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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.


SALE, George Samuel


Administrator and classicist.

A new biography of Sale, George Samuel appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Sale was born in 1831 at Rugby, where his father, John Shaw Sale, was a master at Rugby School under the celebrated Dr Arnold. Sale was educated at Rugby and in 1850 was admitted to Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1854. He became a fellow in 1856 and graduated M.A. with first-class honours in classics and second-class in mathematics the following year. He lectured in classics for some time but was forced by overwork to seek a change of occupation.

In 1860 he arrived in Canterbury on the Minerva and managed Ross and Harper's Lake Coleridge station for four months. From May to October 1861 he edited the Press under James Edward FitzGerald, leaving to try gold mining in Otago where he worked at Blue Spur and Monroe's Gully. On the nomination of William Rolleston, he was appointed Canterbury Provincial Treasurer in June 1864. When gold was discovered in Westland, Sale was appointed Commissioner to the Goldfields, with the subsidiary offices of Warden, Judge, Provincial Sub-Treasurer, and Resident Magistrate, and with all Government Departments responsible to him. His wide powers and autocratic manner earned him the title of “King Sale” from the miners, but the banker George Preshaw considered that “a man of more business capacity, purer disinterestedness and sterner integrity never trod the shores of Westland”. When relations between Canterbury and Westland were tense, Sale bore the blame for the Provincial Government's shortcomings, but he gradually won local approval, being elected to a seat on the first Hokitika County Council. In 1869 he resigned to return home for family reasons.

He entered Lincoln's Inn with the intention of being called to the Bar but was appointed to the chair of Classics at the new University of Otago, arriving to take up his position in 1871. Until 1877 he occupied the chairs of Classics and English literature, and of Classics alone until his retirement in 1908. Sale had rejected the narrow classical tradition in which he had been educated and sought to provide a true appreciation of classical literature through a liberal education that would “enlarge the powers, cultivate the taste and refine the manner”. A demanding teacher, he was impatient of mediocrity, exacting from others the standards he imposed upon himself. His wide administrative experience was an immense asset to the University. While the creation of the University of New Zealand and its relationship to other academic institutions were under consideration, he pressed for the recognition of the rights of constituent colleges and the need to ensure adequate academic standards. He served on the 1879 Royal Commission on Universities and from 1877 until his retirement was a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand; at the same time he was active in the administration of the University of Otago, serving both on the Professorial Board and on the Council.

Austere and reserved, Sale was a man of high ideals and intellectual honesty, while his personal code forbade any attempt to court public opinion. He endured periods of unpopularity with cold courage. A charming and genial companion to his intimates, he loved cricket and was an ardent supporter of the Otago Rugby Union. He possessed a fine bass voice and conducted his own choir for some years. A devout Anglican, he took an active part in the establishment of Selwyn College, Dunedin.

Sale married Margaret Fortune in 1874. On his retirement he returned to England where he died on 26 December 1922.

by Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.

  • Banking Under Difficulties, Preshaw, G. O. (1888)
  • A History of Otago University, Thomson, G. E. (1921)
  • Otago Daily Times, 18 Jun 1955.


Gloria Margaret Strathern, B.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S. formerly Librarian, Hocken Library, Dunedin.