William George Garrard was born in Woolwich, London, England, probably between 1832 and 1835. He was the son of William George Garrard but his mother's name is unknown. He joined the Royal Navy in his youth and served on the Terrible during the Crimean war. He then emigrated to Australia, and in March 1864, at Sydney, enlisted in the 4th Regiment of the Waikato Militia. He arrived at Auckland, New Zealand, on the Bella Marina on 24 March 1864. He claimed later that he fought under Gustavus von Tempsky in Taranaki, but his application in 1872 for the New Zealand War Medal was rejected on the grounds that he was apparently never under fire. Soon after his discharge in May 1865 Garrard returned to Sydney where, on 24 October 1870, he married a widow, Thirza Jane Burke (née Osmond). While unemployed he helped to organise a political reform association, which pressured the New South Wales government to restrict immigration. In search of work, he returned to Auckland with his family around March 1880.
Although the effects of the depression were felt less keenly in Auckland than elsewhere in New Zealand in the early 1880s, Garrard found that there was little work in the city. He was employed briefly as a labourer near Hamilton, but soon returned to his family in Auckland. In August 1880 he placed an advertisement in the Auckland Evening Star to organise a meeting of unemployed workers. Speaking from atop a pile of scoria at the foot of Queen Street on 27 August, Garrard attacked the government, the mayor, the Auckland City Council and the press for their indifference to the plight of the unemployed. He demanded new public works and a halt to immigration, and proposed a tax on the bank accounts of the wealthy. Workers would never be strong, he argued, until they organised themselves politically. He repeatedly cited his war service, claiming that he had fought at the point of a bayonet 'to protect the capitalist' and had received for it nothing but 'Starvation!' Further meetings followed, regularly drawing crowds of up to 300, and petitions were presented to Parliament and the city council. The council offered relief work breaking rocks (for which the men had to buy their own tools), but by the end of September the agitation had begun to subside.
The following year Garrard announced his intention to stand for Auckland North in the general election. The 'aristocracy' in Wellington, he warned, were taking the skins off the workers' hides 'and making hog-skin saddles of them'. He accused Sir George Grey of sabotaging his campaign by persuading William Lee Rees to stand for the seat, but announced that he would go to the poll with a stout heart, 'for every man should stand on his own bottom.' He withdrew two days before the election, however, complaining that he had been maligned in the press.
Garrard found labouring work in Auckland in the early 1880s, but by 1885, as economic conditions deteriorated in the north, he was again unemployed. In August that year he organised two large open-air rallies in Queen Street. He was elected leader by acclamation, and led a crowd of about 100 to the district engineer's office to demand relief work; again they were offered rock-breaking, at 6d. a cubic yard less than current rates.
Garrard possessed few original ideas, but he was an entertaining and dramatic orator. His belligerence was balanced by a biting sense of humour; he embellished his tirades with numerous amusing 'antidotes' (anecdotes). The press treated Garrard with a mixture of amusement and contempt. He was denounced as a professional agitator who was not seriously seeking work, and who had little real concern for the welfare of the unemployed. He was ridiculed for his uneducated speech and frequent use of 'certain adjectives not permissible in polite society'; the New Zealand Observer and Free Lance dubbed him 'Willyum Jarge', the 'champion of the 'orny 'anded'.
In 1887 the city council appointed Garrard Auckland's first dog ranger, probably in an attempt to undermine his political activities. He became a familiar figure on the city's streets as he bustled along equipped with a short whip-handle, at the end of which were several pieces of clothesline tied with slip-knots. Despite steady employment, Garrard continued to attract controversy. In 1889 he faced a petition from his neighbours to remove him from his home. He was twice assaulted by irate dog owners, and in May 1892 he appeared in court after threatening his son with a revolver during a quarrel over money. He remained a frequent writer to the press and was a regular candidate in local elections. William and Thirza Garrard also petitioned Parliament with a variety of grievances virtually every year between 1882 and 1906.
Garrard retired as dog ranger about 1903, and died in Auckland on 30 November 1906. He was survived by Thirza and a son. A short, stout man with a white beard and a booming voice, 'Garrulous Garrard' was one of Auckland's colourful characters. To the conservative press he was an 'ignorant and illiterate demagogue', but the unemployed acknowledged him as their spokesman despite his shortcomings.