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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.


SELFE, Henry Selfe


London agent, Canterbury Provincial Government.

Selfe was born on 15 November 1810 at Rose Hill, near Worcester. His original surname was Page, but he changed it to Selfe on succeeding to his maternal grandmother's property at Trow-bridge, in Wiltshire. He was educated at Glasgow University and was called to the Bar in 1834. Selfe practised at the Oxford Circuit and at the Parliamentary Bar till 1856 when he was appointed Magistrate at the Thames Police Court, London. In 1863 he exchanged this position for the Westminster Court, where he remained until his death. In 1858 he was associated with Colonel ffrench and Mr Aspinall Turner on the Weedon Commission, which inquired into the state of the Army Clothing Department and the defalcations in war stores sent to the Crimea.

Selfe was an active member of the Canterbury Association and became honorary London agent for the Provincial Government. He resigned in 1866 because he thought he had been placed in a false position by Bealey's failure to give him necessary information about the railway loan. In January 1867 the Provincial Government voted him an honorarium of £500. He bought a land order for 100 acres and left the selection and management to FitzGerald and John Cordy. This was R.S.91, selected at the foot of the hills at Heathcote. John Cordy looked after the practical details, such as building a house and stocking it. Selfe's work in London was very valuable for Canterbury. Many wrote him letters giving him their ideas on the qualifications of various people for public offices, and he must have been considered a safe and reliable man to be entrusted with such personal material. Selfe had hoped for the judgship which was actually bestowed on Gresson, and there is much correspondence on the subject. FitzGerald concluded it by writing that Chapman did not resign, so the scheme fell through.

Selfe accompanied Lord Lyttelton on his trip to Canterbury in 1867–68. He died at 15 St. George's Square, London S.W., on 6 September 1870. At the time of his death he was governor of Rugby School and a director of the London Board of the New Zealand Trust and Loan Co.

In 1840 Selfe married Anna Maria, eldest daughter of William Spooner, Archdeacon of Coventry and Rector of Elmdon, near Rugby, and they had four sons and three daughters. One of his sons, James, emigrated to Canterbury. His third son, Sir William Lucius Selfe (1845–1924), after a brilliant career at Rugby and Corpus Christi, Oxford, became a noted Judge in the English County Courts and was, for a time, the principal Secretary to the Lord Chancellor (Lord Cairns).

Selfe was an astute lawyer and his decisions, which were marked by equity and commonsense, were accorded great respect by his fellow magistrates and by the public. His kindly and charitable sympathies won the esteem of all who met him, while his pleasant wit often enlivened the monotony of public business. Though his services as Canterbury provincial agent were discharged quietly and did not draw the attention that his public life did, they were no less valuable to the colony. His interest in the Canterbury settlement (his brother-in-law was the Archbishop of Canterbury) and his personal knowledge of the principal settlers enabled him to use his wide contacts in the political, church, and business worlds to help the colony in its difficult early days.

by George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.

  • Selfe Letters (MSS), Hocken Library
  • Men of Mark in New Zealand, Cox, A. (1886)
  • Old Christ-church, Andersen, J. C. (1949).


George Ranald Macdonald, Retired Farmer, Kaiapoi R.D.