Philanthropist. Founder of the Dilworth School, Auckland.
A new biography of Dilworth, James appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Dilworth was an Ulsterman, born at Dungannon, County Tyrone, on 15 August 1815. He was educated at the Royal School there, under the noted Dr Darley, later Bishop of Kilmore. After working in an Irish bank, he emigrated to New South Wales at 24 and obtained a job in the post office at Parramatta. His aim had been to settle on the land but, not liking the climate or prospects, he left in 1841 for the new town of Auckland, where he took temporary employment with the New Zealand Banking Co. After looking at land in the Bay of Plenty, Dilworth apparently decided not to lose touch with town life. He bought a suburban farm at Remuera near Graham's Hill (now Mount Hobson), and lived there for the rest of his life. During the northern war of 1845 he joined a member of the missionary Williams' family at the Bay of Islands in a contract for supplying meat to the troops. In course of time he increased his holding at Remuera, and made successful investments in other city and suburban property. He was one of the founders of the Auckland Savings Bank and was elected in 1853 to the Provincial Council, in which he sat for seven years. After the Maori Wars he was associated with the Thames Land Co. He was an early member of the Church of England Diocesan Trust Board and the Auckland University College Council.
Towards the end of his life Dilworth collaborated with a fellow Ulsterman, the Rev. George Mac-Murray, later Archdeacon of Auckland, in a plan to found a New Zealand “Christ's Hospital”. By his will, after providing for his widow, he directed that the whole of his large landed estate, estimated to be worth £100,000, should be vested in six trustees for the creation of a “Dilworth Ulster Institute”. This was to be “for the maintenance, education and training” of boys who were destitute orphans or children of parents in straitened circumstances and of good character and any race, residing in the province of Ulster or the province of Auckland.
Having no children of his own, Dilworth was attracted by the idea of helping underprivileged boys to become, as his will expressed it, “good and useful members of society”. He also wished to show affection for his native Ulster in a practical way. Unfortunately, the prospect of sending their boys to New Zealand at a tender age did not, in the outcome, appeal to Ulster parents and guardians. The plan had therefore to be set aside after a dozen lads had been received. The Dilworth School, as it was later called, opened in 1906 with 12 pupils. In 1964 it had a primary and secondary roll of 167, with prospects of further growth. The trustees take complete responsibility for a boy's needs from the age of nine until he is established in a career, and may send him on to a university if they consider that he shows promise.
Dilworth combined shrewd financial sense with much public spirit. He had a lifelong attachment to the Anglican Church and associated his school with it. Politics and leadership did not interest him; he preferred a minor role in civic activities while doing good in the background. He died at Auckland on 23 December 1894.
by Alfred Fearon Grace, Journalist, Auckland.
- New Zealand Herald, 24 Dec 1894 (Obit); 27 Dec 1894 (Will).