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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Lawyer and banker.

A new biography of Bathgate, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

John Bathgate was born on 10 August 1809 in Fountainbridge, Edinburgh, where his father was a schoolmaster. His mother, Frances Hamilton Macdowall, died in 1813 and his father remarried two years later. Bathgate was educated at the Edinburgh High School and the Edinburgh University. In 1822 his father became headmaster of the English School at Peebles where John accepted an assistantship in 1826. For some years he was teaching and also engaged in land surveying for various patrons, one of whom arranged an apprenticeship to Dymock, a writer to the signet. In 1835 Bathgate was admitted to the Rolls of Procurators before the Sheriff and was in partnership with John Wilson, of Peebles, for three years. He then became successively Procurator Fiscal for the county, Town Clerk and Clerk to the Commissioners of Supply. He established the Peebleshire Monthly Advertiser and Tweedside Journal to promote the development of Peebles, and in 1851 joined his friends Chalmers and Thorburn in launching a new scheme for a railway to the town. In 1855 he accepted the office of branch manager to the Union Bank of Scotland as an adjunct to his business, and in the following year he opened the Peebleshire Savings Investment Society.

At the age of 54 he accepted an offer of £1,500 a year and a free house for five years as the colonial manager of the Bank of Otago, and arrived in Dunedin on the Star of Tasmania on 23 November 1863. In the following year he opened branches of the Bank at Invercargill and Queenstown. He also helped to establish the Dunedin Waterworks Co. and acted as chairman of directors for five years. When the bank was destroyed by a night fire in 1865, Bathgate opened for business the next morning in temporary premises. Two years later he resigned from the bank but agreed to continue his direction for a further year.

In 1868 he became manager and, for some months, editor of the Otago Daily Times. He was appointed Provincial Trustee in Bankruptcy in 1870 and later the same year was admitted as a barrister and solicitor. In January 1871 he was elected member of Parliament for Dunedin and accepted the portfolio of Justice and Stamps, resigning in 1874 on his appointment as Resident Magistrate and District Judge for Otago. In March 1871 he was elected to the Provincial Council and was appointed Provincial Solicitor. He established the Dunedin Saturday Advertiser in 1875, with Thomas Bracken as editor. He was granted leave of absence on full salary for a year in 1879 on condition that he gave lectures in Britain in order to promote emigration and investment in New Zealand. While in Britain he organised the New Zealand Mortgage and Investment Association of which he was manager from 1881 to 1885.

From 1876 until his death he was a member of the Council of the University of Otago. He was elected member for the Roslyn electorate in 1881 and accepted the offer by Stout of a seat in the Legislative Council in 1885.

Bathgate advocated the creation of a State Bank of Issue and published a pamphlet on the subject in 1884. He was a devout Presbyterian and a total abstainer, but his austerity was softened by a lively sense of humour and great kindliness. Felicitous and vigorous in speech, he had a sanguine and energetic temperament which contributed greatly to the success of his various enterprises.

Bathgate married, first, in 1842, at Edinburgh, Anne Cairns, daughter of Dr Andrew Anderson, by whom he had two sons and two daughters; and, secondly, in 1853, at Edinburgh, Mary, daughter of James McLaren, by whom he had one son and seven daughters. He died at Mornington, Dunedin, on 21 September 1886.

by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

  • Extracts from the MS autobiography of John Bathgate, Bathgate J. (c. 1895)
  • Otago Daily Times, 22 Sep 1886 (Obit)
  • Saturday Advertiser (Dunedin), 27 Jul 1879.


Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.