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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Swainson, Hon. William

< The Dictionary of Australasian Biography

Swainson, Hon. William, was born in Lancaster, and was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple. In 1841 he was nominated by Lord John Russell Attorney-General of New Zealand, previously to the introduction of responsible government; and sailed for that colony in company with Chief Justice Martin. During the voyage out the two devoted themselves to preparing an "outline of a legal system adapted to the condition of an infant colony," and within six months of Mr. Swainson's arrival he passed many measures for the better governance of the country, including ordinances to establish a supreme court and county courts, for the constitution of juries, for regulating the practice of petty sessions, for establishing municipalities, for promoting religion, for regulating postage, for registration of deeds concerning real property, for facilitating the transfer of real property, to render certain marriages valid, for regulating the sale of liquors, for licensing auctioneers, for regulating harbours, and various other enactments. Mr. Swainson occupied his difficult position from August 1841 till 1856, and was also a member of the Executive Council. In 1854 the first General Assembly was convened in New Zealand, and Mr. Swainson became Speaker of the Legislative Council, holding meanwhile the office of Attorney-General. But the new Parliament demanded responsible government for itself, and in May 1856 Mr. Swainson and his colleagues resigned, and the Ministerial offices were henceforth controlled by the General Assembly. Mr. Swainson continued, however, to be a member of the Legislative Council, as also of the Executive Council. During his life in New Zealand, he took a great interest in the establishment of the Anglican Church there, and was associated with Bishop Selwyn in his efforts to found a constitution for it. In 1855 he went to England on leave, and devoted much time to the delivery of lectures on the advantages of New Zealand as a field for colonisation. He was a member of the Grey Ministry without portfolio from April to July 1879. He died in 1884, having been Chancellor of the diocese of Auckland from 1866. Mr. Swainson was the author of "Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand"; "New Zealand and its Colonisation" (1857); and "New Zealand and the War" (1862).