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William Hobson

Margaret Aylward Dr Edward Barron Philip Barron Denis Cashman Raymond Chandler Paddy Coad Patrick Comerford Donncha Ruadh Val Doonican Sean Dunne Frank Edwards Alfie Hale John M Hearne William Hobson Dr Thomas Hussey Charles Kean John Keane Edmund Leamy D. P. Moran Gen Dick Mulcahy James Nash Peter O'Connor Jas Louis O'Donnell Pádraig Ó Fainín Gilbert O'Sullivan John Redmond Edmund I Rice James Rice, Mayor Lord Roberts V. C. John Roberts Frank Ryan Thomas Sexton Archbishop Sheehan Susan Smith John Treacy Luke Wadding William V. Wallace Cardinal Wiseman Bullocks Wyse Lucien Bonaparte Wyse



    William Hobson (1792-1842)
Naval Officer, Colonial Governor

William Hobson, the future Governor of New Zealand and the virtual founder of that state was born in Newtown Lodge, Waterford city, on September 26, 1792. He came from a family that had resided in Ireland for a century before William was born. They were well established in Ireland in the reign of king James II and, even then, their connection with Waterford had commenced. Captain Samuel Hobson, William’s great-great-grandfather, was listed as a rebel against king James in the king’s Act of Attainder but he lived to see the king beaten at the battle of the Boyne and forced into exile. Waterford’s Protestant Corporation granted honours and privileges to Samuel Hobson’s grandson, another Samuel, because of the family’s loyalty to the new king, William of Orange.

This Samuel, William’s grandfather, was in charge of the British garrison at Youghal about 1750 and was noted for his stern discipline towards his soldiers. He had such a reputation for harshness towards his prisoners that a deputation of townspeople, accompanied by their womenfolk, waited on him to plead for leniency. The captain promised to relax his iron discipline on one condition, that he would be given, in marriage, the hand of one of the supplicants, Angel, the daughter of Edward Laundy of Muckridge, county Cork. The terms were accepted.

Samuel and Angel’s son became a barrister and married, in 1772, a Martha Jones who belonged to a family that had included a Protestant Archbishop of Dublin, a Lord Chancellor (in 1605), a Lord Chief Justice, a second Lord Chancellor, a bishop of Killaloe and a Governor of Dublin, Lieut-General Michael Jones, in 1668. The first son of that marriage, Archdeacon Hobson, was a remarkable Waterford Protestant clergyman who held a number of ecclesiastical appointments in Waterford and elsewhere. William was the third of five sons. William spent but nine years in Waterford where he had an unhappy childhood. His mother Martha was a harsh, proud, woman and very severe on her children but his father was a pattern of benevolence, remarkable in a son of the Youghal tyrant.

William was sent to England at the age of nine years to enter the navy, for which he had been nominated by one of the more notorious members of the Beresford family, Sir John Poo Beresford, one of the illegitimate relatives of the Marquis of Waterford. This nomination was obtained, apparently, by the false representation that William was of age, whereas he was three years too young to enter the service. He signed on as a second class volunteer, at Deptford, London, on 25 August 1803.
His mother seems to have been overjoyed to see her young son sent off to such a dangerous and unhealthy career: most British warships in those days were small, badly ventilated and hotbeds of yellow fever. The boy was posted on convoy duty to La Virginie,one of Beresford’s ships, and he remained at sea, on his first posting, for many months. During this maiden voyage Beresford amused himself by occasionally making little Hobson drunk on brandy.

oung Hobson became a midshipman at the age of thirteen (though supposedly sixteen) in April 1806. He then went to sea on an expedition that lasted three years during which time he had but brief periods ashore. He spent his time on board acquiring  knowledge that was essential for one who was destined for life in the navy. He gained, also, a thorough command of the English language and he had good handwriting. His style was good: he wrote forcibly, lucidly and with precision. After that voyage, in 1808, Poo Beresford asked for young Hobson when manning the “Theseus” (74 guns), which was to take part in the famous blockade of French coasts during Napoleon’s land campaigns. Napoleon had declared a blockade against British trade and Britain had replied with a counter-blockade. Beresford was in command of the British fleet and he conducted the blockade just off the Basque Roads and, in the following year, in the neighbourhood of Brest. On February 21, 1809, Beresford’s three gunboats were attacked by twelve ships of the French fleet; a few broadsides were exchanged at long range and the French, who were running for the Basque Roads, gained their point. That was the only naval engagement involving large ships in which Hobson took a part. For the most part Hobson was having adventures in small ships off newly discovered or little known lands in the old and new worlds. Hobson was engaged, whilst on the sloop Peruvian, in an interlude in the war of 1812-14 against the United States of America and, in 1815, Hobson was on the ship that brought home the first news of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo.

