Politician, administrator, writer.
A new biography of Pyke, Vincent appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Pyke was born in Somersetshire, England, on 4 February 1827. He went out to South Australia in 1851 and from there walked to the Victorian diggings, spending two years as a gold miner in the Bendigo neighbourhood. In 1853 he opened a store at Forest Creek and soon became a person of consequence among the miners, who appointed him their spokesman to expound their grievances to the Governor. In 1855 and again in 1856 he was elected representative of Castlemaine on the Legislative Council of Victoria, not yet a wholly elected body. In 1857 he was appointed immigration agent for Victoria and in that capacity visited England. On his return late in 1858 he was appointed Warden and Magistrate at Sandhurst. Some 18 months later he was persuaded to give up this salaried post to re-enter politics. In Parliament again he was made Commissioner of Trade and Customs and later President of the Board of Lands and Works and Commissioner of Lands and Surveys. In 1861 he was elected for the seventh time to represent Castlemaine.
In 1862 Pyke paid a visit to Otago and late in that year was induced by the Provincial Government to accept an appointment as Secretary (often called “Commissioner”) of the goldfields. His five years in this office (until the General Government took over the functions) were invaluable to the Otago Province, as Pyke's Australian experience enabled him to draft regulations which fostered the development of the mining industry, while public order was maintained at a better level than in Australia. He was personally popular, as he constantly travelled through the goldfields delivering informative lectures to the miners. In 1867 Pyke was appointed Warden and Magistrate at Dunstan; later he moved to Clyde. In 1873 Pyke was elected to Parliament for Wakatipu and represented the constituency (whose boundaries in 1875 included Dunstan) until 1890, when he was defeated in a contest for Mount Ida by Scobie Mackenzie. He returned to Parliament in 1893 representing Tuapeka.
Pyke's parliamentary career was largely preoccupied with forwarding the interests of Central Otago, particularly in agitating for the building of railways to open up the area, and for the completion of a road over the Haast Pass. In September 1880 he embarrassed Parliament by the stridency of his advocacy and had to be suspended by the Speaker. As a Liberal he was always alert to uphold the interests of small men, protesting vigorously in 1882 at the method of auctioning off leasehold properties which generally enabled the original large runholders to obtain the freehold. In 1883 he secured an addition to police pay. After Macandrew's death in 1887 the leadership of Otago devolved upon Pyke. In March 1888 he was sent to Victoria as the Government's representative at the Melbourne Exhibition.
The abolition of the provinces in 1876 saw the setting up of a system of local government. Elected to the council of Vincent County (named after him when an opponent's ironical suggestion was taken seriously), he became its first chairman, holding office until 1882 when he left the council. He sometimes found it difficult to preserve the impartiality of the chair and antagonised the Cromwell end of the county when in 1877 he gave his deliberative vote for Cromwell as the county town but, finding the voting even, gave his chairman's casting vote, which prevailed, for Clyde. Cromwell's hanging him in effigy was offset by the series of presentations with which he was regularly complimented towards the end of his career. In February 1889, for instance, his satisfied supporters at Clyde gave him a purse of 200 sovereigns.
Vincent Pyke was active as a journalist and writer. In 1874 he edited the Southern Mercury in Dunedin and at a later stage the Guardian and had been associated with Dunedin Punch. His novels Wild Will Enderby (1873) and The Adventures of George Washington Pratt (1874) were published in Dunedin and in Melbourne and were popular with contemporaries. His first-hand knowledge of the goldfields gave them colour and pace if not more than conventional links with human psychology. At least they reflect the outlook and prejudices of the rough but usually goodhearted miners. Pyke wrote other fiction (one story under the name of Renwick, his wife's maiden name), some old identity stories about West Otago, and some handbooks.
Pyke died at Lawrence on 5 June 1894.
In 1846, at Bristol, England, Pyke married Frances Elizabeth Renwick by whom he had four sons and one daughter.
Pyke, while not a man of wide views or particularly well educated, had obvious virtues. He had made himself serviceable to communities normally lacking in restraint and helped them to remain orderly, and as a politician he showed an obstinate loyalty to his own Central Otago constituents which transcended his party loyalty and made him appear narrow and provincial in Parliament: as McLintock has put it, “his dictatorial manner, supported by a very real talent for sustained invective, made friend and foe alike shrink from the lash of his displeasure”. His appearance was against him: “he had to fight his battles handicapped by a stout and rather comic figure, combined with a puckish manner which made it difficult for him at times to compel the attention that most of his arguments deserved”. (Parcell). A eulogistic poem published after his death by Thomas Bracken admitted he was not without faults (“I hate your faultless men”) and ended with “his heart was bigger than his head”. Pyke served in the legislatures of two countries and successfully undertook administrative tasks which required resource, diligence, and common sense. He identified himself completely with the district of his adoption and earned the respect and gratitude of its people.
by David Oswald William Hall, M.A., Director, Adult Education, University of Otago (retired).
- The History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
- The Heart of the Desert, Parcell, J. C. (1951)
- New Zealand Literature, McCormick, E. H. (1959).