O'RORKE, Sir George Maurice, LL.D., M.A., M.L.C.
Speaker of the House of Representatives
A new biography of O'Rorke, George Maurice appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
George M. O'Rorke was born in 1830 at Moylough, County Galway, Ireland, the son of the Rev. John O'Rorke, an Anglican minister and large landowner, and Elizabeth, née Dennis. He took his B.A. with high honours in classics at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1852. Before long he emigrated to Victoria where he spent two years working on a station. He came to Auckland in 1854 with Henry Taylor, a college friend (later inspector of schools in Auckland), and commenced farming at Papakura and Onehunga. In 1858 he married Cecilia Mary (who died 19 September 1910), daughter of Alexander Shepherd, one-time Colonial Treasurer of New Zealand. He was clerk to Auckland Provincial Council (1859–60) and in 1861 was elected to the House of Representatives for Onehunga town, which area he represented, with one break, until 1902. Gazetted captain in the New Zealand Militia on 17 November 1864, O'Rorke saw service in the Waikato. He represented Onehunga on the Provincial Council from 9 November 1865 until the abolition of the provinces, and was the Council's Speaker during this period. He served on the Provincial Executive from November 1874 to May 1875, succeeding to the Superintendency on James Williamson's death on 16 February 1875. His term, however, was brief, and he yielded office five weeks later to Sir George Grey.
O'Rorke spent two sessions (1871–72, 1873) as Chairman of Committees in the House, and became Minister of Crown Lands and Immigration in the Waterhouse, Fox, and Vogel Ministries, and in the latter added the portfolios of Justice and Stamp Duties. He resigned his portfolios on 13 August 1874 when Vogel brought down his resolutions to abolish the provinces, a policy O'Rorke considered to be “political treason”. He became Speaker of the House on 11 July 1879, holding this office until 5 November 1902, except for the years 1891–93 when he was out of Parliament. O'Rorke was created Knight Bachelor in 1880, and was appointed to the Legislative Council on 25 June 1904, where he served until his death. He was admitted to the Bar in 1868, and was one of the first to take advantage of the Law Practitioners Act which allowed graduates of approved universities to qualify.
Sir Maurice took a great interest in education, and was a co-founder of Auckland Grammar School, serving on its Board of Governors from 1869, and as chairman from 1880. He was chairman of the Royal Commission on University and Secondary Education (1878), first chairman of Auckland University College Council (1883–1916), a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand (1879–1916), and at his death on 25 August 1916 he was chairman of the Auckland Domain Board and of the Dilworth Trust.
As Speaker, O'Rorke's reputation stood very high in the Empire. His control over the House was complete, his knowledge of precedents faultless, and if there were no precedent for a ruling he never shrank from creating one. A convinced provincialist in politics, he regularly tabled motions for its restoration, and in his later years acquired wide fame as an advocate of Imperial federation. His attitude towards education was liberal and practical; he did much to foster public libraries in the Auckland Province, and he urged the widening of university faculties by the establishment of Chairs for Architecture, Music, Commerce, Law, and Divinity.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- The Times (London), 28 Aug 1916 (Obit). O'Rorke Letters, Diaries, & Papers (MSS), Auckland University Library.