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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.


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RICHMOND, James Crowe


Engineer, artist, and politician.

A new biography of Richmond, James Crowe appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

James Crowe Richmond, the younger brother of C. W. Richmond, was born at the family home in London on 22 September 1822. He was educated at the Hackney Grammar School and, later, after the family moved to the Isle of Wight, at Hove House, Brighton. He attended University College, London, in 1839 and left with a strong wish to follow a career in art, where his natural talent was early displayed. He decided, however, to accept an apprenticeship to Samuel Clegg, a civil engineer – and relative – and specialised in railway engineering. In 1842 he entered the employment of Samuda Brothers and, three years later, went to I. K. Brunel as a member of his South Devon railways staff. Here he became interested in the “atmospheric railway”, a scheme of Clegg and Samuda's for driving engines under atmospheric pressure and, more important, he met John Staines Atkinson, like himself an engineer, and so began the friendship between the two families.

The depressed economic conditions in England at the time were affecting many and turning the thoughts of a number to emigration. J. C. Richmond as early as 1841 had been attracted by the possibility, and when in the following year his Hursthouse relatives left for New Zealand, he had a firm link with the new colony. In August 1848 Richmond recorded that it was a year since he had had any steady active employment and he was again considering emigrating or at least farming. By May 1849, however, both alternatives were rejected temporarily while he contemplated making a career in art. In December 1849 he began lessons at Leigh's drawing academy, but three months later was thinking of acquiring a Midlands pottery business. This scheme, too, was abandoned, and he was prepared to throw all energy into art and to go to Dresden and Rome later in the year. But in June 1850 it was finally settled that, with his younger brother, Henry Robert Richmond, he should sail for New Zealand, a decision prompted partly by the sailing of the Pekin with relatives, including the rest of the Hursthouse family.

The brothers accordingly sailed on the Victory in October, landing in Auckland on 1 February 1851. They decided to walk south to Taranaki. Knowing only a smattering of Maori they travelled south to the Waikato and Waipa Valleys, visiting the Rev. B. Y. Ashwell at Tukapoto and the Rev. Buttle at Te Kopua, and thence over to Kawhia and along the coast to their destination. In the settlement they bought a small section and set about the usual pioneering tasks of erecting a house, clearing, and fencing. In April 1852 other members of the family in England decided to follow, eight in all sailing in the Sir Edward Paget in November. In Taranaki eight holdings totalling about 1,000 acres were acquired by the Atkinsons and Richmonds. After clearing part of his section and building a cottage, J. C. Richmond left for England in March 1854 with the intention of painting and, possibly, marrying. In May 1855, enjoying the friendship of Basil Holmes, he spent four months sketching in the Isle of Arran and again seriously considered making it his vocation. He meanwhile resumed his profession of engineering, working on railway construction in Belgium for a time in early 1856. In October 1856 he married Mary Smith and, with his wife, again reached New Zealand in May 1857.

Under the spur of family responsibility and the example of his elder brother, he participated energetically in the political activities of the province. In August 1857 he declined a seat in the Legislative Council and in November was defeated in an election for the Provincial Council. C. W. Richmond was by this time a member of the Stafford Ministry and James's correspondence with his brother reveals on the one hand the judicious, dispassionate approach of a statesman and, on the other, the strongly partisan, impetuous judgment of the provincialist. J. C. Richmond joined the Taranaki Rifle Volunteers and, in October 1858, was elected a member of the Provincial Council for Grey and Bell and was appointed Provincial Secretary and member of the Executive from the following April.

At the time of the Waitara purchase, the family correspondence makes it plain that J. C. Richmond advocated purchase and enforcement of Te Teira's sale by force of arms. In a statement in the Legislative Council on 1 August 1888, long after the event, he defended himself against the charges which Rusden had made in the History of New Zealand. Richmond stated that when the survey was first decided upon, he drafted a reply to the Central Government to the effect that the survey would be forcibly resisted and that warfare, if it began, would spread over the whole Island. Such a cautious, monitory dispatch would be in contrast to his general attitude at the time of the Waitara crisis. It may have been drafted, but it has not been found.

In April 1860 he was elected a member of the House of Representatives for Omata, which was ironically stated at the time to possess five houses and one stockade. During the Maori troubles Mrs Richmond, with many other Taranaki women and their children, was evacuated to Nelson, J. C. Richmond building a cottage in town. From January 1861 he was writing for the Taranaki Herald and from December 1861 he edited the Nelson Examiner, having earlier declined an invitation from Domett to be Provincial Engineer for the Province. In March and April 1862 he visited the Buller diggings and did some sketching. In December 1862 he was appointed Commissioner of Crown Lands, Nelson. He visited the Wairau and Amuri districts and, following separation of Marlborough from Nelson, defined the boundaries of the provinces. He was a member of the Executive of the Nelson Provincial Council from March 1863. Alfred Saunders requested his resignation on political grounds in March 1865. In June he was invited to join the Weld Ministry as Colonial Secretary, which post he held for four months. He resigned his seat after the sudden death of his wife in October 1865, but agreed to go to the Legislative Council for a session.

In August 1866 he was appointed Minister of Native Affairs in the Stafford Ministry, continuing, at the same time, his leader writing for the Nelson Examiner and Wellington Independent. No more difficult time in which to make a significant change in policy could be faced with the Hauhau campaigns still at their most critical stage in certain areas. Military considerations dominated thinking. In 1867, at the time when the dissatisfaction of Otago with the goldfields administration of the Central Government had become strained, Richmond made a courageous tour through the province as spokesman for the Government viewpoint. In June 1868, on the eve of Te Kooti's escape from the Chathams, he was rash enough to forecast that the native difficulty was at an end. With the intensification of the campaign against Te Kooti, he did what he could to bring the campaigns, both on the East Coast and in Taranaki, to a successful conclusion. He, however, miscalculated the readiness of Maori auxiliaries to defend areas far removed from tribal lands and he lacked skill in dealing with them. Richmond must therefore share the responsibility for the defeat of the Stafford Government and the change in its policies. He had, however, anticipated peace, and in February 1869 had outlined proposals for a treaty with the Maori King.

After two unsuccessful attempts to re-enter the House of Representatives, in Wellington in 1870 and in Nelson in 1872, he left for Europe in 1873 to arrange for the further education of his children. A happy blend of sketching and work – he was back in railway engineering in Algeria in 1875–76 – enabled him to keep in close touch with his family until his return to New Zealand in 1881. He stood for Nelson and Waimea almost immediately, but was defeated. In 1883 he was appointed to the Legislative Council and was assiduous in his attendance there until his retirement in 1892. He died at Otaki on 19 January 1898.

Richmond was an excellent example of a man of talent and sense of duty who engaged in public life as an obligation befitting one of his background and education. He was a perceptive, shrewd judge of his fellows and could appraise a situation with artistic insight rather than from a cool, reasoned, political judgment. He was a poor speaker and was not equipped for the rough and tumble of electioneering. Gisborne said that he was talented without genius and philosophic without enthusiasm. His talents and his energy are perhaps best displayed in his artistic legacy. Working chiefly in watercolours, he was a sensitive and thoughtful interpreter of the New Zealand landscape and is one of the few significant artists of the period. Today he is well represented in various New Zealand art galleries and private collections.

by Austin Graham Bagnall, M.A., A.L.A., Librarian, National Library Centre, Wellington.

  • The Richmond-Atkinson Papers, Scholefield, G. H. (ed.) (1960)
  • James Crowe Richmond (Exhibition), Auckland Art Gallery (1957).


Austin Graham Bagnall, M.A., A.L.A., Librarian, National Library Centre, Wellington.