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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Forsaith, Rev. Thomas Spencer

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Forsaith, Rev. Thomas Spencer, who was for two days Premier of New Zealand, was born in 1814, and emigrated to New Zealand in 1840. He settled at Mangawhare, on the North Wairoa river, in the province of Auckland, a hundred and eighteen miles north-east of the city of Auckland. In Nov. 1841 a skull which had been washed down the river was found on Mr. Forsaith's property by a party of Maoris, who believed that it had been taken from one of their sacred places. They accordingly "raided" Mr. Forsaith's premises in the absence of himself and Mrs. Forsaith, carrying off everything movable and wrecking the interior of the house. An inquiry into this outrage was held in the following March before the Chief Protector of Aborigines, when the natives reluctantly acknowledged their error and surrendered a tract of land in payment. The Government also gave Mr. Forsaith compensation, and he removed to Auckland, where he opened a store. He was subsequently appointed a sub-protector of Aborigines, and accompanied the late Admiral Fitzroy, then Governor of New Zealand, to Waikanae in Feb. 1844, when the latter held a conference with the Maori chiefs concerned in the Wairu massacre. Mr. Forsaith interpreted for Rauparaha his address to the Governor on the occasion. He was elected a member of the first House of Representatives in 1854; and when subsequently the acting Governor, Colonel Wynyard, was pressed to initiate responsible, government under the new Constitution, and made a second attempt to carry on with a hybrid Government, including the old imperial administrative officials, he was one of the four members of the General Assembly who were appointed to the Executive Council in August 1854, on condition of their resigning in case they failed to carry with them the support and confidence of the Houses of Parliament. This they failed to do, for on Sept. 2nd, 1854, two days after they had taken office, they were defeated in the House of Representatives on an amendment to the Address by 22 votes to 11. Of this short-lived Government of responsible and irresponsible Ministers Mr. Forsaith was Premier, so far as such an office was then recognised. His two days' taste of the sweets of office was his only one. His Ministry is famous in the annals of New Zealand, besides its brevity, for the soubriquet which it obtained of "the Clean Shirt Ministry." The popular tradition concerning the phrase is that Mr. Forsaith, when making his Ministerial statement in the House, explained that while pursuing his avocation in his shop in Queen Street, Auckland, he received a communication from the Governor requesting his presence, whereupon he went home and put on a clean shirt and repaired to Government House. What really happened, according to Mr. Forsaith's own account, was that he had been assisting his employés to unpack some drapery cases recently landed, whereby his clothing became very dusty. On receiving his Excellency's command to come and see him respecting the formation of a new Ministry, he naturally went home first and changed his dusty garments. Later on, when making his Ministerial statement, he narrated the simple incident, and this so tickled one of the southern members as to wring from him the chaffing declaration that he gathered little more from the Premier's "statement" than that the hon. gentleman had gone home and put on a clean shirt. In due time Mr. Forsaith had his revenge by retorting that, though clothed with but "little brief authority," his Ministry had come and gone in clean garments, which was the happiest condition he could hope for the hon. member when his time came. Mr. Forsaith subsequently settled in Sydney, N.S.W., and was ordained a minister of the Congregational Church in 1865. Recently he retired, and has resided at Parramatta.