Page 1: Biography
Grocer, merchant, government agent, farmer, magistrate
This biography, written by Francis Minehan, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Duncan Macfarlane was born on 15 January 1827 in Dumbarton, Dunbartonshire, Scotland. He was the son of John Macfarlane, a carpenter, and his wife, Margaret McLauchlan. Nothing is known of his early life, although it is probable that he received a thorough education.
Around 1847 Macfarlane accompanied his brothers to the United States, eventually following the goldrush to California. In 1853 he went to the Victorian diggings and was based in Ballarat, where he engaged in mining and general commercial business. He married Christina Thomson at Buninyong, Victoria, on 11 February 1858. After visiting Scotland, they settled in Chicago. Macfarlane also visited Canada and viewed new settlements there. The couple returned to Australia before following the goldrushes to New Zealand about 1864.
Macfarlane was for a time in business in Dunedin where he had a grocer's shop in Maitland Street. He moved to the West Coast about 1865, where he initially had a gold claim south of Greymouth and another in Mahinapua, near Hokitika. He was said to have built one of the first water races in the district across Mahinapua Creek. Before long, however, Macfarlane returned to running a business. He was initially in partnership as a wine, spirit and provision merchant, but he also chartered ships from Melbourne to provision goldminers and invested in goldmining ventures. At one stage he chartered a vessel and prospected the southern sounds, notably Preservation Inlet, producing geological reports and maps of the area.
Macfarlane became active in Hokitika community affairs. He was a borough councillor from 1868 to 1872, chairman of the public works committee, captain of the Hokitika Volunteer Fire Brigade, and in 1869 he became fire inspector for the town. He was a trustee of the Hokitika Savings Bank from 1869 to 1874, and again from 1890. As councillor and fire chief he was unsuccessful in trying to persuade the borough council to make the substantial investment of setting up a proper town water supply from Lake Kaniere.
From 1874 Macfarlane was resident agent for the Jackson's Bay Special Settlement in south Westland. Special settlements were promoted by central and local government in tandem with the active immigration policy of the 1870s. The location, climate, initial planning and unsuitability of the settlers all conspired to make this one a failure, and the inability to secure central government funding for a wharf that would have facilitated the export of timber was seen as its death knell. Macfarlane, as administrator of the settlement, was subjected to criticism in Parliament, from West Coast members in particular. The 1879 report of the Jackson's Bay Special Settlement Commission cleared him of any mismanagement. He had had to cope with discontent and 'rancorous animosity', but had 'acquitted himself with adequate intelligence and ability, and with unimpeachable zeal, integrity and humanity.'
Macfarlane served as resident magistrate for the district of Hokitika, registrar of births, deaths and marriages, receiver of gold revenue at Jackson Bay and vaccination inspector. He and his son Colin established the first runholding of cattle and sheep in the Cascade district, and built a homestead there above the junction of the Cascade and Martyr rivers. A number of geographical features in south Westland, notably Mt Macfarlane, are named after Macfarlane or members of his family.
Macfarlane returned to Hokitika in 1890 and served variously as stipendiary magistrate, warden, coroner, judge of the Assessment Court for the Boroughs of Hokitika and Ross, and chairman of the Board of Conciliation for the Westland Industrial District. He died on 3 May 1903 in Hokitika, survived by eight children. His funeral was one of the largest ever held in Hokitika. Christina Macfarlane died in 1917.