When Napoleon was made prisoner and sent to exile in St. Helena in 1815, Hobson’s ship Peruvian, escorted the general and detoured to the island of Guernsey to load a supply of type of French wines that Napoleon preferred. When they arrived at St. Helena Hobson was placed in charge of a party that sank a well in that sterile land. When Hobson left St. Helena at last he had been at sea on continuous duty for thirteen years and by then he had been made a first lieutenant. In 1821, Hobson commanded the sloop Whim, assigned the task of attacking pirates in the West Indies and it was there that he met the novelist Captain Marryat, furnishing that writer with material for many of his sea stories. Michael Scott, another novelist, made Hobson the hero of a somewhat famous yarn, “Tom Cringle’s Log” which was said to be, in reality, an account of Hobson’s West Indian adventures. He and his crew were captured by pirates in 1821, but released after a week of ill treatment. He was captured again in July 1823 while commanding a small flotilla attacking pirate strongholds. He made a daring escape and continued with his operations; the pirate chief who had captured him in 1821 was routed and driven to his death. During his West Indian service Hobson was afflicted by yellow fever three times, and suffered recurrent headaches for the rest of his life.  

    Hobson was promoted commander in March 1824 on the recommendation of Sir Edward Owen, who referred to him as 'an officer of great merit and intelligence'. After a time in England he returned to the West Indies, again taking action against pirates and slaveships, and capturing the Spanish ship Diana. While visiting Nassau, in the Bahamas, he met Eliza Elliott, only daughter of a Scots West Indian merchant, Robert Wear Elliott. They were married at Nassau probably on 17 December 1827, and went to England with Eliza's mother in mid 1828 when Hobson's ship, the Scylla, was paid off. They were to have four daughters and one son.
After returning to England Hobson made a last visit home to Waterford but then he made a home in Plymouth for himself and his wife.

    Peace descended on Europe with the defeat of Napoleon, and Hobson was unemployed. He bombarded the Admiralty in London with memorials detailing his service record and asking for an appointment. These pleas remained unheeded until Lord Auckland became first lord commissioner of the Admiralty. In December 1834 Hobson was appointed commander of the frigate Rattlesnake , leaving Portsmouth in March 1835 to serve in the East Indies. In 1836 the Rattlesnake was dispatched to the Australia station. It acted as a transport ship, helped with the founding of Williamstown (Melbourne) and surveyed Port Phillip.

    Early in 1837 the British Resident in New Zealand, James Busby, sent word that tribal war was endangering British subjects. Hobson left in the Rattlesnake , arriving at the Bay of Islands on 26 May. He met Busby, spoke with missionaries, prominent settlers and Maori leaders. With Samuel Marsden and Busby he interviewed the warring chiefs, Pomare II and Titore, attempting to reconcile them, and warned against violence to British subjects. He visited other parts of the North Island, returning to the Bay of Islands on 30 June. Marsden sailed with him to Port Jackson (Sydney); there the ship was refitted and arrived in England in early 1838. Hobson submitted a report on New Zealand, in which he proposed a system of trading 'factories' similar to those in India, and a treaty with the Maori to secure the necessary land. In a letter to his wife he entertained the idea of an official appointment to New Zealand. On 12 December 1838 Lord Glenelg, secretary of state for the colonies, requested the Foreign Office to consider appointing a British consul to New Zealand. Hobson was chosen, and accepted in February 1839; his appointment as consul was confirmed on 13 August 1839. His appointment as lieutenant governor was ratified on 30 July. Lengthy instructions, partly an apology for intervention, partly directions for establishing a British colony, were issued by Lord Normanby, Glenelg's successor, on 14 August. The sovereignty of the Maori people, ratified by Busby's Declaration of the Independence of New Zealand of October 1835, was reaffirmed. Hobson was to obtain land from Maori 'by fair and equal contracts', reselling to settlers at a profit to fund future operations.

    The Druid sailed from Plymouth on 25 August with Hobson and his family on board, arriving at Port Jackson on 24 December. Hobson spent three weeks there, became acquainted with his immediate superior, George Gipps, the governor of New South Wales, and selected his staff. Leaving his family in Port Jackson, Hobson sailed on the Herald on 19 January 1840, arriving at the Bay of Islands on 29 January. During the voyage he had heated arguments with the captain, Joseph Nias, who was obstructive of Hobson, apparently out of envy.

