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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.


SHORTLAND, Commander Willoughby, RN


Administrator and Colonial Secretary of New Zealand, later Governor of Tobago.

Willoughby Shortland was born on 30 September 1804 at Plymouth, Devonshire, the son of Captain Thomas George Shortland, RN, and Elizabeth his wife, and was a brother of Dr Edward Shortland. Entering the Navy as a volunteer in 1818, he attended the Royal Naval College (1818–20), and served in various ships until 18 January 1828, when he was commissioned as a lieutenant. He served on Jamaica Station from 1829–33 where he was associated with Captain William Hobson, and where he attained his first command, HMS Monkey, in 1830. He was invalided home in 1833, but six years later accompanied Hobson to Sydney, where he was appointed to New Zealand as Police Magistrate. Shortland became New Zealand Colonial Secretary on 3 May 1841 and on Hobson's death (10 September 1842) succeeded him as Administrator pending Governor FitzRoy's arrival 15 months later.

In office, Shortland by his pomposity, flamboyancy of character, and lack of tact, quickly made himself obnoxious to the colonists, while his abruptness in dissolving the Port Nicholson Settlers' Council aroused resentment throughout the New Zealand Company's settlements. His abysmal ignorance of financial matters, and his recourse to the questionable expedient of issuing unauthorised drafts on the Imperial Treasury, added considerably to the colony's public debt. Governor FitzRoy chose to blame all the shortcomings he found in the New Zealand Administration upon Shortland, whom he accordingly dismissed from office on 31 December 1843. The Colonial Office did not share FitzRoy's view in this matter, and considered his dispatches were at the least satisfactory, factual, and to the point. Accordingly he was appointed President of Nevis in 1845, and Governor of Tobago (1854–56). He retired from the Navy with the rank of Commander on 1 July 1864, and thereafter lived on his family property, Courtlands, Devonshire, until his death on 7 October 1869.

Shortland married, in Auckland 1841, Isabella Kate Johnston, daughter of Robert A. Fitzgerald, of Geraldine, County Limerick, a West Indian planter who came to New Zealand in 1840, where he was appointed Registrar of Deeds.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Admiralty Records (MSS), in the Public Records Office, London
  • Dictionary of Naval Biography, O'Byrne (1849)
  • Crown Colony Government in New Zealand, McLintock, A. H. (1958).


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.