Lawyer and writer.
A new biography of Bathgate, Alexander appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Alexander Bathgate was born in Peebles, Scotland, on 4 August 1845, the second child of John Bathgate. He was educated at the English School in Peebles and the Edinburgh University. In 1863 the family emigrated to Otago and Bathgate joined the Bank of Otago which his father was managing, but later he transferred to the Bank of New South Wales. In 1866 he was sent to a branch on the diggings at Hamiltons and two years later to Cromwell.
In 1869 he took up law and signed articles with Gibson Turton, completing them with his father. He was admitted to the Bar in 1872 and commenced practice on his own account, later taking into partnership N. L. Buchanan; J. F. Woodhouse joined the firm in 1890. Both partners became his brothers-in-law, Jane and Edith Bathgate marrying Buchanan and Woodhouse respectively. From 1902 to 1908 he was chairman of the Industrial Conciliation Board of Otago and Southland, proving a capable and respected negotiator. In 1909 he retired from legal practice: thereafter he was a director of Kempthorne Prosser Ltd., the Otago Daily Times and Witness Co., the Trustees Executors and Agency Co., and Donaghy's Rope and Twine.
Bathgate had been strongly affected by the treeless landscape of Central Otago. He was also distressed by the destruction of vegetation around Dunedin and considered that public opinion should be educated to appreciate the importance of planting for the development of the beauty, fertility, and natural resources of the country. At a meeting of the Otago Institute, of which he was a life member, he read a paper on the Conservation and Extension of the Amenities of Dunedin and its Neighbourhood which resulted in the formation of the Dunedin and Reserves Conservation Society, later the Dunedin Amenities Society, with Bathgate as secretary. In 1891 he published A Plea for the Establishment of Arbor Day, which he wished to see celebrated in every settlement.
For a time he was part owner of the Saturday Advertiser, a weekly journal established in 1875 to “foster a national spirit in New Zealand and encourage colonial literature”. He published his first book Colonial Experiences in 1874; he was the author of two volumes of poetry Far South Fancies, 1889, and The Legend of the Wandering Lake, 1905; and two novels, Waitaruna, 1881, and Sodger Sandy's Bairn, 1913. His writing shows a lively, candid intelligence but lacks literary distinction. He edited Picturesque Dunedin in 1890 for the New Zealand and South Seas Exhibition, and Dunedin and its Neighbourhood in 1904 for the Dunedin meeting of the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. With the cooperation of other leading citizens, he founded the Dunedin Art Gallery with a nucleus of paintings from the 1889 Exhibition, and was president of the society from 1890 to 1922.
He was convinced that the development of Central Otago, based on primary industries, was essential for the economic welfare of the province. He supported the Central Otago Railway League, and was its president for some years. He was a founder and first president of the Otago Expansion League which was established in 1912 to promote the development of the provincial district.
Practical, idealistic, and romantic, Bathgate was motivated by a passionate affection for Otago. He married Fanny, daughter of J. Turton, of Manchester, in 1873. He died on 9 September 1930.
by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.
- Colonial Experiences, Bathgate, A. (1874)
- Otago Daily Times, 11 Sep 1930 (Obit).