Page 1: Biography
Businessman, educationalist, politician, Congregational leader, public trustee
This biography, written by Margaret G. Patrick, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1990.
Jonas Woodward was baptised at St Peter, Cornhill, London, England, on 29 April 1810. He was the son of Samuel Woodward, a coal-meter, and his wife, Elizabeth Pearson, formerly Day. Jonas was the eldest of the family, which consisted of four daughters and two sons. Jonas Woodward married Christiana Knight in London probably in 1833 or 1834. They had four daughters, the last born in 1840. No details of Woodward's education are known, but his writing and speaking and his wide and varied knowledge show that he must have studied extensively. For some years he served as a teacher in Shoreditch, under the British and Foreign School Society, and later joined the firm of Sharpe Brothers, bullion merchants, where he acquired a thorough knowledge of business.
On 2 October 1841 Jonas Woodward, with his four small daughters, left England on the ship Clifton. Family tradition has it that Christiana Woodward had either become insane or a hopeless alcoholic. Nothing more is known of her. On the voyage Woodward worked as schoolmaster and assistant superintendent to the surgeon superintendent, and was paid £20. The Clifton arrived at Wellington, New Zealand, on 17 February 1842.
Woodward began as a clerk in Bethune and Hunter's business in 1842 and eventually became manager. Because he was unable to secure an interest in the company, he set up in 1855 as an independent general custom-house agent and auditor. In August that year he was appointed a member of the Board of Audit for Wellington province and on 12 October was elected to the provincial council, as a member for Wellington City. He served from 1859 to 1865 as a member for Wellington Country District. From 1857 to 1865 he was provincial treasurer, and from 1861 to 1865 he was also acting provincial secretary. In 1865 he became assistant colonial treasurer, and later paymaster for Wellington province and receiver general for the colony.
When, in 1856, the merchants and businessmen of Wellington decided to form their own organisation, the Chamber of Commerce, Woodward was appointed the first secretary and in 1880–81 served as chairman.
Education was one of Woodward's greatest interests, and from the time of his arrival in the colony he took an active part in the work of the Port Nicholson Mechanics' Institute, Public School and Library. His address on education to the meeting on 10 May 1842 was the first of many lectures on a variety of subjects. For some years he was superintendent of their Sunday school. As president of the Wellington Athenaeum and Mechanics' Institute in 1881, he took a large share in the organisation of a Wellington industrial exhibition, to which he welcomed the governor of the colony.
Throughout his life Woodward was a devoted member of the Congregational church, serving the Wellington church as voluntary and unpaid pastor for 17 years. He was regarded as a thoughtful and eloquent preacher, and an enthusiastic and experienced Sunday school teacher. As a convinced free churchman, Woodward had a deep distrust and hatred of episcopacy. This led to his taking a leading part in the controversy concerning the Wellington cemetery. When the Anglicans attempted to reserve a portion of the cemetery exclusively for their own burials, Woodward resisted what he perceived to be an infringement of the principle of religious equality. He wrote with passion of the reasons which had led settlers to found a colony free from 'the shackles of an established church', and was secretary of the group which organised a petition to the House of Commons objecting to the proposed appropriation. Temperance was another cause for which Woodward worked indefatigably, as a leading member of the Port Nicholson Total Abstinence Society, which he helped to establish in 1842.
On 30 December 1872 Woodward was appointed the first public trustee. In October of that year the New Zealand Parliament had passed the Public Trust Office Act, setting up a state-backed trustee organisation which would make and execute wills and provide a cheap and efficient service for relatively poor people. This was the beginning of the Public Trust Office. The position proved a trying one, with a very heavy work-load and inadequate staffing. Woodward carried on, however, for seven years. For two of those years he had temporary control of the infant Government Life Insurance Office as well.
Woodward retired in 1880, but his activities remained numerous. He was manager of the Wellington Trust, Loan, and Investment Company Limited, chairman of the committee promoting the east and west coast railways, a justice of the peace, a visiting justice at the gaol, an energetic church worker, and a Freemason. Among the many voluntary organisations to which he gave time and energy were the Young Men's Christian Association, Wellington Penny Bank, Wellington Auxiliary Bible Society, Wellington Co-operative Society Limited and the Wellington Sunday School Union. Almost the only glimpses of recreation are his membership of the Wellington Choral Society and the Wellington Horticultural Society.
A fortnight after the opening of the Industrial Exhibition in May 1881, Woodward presided as a justice of the peace at the Resident Magistrate's Court. Two days later, on 13 June, he died suddenly of a stroke at his home in Hill Street. Jonas Woodward was 'one of the oldest and most respected citizens of Wellington' and his career was one of 'singular activity…maintained to the last.'