Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.




Lawyer and secretary of the Otago Association.

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

John McGlashan, the eldest son of John McGlashan and his wife, Mary, was born on 2 November 1802 in Cannongate, Edinburgh, where his father was in turn an auctioneer, furniture dealer, valuer, and warehouseman. After four years at the Edinburgh High School, McGlashan attended classes at Edinburgh University and was articled to Andrew Crombie, a solicitor. In 1824 he was admitted to membership of the Society of Solicitors at Law. An academic lawyer, he was unsuited to general practice, while the early onset of deafness was a severe handicap. In 1830 he was appointed a member of the Faculty of Admiralty Procurators. In the following year he published his first legal handbook and was appointed Commissioner for Proofs of the Sheriff Court of Edinburgh, a position he held for 21 years. From 1832 to 1839 he was public examiner of the Society of Solicitors.

McGlashan was a devout adherent of the Free Church and supported the proposed church settlement in Otago. He accepted the position of secretary of the Otago Association in October 1847, the appointment being retrospective from August 1847 to April 1848, when he hoped to lead the second party of emigrants and receive a legal appointment in the colony. His secretarial duties comprised the administration of the business affairs of the Association and the promotion of the scheme through circulars, lectures, and the Otago Journal, which he compiled and distributed. The Edinburgh Committee was intended to direct Association policy, but their activities were negligible and all initiative rested with McGlashan. His task was difficult as financial recession affected land sales, Church support was negative, and the widely publicised dissensions within the settlement discouraged a number of potential emigrants. McGlashan endorsed the scheme of a class settlement restricted to lowland Scots of Free Church persuasion and, despite its limited success, adamantly opposed any modification. After the collapse of the New Zealand Company he sought a charter from the British Government to protect “the exclusive class character” of Otago, but his lack of statesmanship prejudiced the already difficult negotiations.

In 1853 McGlashan and his family sailed in the Rajah for Otago, where he was hailed as its founder with Burns and Cargill. In January 1854 he was appointed to the joint offices of Provincial Solicitor and Treasurer. The following year he won the Western District seat in the Otago Provincial Council and held it for eight years, being Provincial Secretary and Solicitor, and also Secretary of the Board of Education from 1855 to 1861. When deficiencies in the public funds occurred during Macandrew's Superintendency, McGlashan was suspected of involvement and obliged to resign office. The investigation revealed him guilty only of inefficient administration and in 1862 he was reappointed Provincial Solicitor and Registrar of Deeds. The following year he contested the Waikouaiti seat unsuccessfully against Vogel.

McGlashan married Isabella Macewen in 1826, by whom he had three sons and seven daughters. He died on 2 November 1864 from injuries received in a riding accident, leaving unfinished his codification of the Provincial Ordinances.

His wife's name is commemorated in the Dunedin place name, Balmacewen.

McGlashan lacked the qualities of greatness. Zealous but unbusinesslike, dour and inflexible, he was unsuited to the role of statesman for the Association. Religious convictions and economic necessity combined to keep him at his post as secretary while his frequent attempts to secure the promised legal or civil service appointment in the colony suggest that he realised his limitations as an administrator. His best work was done in legal codification and his major publications form a valuable contribution to the codification of Scottish law. His religious convictions were deep and sincere, and, as the first Clerk and Procurator of the Otago Presbytery, he provided valuable assistance to Burns and Bannerman in the work of establishing the Church of Otago on a sound basis.

by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

  • McGlashan Papers (MSS), Hocken Library
  • McGlashan Papers (MSS), Otago Early Settlers' Association Collection
  • History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949).


Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.