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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.


GILLIES, Thomas Bannatyne


Minister of the Crown and Judge.

A new biography of Gillies, Thomas Bannatyne appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Thomas Bannatyne Gillies was born in 1828 at Rothesay, Isle of Bute, Scotland, the eldest son of John Gillies and Isabella, née Lillie. He was educated at the parish school and studied for law, but soon changed to a commercial career. Gillies did not follow his father into the Free Church but accompanied him to Otago in 1852 where he farmed his father's Tokomairiro property. He later farmed on his own account at Warepa, South Otago. In 1858 he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor and joined his father in practice with John Hyde Harris. He served on the Otago Provincial Council in 1860–61, being Speaker during the latter year. From 1860 to 1865 he was member of the House of Representatives for Bruce, serving as Attorney-General in Domett's Ministry, 1862, and Postmaster-General and Secretary of Crown Lands in the succeeding Whitaker Ministry, 1863–64. About 1861 Gillies formed a partnership with C. W. Richmond; but in 1865, following his first wife's death, he moved to Auckland where he continued in legal practice. On 18 November 1869 he narrowly defeated Williamson for the Auckland Superintendency after a stormy campaign. Early in 1870 Gillies was returned to the House of Representatives for Mongonui, and then for Auckland City West from 1871 to 1875. When Vogel announced his immigration and public works policy, Gillies at once opposed it as “wild and extravagant”. As a result of this, in 1872, he took office as Colonial Treasurer in Stafford's short-lived Ministry. At the close of his term as Superintendent, Gillies did not seek re-election: however, he remained in Parliament until February 1875 when he was appointed to succeed Sir George Arney as Judge of the Supreme Court for the Auckland district.

Outside of his public career, Gillies was a man of wide and varied interests. In 1868, with Professor Hutton and J. C. Crawford, he founded the Auckland Institute and, later, donated £500 towards purchasing the site for Auckland Museum. He was a member of the New Zealand Institute and contributed many papers on his favourite scientific subject — conchology — to its Transactions and Proceedings. In this connection he and Thomas Kirk explored the Northland beaches. Gillies was also interested in horticulture, especially in experiments to acclimatise American sugarproducing plants.

Gillies was twice married: first, in 1852, at Newcastle, to Catherine Douglas; and, secondly, on 18 April 1867, to Agnes, a niece of Dr Andrew Sinclair. After her death on 2 March 1884, Gillies endowed the Sinclair-Gillies Science Scholarships at Auckland University as a memorial. Gillies died at “Rocklands”, Epsom, on 26 July 1889. He left five sons and one daughter.

In public life Gillies was a forcible and caustic debater and showed himself to be an able and clear-headed administrator. As a lawyer he was an expert cross-examiner and possessed a sound knowledge of legal principle. Few of his judgments were reversed in the Court of Appeal.

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

  • New Zealand Herald, 27 Jul 1889 (Obit)
  • Coromandel News, 30 Jul 1889 (Obit)
  • Auckland Star, 26 Jul 1889 (Obit).


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