following year. In 1871 he became agent-general for New Zealand, and held the office till his death, 19 June 1876.

[Gisborne's New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen; Rusden's Hist. of New Zealand; New Zealand Times.]

E. C. K. G.