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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


CARLETON, Hugh Francis


Politician and journalist.

A new biography of Carleton, Hugh Francis appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Hugh Francis Carleton was the eldest son of Francis Carleton, Clare, County Tipperary, and Greenfield, County Cork, Ireland, and was born on 3 July 1810. He was a descendant of Baldwin de Carleton, who came to England with William the Conqueror in 1066 and settled at Carleton Hall, Penrith, Cumberland. The Irish branch of the family was founded in the reign of Charles II. Hugh, Viscount Carleton of Clare, a Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, was Francis Carleton's uncle.

Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Carleton interrupted his classical studies without completing a degree. He studied law in the Middle Temple, but was never called to the Bar; he went to Italy to study classical art, then spent some three years in travelling, coming to Auckland in 1845. He was employed for a while by Messrs, Brown and Campbell, a firm of agents and general merchants, but left them to engage in commercial speculations. He chartered the Orwell, a barque of 305 tons, for the purpose of importing stock from Australia. She made three unprofitable voyages before being wrecked on the Orwell Bank, in the Manukau Harbour, on 2 March 1848, with the loss of 164 head of cattle and 200 sheep. This brought Carleton's business enterprises to a disastrous end.

Carleton then turned his attention to travelling in the Pacific and, from time to time, to editorial work on the Auckland newspaper, The New Zealander. In 1848 he established his own newspaper, the Anglo-Maori Warder, which ran from 25 April to 19 October. Its policy included the promotion of Maori interests, the defence of the Church Mission, opposition to the policy of Governor Grey, and an effort to develop the literary taste of the community. Its leaders, like much of Carleton's writing, are fine compositions, though condescending in tone.

Carleton returned from a visit to San Francisco in time for the first elections for the General Assembly of 1854, and was the only candidate for the Bay of Islands electorate. As the declaration of his election on 14 July 1853 was the first in New Zealand, he liked to be known as “the father of the House”. As a parliamentarian, he was “famous for holding singular opinions” and, while he soon acquired a reputation as a polished and highly cultured though boring speaker, his style was too dogmatic and ponderous to inspire a following. He confessed himself unsuited to leadership, adopting more usually the role of critic, free from party affiliation. He took an active part in the controversy over responsible government, seconding E. G. Wakefield's motion on the importance of ministerial responsibility and devoting himself to an attack on the policies of Governor Grey, a theme he had consistently followed. Though nominated for the position of Chairman of Committees in 1854 he withdrew in favour of F. W. Merriman because of a misunderstanding. He was appointed to the position in 1856, and held it until he ceased to be a member in 1870.

Carleton was never a party man, though at times he gave his voice, and his vote, in support of each succeeding ministry. His support of Fox in 1856 has been attributed to his agreement with Fox's waste land policy, but Carleton set out the reasons for his various changes of allegiance in his speech on a matter of privilege on 1 August 1856. He had regarded Sewell as “in need of a check” and, in order to oust him from office, had agreed to support Fox. This he did with loyalty until the end of the first brief Ministry of Fox, when he stated he “had done with party – that he would take an independent position for the rest of the session”. Nevertheless, his support for Stafford on the Waitara war question in 1860 was against his personal inclination and he upheld it only because of a “hasty promise of support which he had given at the beginning of the session”. He satisfied his conscience by voting Stafford out of office the following year.

Carleton's curious and idiosyncratic nature led him to take a particular interest in questions of privilege. He raised the first question to be brought before the House, submitting that the action of Dr Bacot, an Army officer, in applying to his commanding officer for leave to attend the House, had “gravely compromised the privileges of the House”. This quibbling little action led to the setting up of a Committee on Privileges and, ultimately, to the passing of the Privileges Act of 1856 and 1865.

Through the Ministries of Whitaker and Weld, Carleton maintained his position of independence, voting in accord with his conscience. He supported Stafford, with whom he had most frequently aligned himself, from Stafford's return to power in 1865 until the end of his parliamentary career. Carleton was unsuccessful at the 1870 election, blaming his defeat on the inclusion of the former Mangonui electorate and the additional votes of a large number of Maori grant holders. He stoutly maintained the loyalty of the voters in his former pocket-borough electorate. He was offered the opportunity to stand as a candidate for the Eden seat if he would support Grey, but he refused to be bound and transferred his energies to the establishment of a University of New Zealand, an ideal he had long cherished.

Carleton's support for a university dates from a speech in the House of Representatives in 1854, to which he referred in the debate on the 1870 University Bill. His influence in the early development of the University was considerable. He was elected Vice-Chancellor in 1871, retaining that position until his departure from the colony in 1878. He shared with Tancred, the Chancellor, a great part of the responsibility for the early development of the University of New Zealand, but he failed to gain the confidence of the Otago people over the amalgamation with the University of Otago. The Otago Daily Times of 4 April 1878 remarked that the members of the council, “from the Chancellor downwards … with few exceptions, are not men who have any right to be where they are.” Carleton was not one of the exceptions. He had “by some strange oversight omitted to take with him his degree from any University”. This lapse had been remedied by his admission to the degree of Bachelor of Arts in the University of New Zealand on 11 April 1872. But it was purely honorary.

Carleton also devoted his energies to the Auckland Provincial Council, and represented, at various times from 1856 to 1876, the electorates of Bay of Islands, City of Auckland, and Newton. He was for a time a member of the Auckland Executive Council, and was Provincial Secretary in 1855.

Throughout his political career Carleton took a special delight in his claim to be a one-party man – a true Tory. With his pose of learning and his fondness for interlarding his speeches with snippets from the classics and tags of law latin, he was a pedantic bore, more a curiosity than a force in early New Zealand politics.

After his retirement from New Zealand politics Carleton returned to England, where he spent the remaining 10 years of his life. As befitted one who was passionately fond of music and who had helped to found the Auckland Choral Society, he devoted his declining years to the study and enjoyment of this art. His London residence was situated close to the Crystal Palace and he regularly attended the concerts there. Carleton died on 14 August 1890 at Palace Square, Upper Norwood, London.

On 30 November 1859 Carleton married Lydia Jane (1831–92), daughter of Archdeacon Henry Williams. There were no children.

by Charles Philip Littlejohn, LL.B., Clerk of the Journals and Records, House of Representatives, Wellington.

  • New Zealand Herald, 20 Sep 1890 (Obit).


Charles Philip Littlejohn, LL.B., Clerk of the Journals and Records, House of Representatives, Wellington.