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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Fitzherbert, Hon. Sir William

Fitzherbert, Hon. Sir William, K.C.M.G., ex-Speaker of the Legislative Council, New Zealand, third son of the Rev. Samuel Fitzherbert, of Buckshaw House, Dorsetshire, was born in 1810, and educated at Queen's College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1832, M.A. in 1836, becoming Fellow of his college. He then took up the study of medicine, and became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, practising for a time in Hanover Square, London. In 1842 he migrated to New Zealand, and in the following year was placed by Captain Hobson, the first Governor of New Zealand, at the head of the list of the colonial magistracy. He was also offered a seat in the first Legislative Council Mr. Fitzherbert at this time was engaged in commercial pursuits. Subsequently he threw himself into the agitation for constitutional government, which was granted by the Home Government in 1853. Immediately afterwards Mr. Fitzherbert entered the Provincial Council of Wellington, of which he was elected Superintendent in 1871. He was also elected in 1856 to the House of Representatives for Wellington, and subsequently for Hutt. On Nov. 24th, 1864, he became Colonial Treasurer and Commissioner of Customs in the Weld administration, in which Major Atkinson was Minister of Defence. On Oct. 16th, 1865, the Cabinet retired, owing to the increasing opposition in the House and upon a nominal failure to carry stamp duties. Mr. Stafford succeeded, but in a short time made common cause with a section of the Weld party, and on August 24th, 1866, Mr. Fitzherbert resumed his office of Colonial Treasurer in succession to Mr. Jollie. Subsequently, on May 6th, 1867, he added thereto the Commissionership of Stamp Duties. During his term of office the Imperial authorities put in large claims against the colony for expenses incurred in the suppression of the native rebellion. Of this Sir William Fitzherbert, as Treasurer, remitted to England a sum of £500,000, which he admitted to be justly due; but with regard to a balance of £750,000 he absolutely declined, on behalf of the Government of which he was a member, to pay a farthing. Negotiations and commissions were resorted to; the parleying extending over a protracted period and proving wholly futile, until at last the Stafford Government decided to avail themselves of the remarkable financial and diplomatic abilities of their colleague, and sent him to England on a special mission, with plenipotentiary powers, to come to a final settlement with the British Government. Sir William's idea of a settlement was the entire abandonment of the Imperial demand. And from this standpoint he never wavered during his numerous interviews and communications with the Duke of Buckingham, the then Colonial Secretary, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr. Ward Hunt. At last, after months of negotiation, the Treasury agreed to accept £200,000, this being announced as the ultimatum; and Sir William was, at the same time, privately informed that in case he did not accept these terms his further stay in England was useless. Nothing daunted, Sir William requested another interview with the Duke of Buckingham, and as a result obtained a complete triumph and an entire surrender. During his stay in England he also consolidated the various colonial and provincial loans, and was successful in persuading Lord Granville to retain the one English regiment in the North Island. On June 28th, 1869, the Stafford Government went out of office and was succeeded by that of Mr. Fox; but on Sept. 10th, 1872, Mr. Stafford again came into power, and Mr. Fitzherbert was Secretary for Crown Lands and Immigration. The Cabinet, however, only lasted till Oct 11th. In 1876 he was appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives, and in 1879 Sir George Grey made him Speaker of the Legislative Council. This latter position he held till his death, in Jan. 1891. He was created C.M.G. in 1872 and K.C.M.G. in 1877. In 1887 Sir William Fitzherbert visited England as one of the representatives of New Zealand at the Colonial Conference, and in 1890 he was elected one of the delegates of the colony to the Federation Convention at Sydney, but died before it met, on Feb. 9th, 1891.