    On 30 January, in the CMS church at Kororareka (Russell), Hobson read the Queen's commission appointing him lieutenant governor, omitting to read his consular commission, and cautiously calling himself only lieutenant governor of the British settlements in progress. Invitations were issued to Maori leaders to a meeting at Waitangi. In the meantime Busby and Hobson drafted a treaty, later called the Treaty of Waitangi. The meeting was held on 5 February in a large marquee in front of Busby's house, beginning at 12 noon. Henry Williams, CMS missionary, was interpreter, and Hobson was joined on the platform by Busby, Nias, and Catholic, Wesleyan and Church of England missionaries. The British flag was lowered and the treaty read out in English and Maori. Maori leaders then spoke: the first speakers were against the treaty, but the feeling of the meeting changed when Tamati Waka Nene, Hone Heke and Patuone, who had been counselled by the missionaries, commended it.

    Next day Hobson received signatures from over 40 chiefs, 26 of whom had previously signed the 1835 Declaration of Independence; it would later become obvious that Henry Williams's translation of the treaty, and thus Maori understanding of it, was inadequate. A week later Hobson and his staff went to a meeting at Mangungu, Hokianga, attended by 2,000-3,000 Maori. There was concerted opposition to the treaty but 56 or more chiefs signed after Hobson had warned, through his interpreter, that the Maori would lose their lands to the untrustworthy Europeans he had been sent to govern, and after he had given assurances that the Crown would protect their lands, .

    Hobson sailed on 21 February to the Waitemata Harbour, intending to survey it as the location of the future capital, and to get signatures from other North Island Maori. He had renewed quarrels with Nias over the use of men and boats, and on 1 March suffered a stroke which paralysed his right side and impaired his speech. He was taken back to the Bay of Islands and cared for at the CMS mission station at Waimate North. Nias returned to Port Jackson, reporting that Hobson was not expected to recover and that Willoughby Shortland was deputising for him. Better news about Hobson's condition was conveyed by Alexander Lane, surgeon of the Herald , who added that 'violent mental excitement' was the cause of the disease. Meanwhile Hobson was recovering daily and by 15 March could begin a diary to his wife; his handwriting improved steadily over the following weeks.

    Gipps sent Major Thomas Bunbury, with 80 soldiers, to assist Hobson and to take over government if he was incapacitated. Bunbury left on 5 April on the Buffalo with Eliza Hobson and family, reaching the Bay of Islands on 16 April. He found Hobson performing nearly all his duties. The two men became good friends. Shortland had begun to organise the collection of signatures on copies of the treaty in various parts of the country, and Bunbury sailed with some soldiers on the Herald to Coromandel, the Bay of Plenty, the East Coast, the South Island and Port Nicholson (Wellington) for the same purpose.

    Hobson had been informed in February that New Zealand Company settlers had arrived at Port Nicholson, were laying out town sites, and flying the national flag of independent New Zealand. On 21 May, disregarding the fact that copies of the treaty were still circulating and responding to an act of high-handedness by the settlers' Council, Hobson hurriedly drafted proclamations asserting British sovereignty over the whole of New Zealand. Shortland and some soldiers were sent to Port Nicholson on 25 May; the Council was disbanded and the offending flags struck. The settlers' leader, William Wakefield, later went to the Bay of Islands with an address pledging their allegiance to the Crown and suggesting that Hobson make Port Nicholson the capital. This was declined, but Hobson was reassured by their gesture.

    Another crisis faced Hobson when the French frigate L'Aube arrived on 11 July, en route for Banks Peninsula, where the Nanto-Bordelaise Company expedition was about to found a settlement. The ship's captain, C. F. Lavaud, met Hobson and courteously refused to acknowledge his status until he should hear from the French government. Hobson hastily dispatched two magistrates to Akaroa to hold courts as a sign of 'effective occupation' by British subjects. They were followed soon after by L'Aube, and on 17 August the Nanto-Bordelaise ship Comte-de-Paris arrived, carrying the immigrants.

    On 18 September the British flag was raised on the shore of the Waitemata Harbour, land was bought and preparations made for establishing the capital there. The town was named after Hobson's patron, Lord Auckland. In October the first 40 immigrants arrived, from Australia. The official move came in February 1841, when the government officials, their families, and official records travelled from Kororareka in the brig Victoria. Compared with Port Nicholson, Auckland was sparsely populated, labour was in short supply, and food had to be imported from the north or from Sydney; prices, wages and rents were high.

    Further strife with the New Zealand Company occurred late in 1840 when it offered for sale blocks of land at Wanganui and Taranaki. The Port Nicholson settlers sent a petition to the Queen complaining about Hobson's treatment of them and requesting his dismissal. Hobson dealt with their criticism in a dispatch of 26 May 1841 to the secretary of state.

