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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.


FORSAITH, Thomas Spencer


Trader, politician, Congregationalist pastor.

T. S. Forsaith was born in 1814 in London of strict Primitive Congregationalist parents; his father was Samuel Forsaith, a linen draper and haberdasher, and his mother, Elizabeth née Emberson. At an early age Forsaith was apprenticed to a Croydon silk merchant but, disliking this occupation, he determined to go to sea. He engaged secretly as cabin boy on a Tyne-bound collier, but his intention was discovered and his parents, hoping to disgust him with the rigours of a seaman's life, allowed him to make one voyage. After this he joined Charles Horsfall and Co., the shipping firm, and as a cadet officer made three voyages to the East in the Huddersfield. In 1834 he sailed as fourth officer in the Hoogley which was under charter by the Government to transport convicts to Botany Bay. In July 1836, in the Lord Goderich, he again visited Australia and on the return voyage called at Hokianga to collect a cargo of kauri spars.

On 17 May 1838, at the Congregational Church in Old Broad Street, London, Forsaith married Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Robert Clements, of Hoxton – their wedding being one of the first legally celebrated in a dissenting place of worship. Later in the same year he chartered the Coromandel, loaded it with trade goods and lumbermaking machinery, and emigrated to New Zealand. In 1839 he purchased two blocks of land in the Kaipara district and established a trading station on the northern Wairoa River. He also erected a mill to cut kauri spars (then selling at £17 each) for the British Government, and imported cattle and farm implements to break in his land. By May 1841 he had cleared and fenced 12 acres, of which 10 acres were sown in wheat. In February 1842, while Forsaith and his wife were visiting Sydney, a Maori skull was discovered on his property. Local chiefs claimed that a tapu had been broken and exacted utu, or payment, by plundering the station. Forsaith petitioned Governor Hobson for compensation. The claim was investigated by George Clarke the Protector of Aborigines. His report cleared Forsaith of complicity, and the chiefs responsible agreed to cede him a small block of land (10 square miles) by way of settlement. This was the first occasion on which Government Officers had visited the district and Clarke made valuable recommendations concerning the establishment of a magistracy there.

This incident so upset Forsaith that, shortly afterwards, he exchanged his holdings for an equivalent tract nearer to Auckland. In March 1842, because of his wide experience among the Maoris and his command of their language, he was appointed by Hobson Sub-protector of Aborigines. In 1843 he was promoted Protector in succession to Clarke. In this capacity he worked closely with Governor FitzRoy whom he accompanied to the Cook Strait area in 1844, and to the great Maori meeting at Waikanae after the Wairau affray. Forsaith was stationed in Wellington and in February 1844 was present at the signing of the Te Aro land purchase. In April 1845 he negotiated with Rangihaeata to secure Maori evacuation of the Hutt lands, and proposed that a system of trade tokens be instituted to prevent the barter trading between Maoris and Europeans which, as he saw it, was the cause of their reluctance to leave the district. Later in the year he acted as interpreter for Major M. Richmond, the Government Superintendent for the Southern District, and Bishop Selwyn in their successful endeavour to bring peace to the warring Wanganui tribes. When, in 1845, Te Rauparaha paid a ceremonial visit to Wellington, Forsaith met and escorted him through the town.

In 1847 he left the Government's employ and opened a drapery store in Auckland where his neat red-brick premises became one of that city's show-places. For a short time he edited the Southern Cross newspaper and in August 1852 was elected to represent the Northern Division in the New Ulster Legislative Council; in August 1853 this district returned him to the first General Assembly. During the controversial debates on responsible government, Forsaith was the only member to oppose E. G. Wakefield's motion. He admitted that responsible government was desirable but argued that, under existing circumstances, it was improper for Parliament to expect the Administrator (Wynyard) to introduce a constitutional change which was clearly beyond his legal authority. On the division following FitzGerald's resignation, Forsaith was among the 10 members who refused to force the issue. Because his consistent championing of the Administrator's position lent credence to the belief that Forsaith led an “opposition” group whose views were more in accord with Wynyard's, he was called upon to select three colleagues to join the Executive Council. On 31 August 1854 Forsaith, and E. J. Wakefield, W. T. L. Travers, and James Macandrew, took their seats in the Executive Council, but without portfolio. The “Ministry's” views were set forth in the Governor's Address to the second session of Parliament, and included such items as an elective Legislative Council, revision of electoral districts, and clarification of the relative spheres of the General and Provincial Governments. The drafting of this speech was the “Ministry's” sole official act and, when their prepared Address in Reply was rejected by the House on 3 September 1854, Forsaith and his colleagues resigned. Constitutionally, Forsaith, like his predecessor FitzGerald, has no claim to be regarded as a Premier of New Zealand.

Shortly before his elevation to office, Forsaith had tabled a motion to secure religious toleration and, on 28 August 1855, he defeated Carlton's attempt to have Bishop Selwyn's salary made a charge on the Colonial Government. This had the effect of disestablishing the Anglican Church in New Zealand. Defeated at the polls in 1855, Forsaith returned to business, becoming a Justice of the Peace in 1857. He was re-elected to Parliament in April 1858, but his sincere, if ill-timed defence of Wiremu Kingi after the Waitara affair, effectively terminated his political career, and he retired in 1860.

In 1862 Forsaith gave up his business to enter the church. The Presbyterian authorities (he had joined that church in 1850) offered him a post as missioner at Tuapeka goldfields but he declined this, preferring to continue theological studies preparatory to ordination as a minister. In July 1865, however, he was ordained to the new Congregational pastorate at Port Chalmers. In 1867 he accepted a call to a similar pastorate at Woollahra, New South Wales. From there he removed (1868) to Parramatta and, in 1872, became chairman of the Congregational Union of New South Wales. In 1878 he was appointed resident chaplain at Camden Theological College, and, while there, founded a branch mission at Haslam's Creek (now Hampden), New South Wales. He returned to Parramatta in 1882, and later toured Canada, America, and Europe. In Britain he gave a series of public lectures which attracted many new immigrants to New Zealand, and for a short time he officiated at the Presbyterian Church in Venice. In 1884 he left Europe and for some years relieved at churches in Australia and New Zealand (notably in Dunedin and Invercargill). Early in 1898 Forsaith began his memoirs but had not proceeded far when he died, at Parramatta, on 29 November 1898.

As one of the earliest settlers in the Kaipara district, Forsaith acquired the unique reputation of dealing fairly with the Maoris in land transactions. His understanding of Maori language and customs and his tactfulness in dealing with their problems made his services invaluable to New Zealand's first three Governors. As a parliamentarian, he impressed his contemporaries as a serious thinker and an able debater, and it was unfortunate that his political career ended at such an early stage. Forsaith was a deeply religious man. Although he was a Presbyterian for many years, his best services were given to the sect of his youth, the Congregationalists. He entered their ministry relatively late in life but proved, in a quiet unassuming way, both in Australia and in New Zealand, that he was a truly great pioneer of the church.

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

  • I.A. 1/80 (MSS), National Archives
  • O.L.C. 626, 628 (MSS), National Archives
  • N.Z.P.D. 1854–55, 1855–60
  • New Zealand Spectator, 10 May 1845.


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