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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.


WELD, Sir Frederick Aloysius


Sheepowner, statesman, and British colonial Governor.

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

Frederick Aloysius Weld was the third son of Humphrey Weld and Maria Christina, daughter of Lord Clifford of Chudleigh, and was born at Chideock, Dorset, on 9 May 1823. Both his parents were descended from old Roman Catholic landowning families. He was educated at the Jesuit College of Stonyhurst, founded by his grandfather, and at the University of Fribourg, in Switzerland. He was attracted to the Army, but, he wrote in later life, “the Army was a very expensive profession, and men for the most part entered it as a means of leading a pleasant life and rising by purchase to high positions rather than for any other reason”. Accordingly, on leaving the University in 1843, he decided to follow the example of some of his friends and relatives and emigrate to New Zealand. He embarked on 27 November with “a modest sum of golden sovereigns in a bag”, a New Zealand Company land order for 100 acres, and another for a town lot in Wellington, and, after touching at New Plymouth, reached his destination on 23 April 1844. Nine days after arrival he was on his way with a flock of sheep to the Wairarapa, having joined his cousin, Charles Clifford, and two friends in taking up a sheep run on land leased from some Maori chiefs. The station site at Wharekaka, on Palliser Bay, proved unhealthy and in 1847 Weld and Clifford transferred their headquarters across Cook Strait to Flaxbourne, south of the Wairau Plains, partly for reasons of health and partly because there was more room for the expansion of their flocks. Towards the end of 1850 Weld and Clifford applied for and prospected the Stonyhurst run in North Canterbury. By 1851 Weld could afford to visit England, where he published Hints to Intending Sheep Farmers in New Zealand, a pamphlet which ran to three editions.

Weld had already interested himself in politics. He declined early in 1849 an offer by Sir George Grey of a seat on the nominated Legislative Council, was active in the Settlers' Constitutional Association in Wellington, and, whilst in England, took part in unofficial discussions about a self-governing constitution for New Zealand at the house of Sir C. Adderley, M.P. Soon after Weld's return to New Zealand in December 1852, Sir George Grey proclaimed the new Constitution Act. Weld was elected to the House of Representatives for Wairau in 1853 and, at the first session of the General Assembly in 1854, was one of the unofficial Executive Councillors through whom the Assembly attempted to smooth the transition from representative to responsible government. He resigned with his colleagues, J. E. FitzGerald, H. Sewell, and T. H. Bartley, on 2 August. Before the Assembly met for its second session a year later Weld had resigned his seat on 13 June 1855. Later in that year he chartered a small vessel to see the great volcano of Mauna Loa, Hawaii, in eruption, and a month later set out on another visit to England, from which he returned in January 1857. On 21 May 1858 he was again elected to the House of Representatives for Wairau and thus took part in the passage of the New Provinces Act of 1858 under which Marlborough became a separate province in October 1859. In the autumn of 1858, however, Weld left on a third visit to England, where on 10 March 1859 he married a distant cousin, Filumena de Lisle Phillipps. A severe attack of typhoid fever delayed his return to New Zealand until January 1860.

This time Weld had not resigned his seat in the House and on 28 July he joined the Stafford Ministry. At first he held no portfolio, but on 10 November he succeeded C. W. Richmond as Minister of Native Affairs. As such he accompanied Governor Gore Browne to Te Arei pa early in 1861 in an attempt, only partially successful, to negotiate a peace after the Taranaki War. The Stafford Ministry resigned in July 1861 after being defeated in the newly elected House, in which Weld sat for Cheviot. With the return of Sir George Grey as Governor at the end of the year, there began a confused period in which the House tried to evade the responsibility for the management of Maori affairs which both the Governor and the Imperial Government wished it to assume. In 1863 the Domett Ministry elaborated a scheme of military settlement on lands to be confiscated from the Maoris in the Waikato, to which the war had spread. A loan of £3,000,000 was to be raised in London to finance the war and the settlement scheme. But the Imperial Government refused to sanction wholesale confiscation and the unfavourable state of the money market made it impossible to raise the loan. Moreover, hopes of a speedy end of the war were fading. There was strong support, especially in Otago, for the separation of the islands in order to free the South from the burden of the Maori problem, which it did not understand. But at a meeting in Christchurch in September 1864 Weld advocated an entire change of policy. In his view the colony, being now responsible for the conduct of Maori affairs, should rely for the settlement of the Maori difficulties upon its own resources. This came to be known as the “self-reliant” policy. At the end of September the quarrels of the Whitaker – Fox Ministry with Sir George Grey (who was also at odds with the officer commanding the troops, General Sir Duncan Cameron) led to the resignation of the Ministry. The Assembly was summoned for November, and on Weld's arrival in Auckland the Governor appealed to him “to assist him in saving the country under overwhelming difficulties”. Weld accepted the commission to form a Ministry, but on condition that “the system of double government by Governor and ministers” was ended. The Imperial Government was to be requested to withdraw its troops and “to issue such instructions to the Governor as may enable him to be guided entirely by the recommendations of his constitutional advisers, excepting only upon such matters as may directly concern imperial interests and the prerogative of the Crown”. Enough land should be confiscated to fulfil the colony's engagements to the military settlers. Immediate effect should be given to the decision of the 1863 Assembly to remove the seat of government to Cook Strait.

