Otago runholder and member of the Legislative Council.
A new biography of Campbell, Robert appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Campbell was born on his father's estate at Buscot Park, Berkshire. After being educated at Eton he came to New Zealand in 1866 to buy up land on behalf of the firm Robert Campbell and Sons. By the 1870s this firm had acquired a number of large properties, including Burwood in Southland, Galloway in Central Otago, Benmore and Otekaieke in the Waitaki Basin, and Oroua Downs near Bulls. At their peak these properties carried about 300,000 sheep, although they subsequently suffered severely from the depredations of rabbits. Campbell built a large house in the Scottish baronial style at Otekaike, near Kurow, and took up residence there in 1876. He was the member for Oamaru in the House of Representatives from 1866 to 1870 and was called to the Legislative Council in 1870. He was also chairman of the Waitaki County Council for some years after 1877 and a member of the University Senate from 1871 to 1879.
In the Legislative Council Campbell did not make many contributions to debate, other than on local issues, but gave general support to the Vogel public works policy. He took little part in the discussions on the abolition of the provinces. He was, however, strongly critical of the attempts of the Otago Provincial Council to make available more better-class land for closer settlement, which could deprive some of the larger runholders of the most fertile parts of their leases. He also spoke strongly on the rabbit menace, some of his own firm's runs having suffered severely. Campbell was called as a witness before the Parliamentary Committee on Waste Lands in 1885, and the evidence placed before this Committee showed that his firm had deliberately evaded the provisions of the Act dealing with land aggregation. From that time until his death in Dunedin on 9 December 1889 he took little part in public affairs.
The contribution made by his firm to the development of the sheep industry was also fairly limited, partly because the carrying capacity of all his runs was steadily reduced by rabbits in the 1880s and 1890s.
by Patrick Russell Stephens, M.A., Economics Section, Department of Agriculture, Wellington.
- History of North Otago, McDonald, K. C. (1940)
- Otago Daily Times, 8 May 1876