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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Fenton, Francis Dart

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Fenton, Francis Dart, a native of Yorkshire, went out to Auckland, N.Z., in 1850, and cultivated land on the Waikato River. In 1851 he was appointed by Sir George Grey (then Governor) to a position in the Deeds Office at Auckland, and subsequently became Resident Magistrate and Collector of Customs at Kaipara. In March 1856 he was made Native Secretary by Governor Browne; but his policy clashing with that of Mr. (afterwards Sir) Donald McLean, Chief Native Land Commissioner, he was compelled to resign, and was appointed Resident Magistrate at Whaingaroa. On May 9th, 1857, as the result of a paper of suggestions which he had addressed to the Governor, he was summoned to act as magistrate at Waikato at a critical time in the difficulties preceding the Waikato war. His appointment, "at the earnest request of the natives," was the promise of a new departure on the part of the Government, who had resolved that the Maoris should be governed by laws "enacted with their own consent," and instructed Mr. Fenton to prepare a code upon this understanding. Mr. Fenton proceeded to Waikato, but on July 14th, 1857, Potatau accepted the kingship offered him by the malcontent tribes, and he was shortly afterwards withdrawn. From 1858 to 1864 Mr. Fenton acted as assistant law officer of the Crown. In 1861 he prepared the Domain Act, and in 1863 was charged with the working of the New Zealand Settlement Act. Mr. Fenton was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in New Zealand in Jan. 1857. In 1865 Mr. Fenton was employed to draw up the Native Lands Act, and became Chief Judge of the Native Land Court, a post which he held for seventeen years. In 1869 he was called to the Legislative Council, and introduced a bill to amend the Native Lands Act, which was passed, but he failed to pass the Native Reserves Bill. He assisted in the successful opposition to the importation of Ghoorka regiments for the purposes of the war, but was ultimately disqualified as an official from sitting in the Council. He was for two years district judge of Auckland, in addition to his other appointments, and retired from public service in 1882. Mr. Fenton is singularly well acquainted with the Maori language, and the history and customs of the people. In addition to various pamphlets, he is the author of "Observations on the State of the Aboriginal Inhabitants of New Zealand" (Auckland, 1859), and "Suggestions for a History of the Origin and Migrations of the Maori People" (1885).