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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.


BONAR, James Alexander


Superintendent of Westland

A new biography of Bonar, James Alexander appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

James Alexander Bonar was born at Edinburgh, Scotland, on 12 June 1840, the second son of Archibald Bonar, an Edinburgh banker, and Sophia, née Robertson. He was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and, in 1854, emigrated to Australia with his father, where he took employment as shipping clerk with Henty and Co., of Melbourne. He attended Knox College Bible Class, was a member of the Young Men's Mutual Improvement Society, and became a keen debater. About this time he joined the Melbourne Volunteer Corps. In 1863 he and his brother-in-law came to Invercargill, where they founded the mercantile firm of Henderson and Bonar and acquired agencies for Lloyd's, McMeekan, Blackwood and Co., and the Pioneer Steamship Co. Two years later, when the Westland gold rush began, the partners transferred their business to Hokitika. In 1867 Bonar became first mayor of Hokitika, represented the town on Canterbury Provincial Council, and served on Rolleston's executive. During Bonar's term as mayor, Sir George Grey paid a State visit to Hokitika. On 27 June 1868 Bonar was summoned to the Legislative Council. In February 1868 he was elected to the newly formed Westland County Council, where, a month later, he succeeded Hall as chairman. He was county chairman in 1868 at the time of the Fenian Riots and showed great tact in handling that explosive situation. In 1874, when Westland was separated from Canterbury, Bonar was elected first Superintendent of the new province and retained this office until the passing of the Abolition Act. After 1876 Bonar continued his interest in Westland's affairs and served terms as chairman of the hospital board and harbour board. He was a lieutenant-colonel in the Volunteers and, in 1895, received the Victoria Decoration.

On 19 October 1875, at Melbourne, Victoria, Bonar married Elliott Margaret, daughter of William Montgomerie Bell, a merchant, of Melbourne and Geelong. Bonar died at Wellington on 7 November 1901 and was survived by his widow and five sons.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Evening Post, 7 Nov 1901 (Obit)
  • New Zealand Times, 8 Nov 1901 (Obit)
  • Grey River Argus, 8 Nov 1901 (Obit).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.