Weld formed a strong Ministry with W. Fitzherbert as Colonial Treasurer, Sewell as Attorney-General, J. L. C. Richardson as Postmaster-General, and H. A. Atkinson as Minister of Colonial Defence. Later W. B. D. Mantell and, after his resignation, FitzGerald, joined it as Minister of Native Affairs. Hopes of making the war pay were abandoned, but the Waikato was confiscated, subject to claims of loyal Maoris and rebels at once submitting, and the military settlement scheme was handed over to the Province of Auckland to administer, the General Government supplying the funds. The seat of government was removed to Wellington in January 1865. In the session of 1865 a Native Lands Act was passed and a Land Court set up, F. D. Fenton being appointed Chief Judge. An Act was passed confirming a contract for a mail service to Panama.

But although Weld commanded general confidence and Fitzherbert showed marked ability in restoring the finances, Auckland bitterly resented the transfer of the seat of government and disbelieved in the self-reliant policy. Moreover, it was difficult to operate this with thousands of Imperial troops still in the country. Weld's health was deteriorating and it was thought that he left too much to Sewell and Fitzherbert, who were distrusted. When Fitzherbert proposed in his budget of 1865 to remodel the financial relations of the General Government with the provinces, so many Otago members joined the Auckland members in opposition that the Ministry was saved from defeat only by the Speaker's casting vote. Thereupon Weld resigned, on 10 October 1865, recommending the Governor to send for Stafford. He did not stand at the general election of 1866 and, in May 1867, left for England.

There were some who called for his return in the renewed Maori War crisis of 1868 but it was ruled out when in March 1869 he accepted Lord Granville's offer to be Governor of Western Australia. He arrived in September to find the colony suffering from a very bad season and general trade depression, accentuated by the recent ending of convict transportation and the consequent withdrawal of Imperial subsidies. Coming from New Zealand with its vigorous political life, Weld gave fresh impetus to the movement for representative institutions and, in 1870, he carried through the nominee Legislative Council a Bill remodelling it to provide for 12 elected and six nominated members. His Government saw the beginning of railways, the institution of a regular coastal steam service, and the commencement of an overland telegraph to South Australia. He also passed an Elementary Education Act and a Municipalities Act. He gave his support to a proposal for responsible government, but the Imperial Government was unwilling to grant it to a colony numbering only 26,000 people in so vast a territory. He also took an active interest in the aboriginal population. Early in 1874 Weld paid a brief visit to New Zealand to discuss business with his partner Clifford.

In January 1875 Weld left Western Australia for Tasmania, of which he had been appointed Governor. The system of responsible government gave him less to do than in Western Australia. The colony was making progress, thanks to discoveries of tin and gold, but its politics were riddled with faction. Weld's chief interest appears to have been in defence and the volunteer movement, notably in the Near Eastern crisis of 1877–78.

In 1880 Weld was appointed Governor of the Straits Settlements. He took particular interest in the Malay States, with some of which treaties providing for the appointment of British Residents had recently been signed. He travelled about the country making the acquaintance of their rulers. His term of office was marked by the signature of a new treaty with Johore, in 1885. Just before his departure in 1887 a treaty with the Sultan of Pahang, providing for his acceptance of a British Agent, was signed. Weld's policies also contributed to the later conclusion of a treaty with the nine States of Negri Sembilan. In 1887 Weld undertook a mission to Borneo to resolve difficulties that had arisen between the Sultan of Brunei, Rajah Brooke of Sarawak, and the British North Borneo Company.

Weld, who had been made K.C.M.G. in 1880 and was promoted G.C.M.G. in 1885, spent his declining years as a country gentleman in Chideock Manor, England, which he had inherited from his elder brother. He took an interest in the question of Imperial federation, to which he had looked forward when Governor of Tasmania. In 1891 he visited the Malay States on behalf of the Pahang Exploration and Development Co., of which he was a director. He was taken ill there and, after rallying sufficiently to return home, died at Chideock on 20 July. Weld was survived by his wife and his 12 children.

Weld, who was very tall, slim, and erect, with a handsome, whiskered face, was a man of gracious manner and noble character. He took a statesman's rather than an administrator's view of questions. Though he had both ability and energy, he was too trustful to be a good judge of men. But his term of office as Premier, though short, was crucial. His bold acceptance of responsibility for Maori affairs and self-defence – even though not fully effective till 1870 – gave a moral lead to the colony and vindicated the unity of New Zealand against the separationists. He ranks as one of the founders of New Zealand nationality.

by William Parker Morrell, M.A.(N.Z.), D.PHIL.(OXON.), Professorial Fellow, History and Political Science Department, University of Otago.

  • Life of Sir Frèderick Weld, Lovat, A. (1914)
  • Australia's Western Third, Crowley, F. K. (1960)
  • British Malaya, Swettenham, F. (1948).


William Parker Morrell, M.A.(N.Z.), D.PHIL.(OXON.), Professorial Fellow, History and Political Science Department, University of Otago.