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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.


WYNYARD, Robert Henry


Soldier and colonial administrator.

A new biography of Wynyard, Robert Henry appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Lieutenant-General R. H. Wynyard was born on 24 December 1802, at Windsor Castle, into a family notable for its military traditions. His father was Lieutenant-General William Wynyard, Deputy Adjutant-General and Equerry to George III. Wynyard's brother, grandfather, and great-grandfather were also generals. It was natural, therefore, that Wynyard should join the army as did three of his sons in later years. He was educated at the Reverend Paulet's school, Dunmow, Essex. In 1826 he married Anne, daughter of Hugh Macdonnell, Consul-General at Algiers, by whom he had four sons.

In 1819 Wynyard joined the 85th Regiment as an ensign. Until 1828 he remained in England, except for three short trips to the Mediterranean. From 1828 to 1841 Wynyard lived in Ireland, working in the office of the Adjutant-General. In 1842 Wynyard returned to England and was appointed officer commanding the 58th Regiment, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. Three years later the regiment was sent to Sydney, only to embark almost immediately for New Zealand. Wynyard played an important part in Hone Heke's War. As a senior officer he was often in charge of advance parties during the march to and from Ruapekapeka pa. For his services in this campaign he was made a Commander of the Bath. Wynyard remained in New Zealand until December 1846, living chiefly in Auckland, but paying visits to Wellington, Wanganui, and the Bay of Islands, where units of the 58th Regiment were stationed. He was recalled to Sydney for some months but returned to New Zealand in June 1847 where he was to remain until 1858. He was Commander of the Military Forces in New Zealand from 1851 to 1858, and had in his charge about 1,000 regular troops and 500 men living in the pensioner settlements near Auckland. It was a time of comparative peace although relations between Maori and European deteriorated towards the end of this period. Wynyard organised the defences of New Plymouth but no fighting had taken place before 1858, when he and his regiment returned to Britain.

For two years, 1851–53, Wynyard was Lieutenant-Governor of New Ulster. Sir George Grey, the Governor, had moved to Wellington in November 1850 for an extended period. When Major-General Pitt died in January 1851, Grey appointed Wynyard Lieutenant-Governor in his place. But Grey gave Wynyard only limited powers. Practically every decision had to be referred to Wellington for confirmation. In effect, he was chief observer for and adviser to Grey in New Ulster. In the opinion of officials and settlers, Wynyard carried out his duties satisfactorily.

From 1853 to 1855 Wynyard was Superintendent of Auckland Province. He was elected after a bitter campaign, thanks chiefly to the votes of the military pensioners. Auckland was prosperous and peaceful during his term of office. Unlike many other Superintendents, Wynyard believed in a strong central government, and his administrative decisions often favoured it. Wynyard was finally forced to resign as the Secretary of State for the Colonies would not allow him to hold this office and that of Acting Governor simultaneously. When Grey left New Zealand in 1854, Wynyard, as senior military officer, became for 20 months Acting Governor of New Zealand. He was hampered not only by the transitional state of the country's government but also by the fact that he was only a temporary administrator, very conscious of his limited powers. He had the great disadvantage to follow Grey. He lacked the Governor's popularity with the Maoris, and inherited the settlers' hatred of his policies. Wynyard had three major problems to face: first, the defining of the powers of the Provincial Councils; secondly, the establishment of the Central Legislature; and, lastly, the Maori land question in Taranaki.

When Grey returned to Britain only the Empowering Ordinance of the Auckland Provincial Council had been submitted to him. Despite misgivings, Wynyard approved all the others, even though their powers and responsibilities varied greatly. It seems evident that he expected the major task of the first general Assembly would be the granting of uniform powers to the provinces.

On 24 May 1854, Wynyard opened New Zealand's first Parliament with a Speech from the Throne in which he stressed the need for a strong central government. In this he was merely echoing Swainson's sentiments. Most of the first session, however, was occupied with the question of responsible government. Wynyard was anxious to do all he could for the colonists but, as always, his first consideration was to safeguard the interests of the Crown. He therefore refused to concede responsible government immediately, a decision roundly criticised at the time by FitzGerald and his friends. It should be said in Wynyard's defence, however, that nowhere in the dispatches or instructions from the Colonial Office was the matter mentioned, and Wynyard's Executive Council advised against the change. As a compromise, Wynyard offered to add some members of Parliament to the Executive Council. This was agreed to and FitzGerald, Sewell, Weld, and Bartley were elected. For a few weeks the compromise worked reasonably well, but on 1 August 1854, the elected members demanded complete power. Wynyard refused and they resigned. Other compromises were attempted without success, with the result that the Assembly, after passing an Appropriation Bill and a Waste Lands Bill, adjourned. Parliament again met on 8 August 1855, by which time Wynyard had had instructions from the Colonial Office to introduce responsible government. Before this could be instituted, the new Governor, Sir Thomas Gore Brown, arrived.

Wynyard had one other major problem during his administration, the threat of war in Taranaki. He had refused to take sides in the Maori land dispute, but sent 450 troops to New Plymouth to protect the British settlers. An uneasy truce was thus imposed on Taranaki.

In 1858 Wynyard returned to England, but was almost immediately appointed to the command of the troops in South Africa, and to the post of Lieutenant-Governor of Cape Colony. While there, when Grey was away on leave, he was twice Acting Governor, from August 1859 to July 1860, and from August 1861 to January 1862. In 1863 Wynyard retired to England as Colonel of the 98th Regiment, with the rank of Lieutenant-General. He died at Bath on 6 January 1864, and his wife then returned to Auckland where she remained until her death in 1881.

Wynyard was a man of average ability, but with the added virtues of dignity, friendliness, sympathy, and common sense. In Auckland he was regarded as a social success. Like all good army officers he was meticulous in his work, popular with his subordinates, and respectful and obedient to his superiors. Grey thus found him an admirable assistant. Wynyard's importance in New Zealand history lies in his involvement in the political and constitutional issues of the 1850s.

by Peter Scott Werry, M.A., Secondary-school Teacher, Hastings.

New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen, Gisborne, W. (1897); Dictionary of National Biography (1900).


Peter Scott Werry, M.A., Secondary-school Teacher, Hastings.