    New Zealand became a Crown colony separate from New South Wales when Hobson took the oath as governor and commander in chief on 3 May 1841; a royal charter had been signed by Queen Victoria the previous November. As governor, Hobson now dealt directly with the home government, but the answers to his dispatches took at least nine months to reach him. He was further handicapped by the inferior advice of his Executive and Legislative councils. Shortland, the colonial secretary, was brusque, tactless and incompetent. George Cooper, the colonial treasurer, was even more unsatisfactory. Francis Fisher, the attorney general, was competent but suffered ill health and soon retired. Hobson was undoubtedly misled in some of his decisions; for example, he purchased land at Kororareka for £15,000, a transaction of which the secretary of state later disapproved. Shortland and the venal Felton Mathew, the acting surveyor general, engaged in questionable appropriation of land in Auckland before the first town land sales.

    In August 1841 Hobson was at last able to visit Wellington, travelling on the Victoria; he stayed at a waterfront hotel, received settlers and heard their complaints, and selected magistrates. The people of Wellington were reassured about their title to land. Provisions were made for court hearings, and customs duties were removed. Relations with Wellington were improved by this visit, but the company's founding of Nelson was to cause further discord. Hobson sailed to Akaroa, where settlement of French claims was still awaited.

    After returning to Auckland, Hobson was joined by more able staff: William Swainson, attorney general from October 1841, and William Martin, judge of the Supreme Court from January 1842. After the murders of a European family, their servant and a Maori child in the Bay of Islands in November 1841, a Maori uprising was feared. However, the Supreme Court trial and subsequent execution of Maketu occurred without conflict, and was taken to emphasise the rule of law over both races. An outbreak of intertribal warfare and cannibalism at Thames was another challenge to Hobson's authority: the offending chief, Taraia, wrote to him, saying the fighting was a Maori affair only. At first Hobson intended to send soldiers, but finally his officials with the assistance of missionaries calmed the situation and admonished the participants.      Throughout his administration Hobson had insufficient troops to deal with major conflict, and could only resort to moral suasion. He appointed George Clarke as protector of aborigines; this was the beginning of the Native Department, but it was a position compromised by the requirement that Clarke should also act as government land purchaser.

    Hobson's government was ridiculed and criticised by journalists in Wellington and Auckland. Over-protective of his authority, he took their words too seriously. The New Zealand Herald and Auckland Gazette under the editorship of Samuel Martin, who made swingeing attacks on land policy and government expenditure, was closed down.

    The poor state of the government's funds, because of excessive official expenditure and diminishing income from land sales, became a pressing concern. Hobson appealed to the Colonial Office in January 1842. During the long delay before he received a reply, and on the advice of his Executive Council, he issued unauthorised bills on the British Treasury. High land prices and economic depression inevitably led to settler unrest, fomented in Auckland by the Senate clique, a group of radicals led by local merchants, who agitated for representative government. They petitioned the secretary of state, Lord Stanley, for Hobson's recall. When Hobson called a meeting to vote a congratulatory address to the Queen on the birth of a princess, the Senate held a rival meeting and sent a counter-address. As a naval officer accustomed to instant obedience, Hobson found their unruly behaviour intolerable.

    In continuing ill health since his first stroke, Hobson suffered another stroke and died at 12.15 a.m. on 10 September 1842. After a military funeral on 13 September, he was interred in a brick vault in the new burial ground at Auckland, now known as Grafton cemetery. Eliza Hobson remained in New Zealand until June 1843, returning to England with her children and living at Stoke, Devonshire. She died in 1876.

    William Hobson's intelligence and sound education, most of which was gained at sea, are reflected in his dispatches and letters. He was of medium height and slender build, appearing prematurely aged from years in the tropics and from the inroads of disease. His private conduct was irreproachable; he was a good husband, father and friend, a gracious host and an entertaining speaker. A firm Christian believer and member of the Church of England, he showed marked tolerance for other denominations. When some of his entourage endeavoured to ban the Catholic religion in New Zealand, Hobson gave an assurance to Archbishop Pompallier, who was present at the treaty negotiations, that all Christian religions would be tolerated. In his official duties he strove to be just, and saw protection of the Maori as a major reason for establishing British rule. He could be obstinate and lacking in diplomacy. He was capable of poor decisions, but the tragedy of his governorship arose mainly from his ill health and inept advisers, and unrealistic Colonial Office policy towards the new colony.

Extracted, in part, from a series of articles in the Waterford News Aug 12/Sept 16, 1938; from
 The Oxford Illustrated History of New Zealand, ed. Keith Sinclair, ©OUP, 1993 and from Simpson, K. A. 'Hobson, William 1792 - 1842'.  Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 31 July 2003, URL: http://www.dnzb.govt.nz/

(The original version of Simpsons biography was published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Volume One (1769-1869), 1990
© Crown Copyright 1990-2003. Published by the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, Wellington, New Zealand. All rights reserved.

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