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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Atkinson, Major Hon. Sir Harry Albert

Atkinson, Major Hon. Sir Harry Albert, K.C.M.G., M.L.C., President Legislative Council, New Zealand, is a native of England, and emigrated to New Zealand, where he landed in 1855 with his brother Decimus, and settled on some land in the Taranaki district, where he lived all through the Maori war. The energy of the young colonists in these parts soon took upon it the burden of the tedious war; and a band of volunteers was organised, with Mr. Atkinson as captain, which proved more effective in the issue than the trained regulars, whose freedom of action was hampered by military traditions. The first action in which Mr. Atkinson was engaged was at Waireka, on March 28th, 1860, where the Colonial troops greatly distinguished themselves. Subsequently he took part in the capture of several pas at Kaihihi in Oct. 1860, in the battle of Mahoetahi on Nov. 6th, and the battle of Matarikoriko in December. He was present at the capture of Kaitake on March 24th, 1864, at Sentry Hill, at Ahu-Ahu, at Allen's Hill, at Manutahi, and at Mataitawa. For these and other services he was advanced to the rank of major, and received the thanks of the Government. Previous to this he had been elected to the Parliament of 1863, and on Nov. 24th, 1864, took office as Minister of Defence under Sir Frederick Weld. This was a time of great difficulties, for the conduct of the war had forced upon the consideration of the Ministry the advisability of dispensing with the support of the Home Government. It was upon this point that Major Atkinson came first into notice as a politician, for his speech upon the second reading of the Militia Act Repeal Bill was the proclamation of a new era. The English forces were to be withdrawn, and henceforth the colony was to depend upon herself. This principle was accepted by both Houses, and it seemed at first as if the Weld Government, called to establish a new régime, would carry with it the sense of the country. But a series of misfortunes befell the Ministry. The removal of the seat of government from Auckland to Wellington leagued the north against them; financial difficulties embarrassed them; misunderstandings between the Governor and the Ministry were succeeded by a quarrel between the Governor and Sir Duncan Cameron, the general in command of the English forces. In the end, despite some changes in the personnel of the Government, Sir Frederick Weld resigned upon a virtual defeat in an attempt to carry stamp duties, and Sir Edward Stafford was called to power, on Oct 16th, 1865. The Stafford Ministry lasted, with some alterations, till June 28th, 1869; and in 1867-8 Major Atkinson took an active part in the discussions which took place upon the war. From 1869 to 1873 he was not in Parliament. In the latter year he was again returned to the General Assembly. In Oct. 1872 the third Stafford Administration, which lasted only for a month, was succeeded by a Ministry, with Mr. G. M. Waterhouse as Premier; but this Cabinet was reconstructed twice, the first time under Sir William Fox, and the second under Sir Julius Vogel. Under the latter Major Atkinson accepted the portfolios of Secretary for Crown Lands and Minister for Immigration on Sept. 7th and 10th, 1874, respectively. On July 6th, 1875, a third reconstruction took place, and Dr. Pollen became Premier, Major Atkinson taking from him the portfolio of Colonial Treasurer, which he added to his former offices. It was in 1875 that the very important Bill abolishing the provincial legislatures, which had been announced in the previous year by Sir Julius Vogel as the policy of the Government, was carried; and it fell to the task of Major Atkinson, as leader of the Lower House, to move the second reading of the bill, which was carried by 52 votes to 17, and subsequently passed through the Upper House and became law. On Feb. 15th, 1876, Sir Julius Vogel resumed his place as Premier and Colonial Treasurer; and, in lieu of the latter office, allotted to his colleague the portfolio of Commissioner of Customs; and at the last rearrangement of this changeful Ministry, upon the departure of Sir Julius Vogel to assume the position of Agent-General in London, Major Atkinson took his place as Premier and Colonial Treasurer. But twelve days later there was a readjustment of offices, and the Premier became also Secretary for Crown Lands and Minister for Immigration once more. On Oct. 14th, 1877, the Atkinson Ministry retired, and was succeeded by the Grey Cabinet, which, however, was defeated on Oct. 8th, 1879, when Mr. (afterwards Sir) John Hall came into office, Major Atkinson becoming Colonial Treasurer. On April 21st, 1882, Sir John Hall retired from the Premiership owing to ill-health, and was succeeded by Sir Frederick Whitaker, Major Atkinson continuing to hold the office of Colonial Treasurer, as well as those of Commissioner of Stamp Duties and Customs and Minister of Marine. On Sept. 25th, 1883, he became Premier; but retired on Aug. 18th, 1884, when Sir Julius Vogel formed a Ministry. The Vogel Cabinet only lasted ten days, and on Aug. 28th Major Atkinson again came in; but the party led by Sir George Grey once more overthrew the balance, and the Ministry resigned on Aug. 30th, giving place to a combination of Sir Julius Vogel and Mr. (now Sir) Robert Stout. This lasted until Oct. 11th, 1887, when Major Atkinson once more came into office as Premier and Colonial Treasurer. In 1890 Major Atkinson, who had been in exceedingly bad health, retired from active work, though still holding together his colleagues as nominal Premier. The result of the general election in December of that year being adverse, Sir Harry Atkinson, who was created K.C.M.G. in 1888, advised his own nomination to the post of President of the Legislative Council in succession to the late Sir William Fitzherbert. His acceptance of this position, broke up the Ministry, and made way for the accession to office of Mr. Ballance and his colleagues in Jan. 1891. Sir Harry Atkinson died on June 28th, 1892.

In appended Supplement, p. 529

Atkinson, Major Hon. Sir Harry Albert, K.C.M.G., M.L.C. (p. 19). Sir Harry Atkinson was born in Cheshire in 1831.