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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.





A new biography of Hislop, John appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

John Hislop was born in December 1821 at Pentland in the Parish of Lasswade, Midlothian, Scotland, the son of Walter Hislop, and of Isabella, née Aitcheson. He spent his boyhood at Morningside, in the suburbs of Edinburgh, and was educated at the Edinburgh School of Arts (now Watt College) where he gained first prizes in all his classes and obtained his diploma at 17. In 1839 he became an assistant master at Burnt Island Grammar School, and two years later moved to a similar position at the Lasswade Parish School. He afterwards attended the Normal School and Edinburgh University and was, successively, a master at the parish schools of Colinton, Cults, and Kirknewton.

In 1855, when the Otago Provincial Government sought the services of experienced teachers for its public schools, Hislop was one of those engaged and on 2 October 1856 he arrived at Port Chalmers on the Strathmore. He was appointed to the newly opened school at East Taieri where he taught for four and a half years, besides giving valued assistance in the management of public business. In 1861 Hislop was appointed Secretary of Education and Inspector of Schools for the province and, after these positions were separated, retained the secretaryship until 1878. In the 1870–71 recess Hislop drafted legislation to establish a uniform system of education in the colony, but his Bill, though well received, failed to win the full support of the House of Representatives. When the provinces were abolished in 1876, Hislop drafted the temporary Act which served until the Education Act of 1877 – jointly drafted by C. C. Bowen and himself – could be passed. This Act governed the New Zealand education system for many years and was still in force at the time of Hislop's death.

In January 1878, when the Act of 1877 came into force, Hislop was appointed Secretary of the new Education Department in Wellington, which post he held until his retirement in March 1886. About the former date he was elected fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Early in 1882, when the affairs of the Department were working smoothly, Hislop was given a year's leave of absence to visit the United Kingdom. While he was there the University of Edinburgh awarded him an honorary LL.D. “for his well known services in the cause of education”.

After he retired Hislop lived in Dunedin, where for many years he continued to take a very active part in local affairs. He was a member of the Dunedin City Council, the Hospital Board of Trustees, Otago Education Board, chairman of the Otago Industrial School Board of Advice – which he had helped Branigan to establish – Visiting Justice at Dunedin Gaol, and a member of the South Island Representation Committee under the Electoral Act. Hislop was also a director of the Mosgiel Woollen Factory Co. Ltd., grand master of the Masonic Lodges (Scottish Constitution) and, for many years, an elder of Knox Church, Dunedin.

In 1846 at Midlothian, Scotland, Hislop married Johanna Campbell Horne (died July 1903), of Caithness, and by her he had four sons and two daughters. One of his sons, Hon. T. W. Hislop, was a minister under Atkinson. A grandson, T. C. A. Hislop (1888–65), was mayor of Wellington from 1931 to 1944. Hislop died at Forth Street, Dunedin, on 19 May 1904.

In his lifetime Hislop enjoyed a reputation for being “a sober thinker and sagacious observer”. When he died, the Evening Star (Dunedin) wrote: “Dr Hislop's was a life of incessant devotion to the cause of educational progress…. His mind had nothing of the mere official character: it was the mind of a cultured and accomplished citizen of the world”.

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

  • Otago Daily Times, 19 May 1904 (Obit)
  • Ibid., 20 May 1904;Dunedin Evening Star, 19 May 1904 (Obit)
  • Evening Post, 19 May 1904 (Obit).


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