Page 1: Biography
Williams, Frederic Wanklyn
Business proprietor, company director, community leader
This biography, written by Len Anderson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Frederic Wanklyn Williams was born at the Turanga mission station at Whakato, Poverty Bay, New Zealand, probably on 13 October 1854, the eldest of 10 children of the CMS missionary William Leonard Williams and his wife, Sarah Wanklyn. After attending St John's College and, from July 1871, Auckland Grammar School, Williams in 1873 became a junior clerk in the mercantile firm of Kinross and Company, Napier. In 1880 he began his own business as a licensed custom-house and shipping agent in Napier after visiting Dunedin to contact commercial leaders and sound out business prospects.
In 1885 Frederic Williams was joined in partnership by the ebullient and outgoing Nathaniel Kettle, and in 1891 the two founded the stock and station agency of Williams and Kettle Limited. Williams also developed a close rapport with William Nelson, founder of the freezing works at Tomoana, near Hastings. Together they went to London and negotiated with the Tyser Line to have their ships call regularly at the port of Napier and use Williams and Kettle as their principal agents. Because he recognised the importance of coastal shipping to clients in isolated areas and also the need to encourage regular refrigerated international shipping, Williams in 1899 became a director of the shipping firm of Richardson and Company and was chairman from 1900 to 1940.
Frederic Williams was also active in the community. He was a member of the Napier Harbour Board for a total of 25 years between 1889 and 1919, chairman of the Hawke's Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society and a member of the Hawke's Bay Education Board from 1893 to 1899. He became mayor of Napier in 1902; but after steering through a loan of £10,000 to help develop the provincial town, he resigned in 1904 to concentrate on his business interests.
Williams had a deep and abiding sense of duty to the Anglican church. Both his father and his grandfather were bishops of Waiapu. He served the church diligently as a lay person, synodsman in the diocese of Waiapu and as a financial adviser. He was treasurer of the St John's Cathedral building fund and was a member of the Combined Clerical Pension Board of Auckland, Waiapu and Melanesia.
His recreations included rowing and rifle shooting. At 80 he began to write and later published Through ninety years, an account of the life and work among the Maori of his father and of his grandfather, the missionary William Williams.
Frederic Williams had married Elina Mary Brathwaite at Havelock North on 13 September 1883; they had had one son. Elina Williams died on 27 December 1910, and on 8 July 1912 Frederic married Kate Constance Standish at Ashburton. They were to have two sons. Williams died at his home, Te Rawhiti, in Napier on 27 July 1940, survived by Kate Williams and his three sons.
As a man of finance Frederic Wanklyn Williams succeeded brilliantly and he contributed much to the rural and urban development of Hawke's Bay. In some respects he had a dour, almost humourless personality, which commanded respect but discouraged close friendships. He was single-minded in commercial affairs and he preferred to leave the handling of public relations to colleagues. His business ambitions had full Williams family support, some in the form of financial guarantees which were regarded by bankers as 'beyond question'. He had the confidence and co-operation of British investors in land and shipping, especially in the growth and development of Williams and Kettle, which expanded throughout Hawke's Bay and Poverty Bay. Williams was chairman until 1919 and director until his death. The firm still exists as one of the oldest intact mercantile survivors of the era.