Page 1: Biography
Businessman, local politician, newspaper proprietor and editor, balladeer
This biography, written by Brian O'Brien, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Edwin Edwards was born at Camberwell, Surrey, England, on 5 April 1862, the son of Edwin Edwards, a ship broker's clerk, and his wife, Rachel Tyler. He was educated at Rutland College and was then briefly in business in London before visiting the United States. Following his return to London, Edwin and his brother Jack emigrated to New Zealand, probably in 1880 or 1881.
After a short period lecturing and writing in the South Island, Edwards arrived in Paeroa in the early 1880s. He became an auctioneer and a mining, land and commission agent. The Waihou River had recently been opened to navigation, and Edwards acted as agent for Josiah Clifton Firth's cargo-shipping service. Later he became an agent for the Northern Steam Ship Company. Edwards was also an amateur geologist. The Ohinemuri goldfield was a source of interest and profit: he was at one time part-owner of the Nut claim at Waihi. He married Emily Parry, a music teacher, at Paeroa on 27 December 1885.
There was little mining in the Ohinemuri district in the early 1880s, but by the end of the decade the introduction of a new cyanide extraction process and the amalgamation of mining companies had restored confidence. Edwards prospered, and he had a limitless faith in the future of the area. When the Ohinemuri County Council was gazetted in 1885, Edwards was elected as the temporary clerk at its first meeting. He served as a member of the council from 1890 to 1896 and as chairman from 1891 to 1893. He was also chairman of the local licensing committee, Ohinemuri representative on the Auckland Harbour Board and the Thames Hospital Board, a member and chairman of the Paeroa school committee and the Ohinemuri River Board, and a founding member of the Ohinemuri Agricultural and Horticultural Society.
In the early 1890s Edwards's interest turned to newspapers. He founded the Ohinemuri Gazette (later the Hauraki Plains Gazette ) in 1891 and the short-lived Te Aroha Times and Waiorongomai Advocate in 1896. For some time he edited the Gazette. His concern for the progress of the district led him to stand for the Ohinemuri seat in the general election of 1896. His opponent was the minister of mines, Alfred Cadman. Edwards claimed to be neither a liberal nor a conservative, but rather a champion of justice for the district which, in his opinion, had been neglected by the government. He opposed prohibition and compulsory Bible reading in schools, sought the simplification of mining laws, and favoured the fashionable notion of an elected executive 'as he thought the present system of majority representation tyrannical.' Cadman won the seat by 1,568 votes.
Between 1890 and 1909 Edwards wrote many racy, colourful ballads describing the politics, history and personalities of the mining townships; many were published in the Ohinemuri Gazette and about 30 survive. The most famous of these is 'Waitekauri Ev'rytime' (sung to the tune of 'Clementine'), which celebrates the rise of a typical Ohinemuri gold town. Edwards's opposition to overseas control of the mining industry and his empathy with the miners emerges clearly in the last verse: .
John Bull's the bloke
Who owns the country,
And how he snavels
Up ev'ry find;
And now the poor
Just gets whatever's left behind.
Edwin Edwards died at Waihi Hospital on 31 May 1909. He was survived by his wife, three sons and two daughters.