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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.


MAIR, William Gilbert


Soldier, Resident Magistrate, and Judge of the Native Land Court.

William Gilbert Mair was born at Te Wahapu, Bay of Islands, on 20 November 1832. He was a son of Gilbert Mair, a trader and early resident who settled in the Bay in 1824, and was educated by a private tutor, John Fogan, and, later, at Te Waimate Mission Station, by the Rev. Richard Taylor, and at St. John's College, Auckland.

After some years on his father's farm at Whangarei, Mair spent three years on the Australian goldfields, returning to Whangarei in 1855. When the Waikato War commenced he joined the Colonial Defence Force, under Colonel Marmaduke Nixon, with the rank of Ensign. Acting as interpreter to General Cameron, he first took part in the fighting round Pukekohe and, later, at Rangiriri and most other engagements during the campaign. He showed great courage at Rangiaowhia in assisting to remove under heavy fire Colonel Nixon, who had been fatally wounded. During the siege of Orakau pa he was directed to call on the defenders to surrender and received the historic reply: “Friend, I will fight against you for ever, for ever”, and, later, when he urged that the women and children be sent out: “If the men die, the women and children must die also”.

In 1864, after promotion to Lieutenant, he was appointed Resident Magistrate at Taupo and, later, at Rotorua. In 1865 he was gazetted Major in the New Zealand Militia in command of the Arawa auxiliary force operating against the rebel Hauhaus in the Bay of Plenty. During a swift campaign he captured all the coastal pas and finally broke the enemy resistance by taking the strong Te Teko pa in a brilliant action resulting in the capture of the Maori prophet Horomona and 127 men. From 1866 to 1871 he was Resident Magistrate at Opotiki and had to deal with Te Kooti's forces which raided the district from their strongholds in the Urewera. When Whakatane was attacked Mair assisted in driving off the Hauhaus and pursued Te Kooti to the Urewera border. When, following this raid, the Government decided on the Urewera campaign Mair was placed in charge of 180 Maori auxiliaries attached to St. John's column, which moved up the Whakatane Valley. He took part in the capture of Orangikawa pa and was entrusted with the difficult operation of bringing out the wounded when the Government forces withdrew. In 1870 Mair was appointed Registrar at Tauranga and, subsequently, was placed in charge of the Bay of Plenty district.

In the following year Mair was stationed at Alexandra (Pirongia) as Native Agent entrusted with the task of reconciling the hostile Maoris who had taken refuge in the King Country. In 1873 he was appointed Resident Magistrate in the Waikato. Over a period of 10 years Mair endeavoured with infinite patience and tact to establish a friendly relationship with King Tawhiao, Rewi, Wahanui, and other disaffected chiefs, visiting them at their headquarters at Te Kuiti, until in July 1881 Tawhiao came to Alexandra and made submission. During his residence at Alexandra, Mair married Janet Cathcart Black, of Sydney, on 15 May 1872.

After the successful conclusion of his King Country mission Mair was, in 1882, appointed a Judge of the Native Land Court, a post for which his knowledge of the Maori language, custom, and usage admirably fitted him. He presided over many important cases, including large Rotorua claims and the Rohe Potae case affecting a million and a half acres of Waikato and contiguous land. He was retired in 1891, but reinstated in 1894 by the Seddon Government and served until his final retirement in 1909. In 1899 he was in Samoa as Consul for a short term, during which he dealt with claims for compensation for losses sustained by British residents during political disturbances. After retirement he farmed a leasehold run at Rerewhakaaitu until his death at Rotorua on 8 July 1912. He left two sons and a daughter.

During his 50 years in Government offices Mair rendered most valuable service to his country. In the military forces he was noted for his calmness, courage, and sound judgment, and he led his forces with spectacular success. The Maoris, friendly and rebel alike, had great respect for him and confidence in his sense of justice, and this, more than any other factor, made possible the successful outcome of his patient and tactful negotiations with the Maori King, resulting in the opening of the King Country to European settlement.

by George Conrad Petersen, Editor, Who's Who in New Zealand, Palmerston North.

  • Journals (MSS), Turnbull Library
  • Annals of a New Zealand Family, Jackson, J. H. (1935)
  • The Mair Family, Andersen, J. C., Petersen, G. C. (1956).


George Conrad Petersen, Editor, Who's Who in New Zealand, Palmerston North.