Colonial and provincial politician.
A new biography of Montgomery, William appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
William Montgomery came from an old Scottish family which settled in Northern Ireland. His father, Josias Montgomery, was killed in an accident in the hunting field in 1825 and William was brought up and educated near Belfast. As soon as he left school he went to sea and by his ability, strong character, and unceasing study, was in command of a ship before he was 19. Australia attracted him and, finding it was impossible to hold a crew at Port Phillip, he sold his ship (which he had been able to purchase) and joined a party going to the goldfields. In a few years he made enough money to buy a sheep station on the Darling Downs. Seven years of drought ruined him and he crossed to Canterbury to make a fresh start. He went into business as a timber merchant and was successful. He made his home at Heathcote and in 1866 was elected to the Provincial Council for that district. During the next 10 years he was an active member, leading two executives and being appointed Deputy Superintendent of the province.
Montgomery was elected to the House of Representatives for Akaroa in 1874 and remained a member until he resigned in 1887. He was a liberal in politics and members of the House recognised him as their leader. He held office during the Stout-Vogel Ministry (1884) for a brief period, but when the Government was defeated, he unselfishly sacrificed his claim to office, and Stout was able to include Auckland members in his Cabinet and carry on. Stout said: “Such self-sacrifice and such self-abnegation will never be forgotten by me”.
Montgomery's greatest work for Canterbury was done as a member and chairman of the Education Board, under the provincial and, later, the national system. He was also a member of the Canterbury College Board for 30 years and chairman for 10. His labours for education were “incessant and far-sighted”. Professor Macmillan Brown spoke of him as one of the greatest friends of education Canterbury ever had.
Montgomery was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1892 and resigned in 1907 when he was granted the title of “honourable” for life. His nickname among his friends became “The Honourable”, a tribute to his high character bestowed half seriously, half jokingly, but with undoubted affection.
In 1892 Montgomery bought Wairewa, above Little River, at that time largely still in bush.
Saunders paid him a worthy tribute as “the most consistent, the most unselfish, clear-headed and clean-handed member” of the Grey Party. Certainly his powers of leadership rested on strength of character. He was in no sense an orator and relied mainly on a matter of fact presentation of his case.
He married Jane, a sister of C. F. Todhunter. He died on 21 December 1914 at the ripe age of 93. His elder son, William Hugh, took his M.A. at Balliol College, Oxford, with first-class honours in jurisprudence, and was M.H.R. for Ellesmere, 1893–99.
by George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.
Family information: Lyttelton Times, 22 Dec 1914 (Obit).