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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.


MOSS, Frederick Joseph


Politician and colonial administrator, Cook Islands.

A new biography of Moss, Frederick Joseph appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Frederick Joseph Moss was born in 1827 at Longwood, St. Helena, where his father was in business. His mother was Sarah, née Britton. He was educated at St. Helena Grammar School and, in 1840, went to Algoa Bay, South Africa, where he entered his uncle's business. During the Kaffir War he served as volunteer with the Cape Burghers and took part in several campaigns against the Zulus. He returned to St. Helena in 1847 to assist in his father's office. In 1857 he revisited South Africa, intending to settle in Natal; however, because he found the district plagued by locusts, he decided to emigrate to New Zealand. Arriving at Lyttelton in the Zealandia in 1859, Moss opened a mercantile business there; but when the Otago goldfields were proclaimed he transferred his interests to Dunedin, where he entered into partnership with Thomas Dick and became a director of several companies and financial institutions. In addition to his other interests he founded the Otago Daily Mail (1864) and entered provincial politics. From 1863 until 1867 he represented Dunedin City on the Provincial Council and acted as Provincial Treasurer on three occasions. In 1866, when the executive was defeated by Vogel, he was able to provide his successor with complete plans for the progressive construction and systematic financing of the Otago railways. Moss retired from the Council in January 1867 and, in the following year, joined the “cotton rush” to Fiji. He settled near Bau Levu' where he remained until the Franco-Prussian War depreciated the market for sea-island cotton. In 1869 Moss returned to New Zealand and lived at Parnell, where he accepted a temporary position with the Auckland Provincial Treasury; however, he soon relinquished this in order to become the first secretary of the Auckland Board of Education. On 20 February 1878 he was returned to represent Parnell in the House of Representatives. During his period in Parliament Moss travelled widely among the Pacific islands and, in 1888, was a member of the Royal Commission which investigated the feasibility of Vogel's confederation and annexation scheme. He retired from Parliament in 1890 when the Secretary of State for the Colonies appointed him first British Resident in Rarotonga.

After the Cook Islands were annexed, the British Government attempted to establish native government over the group. As British Resident, Moss was given the task of introducing the new institutions and of ensuring that they functioned smoothly. Moss believed that the reason why native races tend to become demoralised after their contact with advanced European civilisations arose from the fact that the new governing classes, the European civil servants, were not disposed to treat them as equals. As European settlers became more numerous, a small élite society developed in which the natives were forced to associate more and more with the less desirable elements of the white population. As a consequence they became discouraged when they saw themselves gradually losing their former power and prestige. Moss therefore encouraged the islanders to participate in his Government and, before the end of his term, had established federal and island governments, courts, schools, and hospitals. In seven years he succeeded in breaking down many traditional tribal jealousies and in persuading the islanders to abandon some of their worst customs. With the exception of the Postmaster and Auditor, all Government officials and Judges were islanders whom Moss had trained personally for their jobs. During Moss's last years at Rarotonga, his Government incurred the enmity of the small European colony there. These worries caused his health to fail and led to his recall in September 1898. During the latter decades of the nineteenth century F. J. Moss was a very influential figure in the South Pacific and his advice was often sought by New Zealand and British governments of the day. He was a prolific pamphleteer on political subjects and also wrote several books. These include A School History of New Zealand (1889), Through Atolls and Islands in the Great South Sea (1889); and Notes on Political Economy from the Colonial Point of View, which appeared anonymously in 1897. A Maori scholar of note, he was the author of Native Lands and Their Incidents (1888) and Beautiful Shells of New Zealand (1908).

In 1853, at St. Helena, Moss married Emily Ann, the only daughter of Captain Carew. He died at Parnell, Auckland, on 8 July 1904. One of his sons, Edward George Britton Moss (1856–1916), was a goldfields lawyer and represented Ohinemuri in Parliament (1902–05).

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

  • Auckland Star, 8 Jul 1904 (Obit)
  • New Zealand Herald, 9 Jul 1904 (Obit).


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