The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Fitzroy, Vice-Admiral Robert

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Fitzroy, Vice-Admiral Robert, R.N., F.R.S., late Governor of New Zealand, second son of General Lord Charles Fitzroy, brother of the 4th Duke of Grafton, by Frances Anne, eldest daughter of Robert, 1st Marquess of Londonderry, was born in June, 1805, and entered the navy in 1819, becoming lieutenant in 1824. In 1828-36 he was in command of the Beagle in important hydrographical operations in South America and elsewhere (Darwin him on one of these voyages). Captain Fitzroy was Conservative M.P. for Durham, 1841-3, when he was appointed Governor of New Zealand in succession to Captain William Hobson, and arrived in the colony in Dec. 1843. At this time the colony was not possessed of responsible government, and Captain Fitzroy was called upon to adjudicate upon the Wairau affray of 1839, in which Captain Wakefield and others were killed in a skirmish with Rauparaha and his natives over a disputed section of land in the Nelson district. The Governor arrived at the decision to pardon Rauparaha, being of the opinion that the colonists had been in the wrong, the Maoris having been "hurried into crime by their misconduct." Subsequently Captain Fitzroy, with the view of allowing greater freedom in land transfer, practically rescinded a clause in the Treaty of Waitangi, by which the Maoris could sell only to the Government, by a proclamation permitting the colonists to buy on payment of a ten shilling fee per acre to the Government. This having been regarded as a heavy tax on the sales, in Oct. 1884 he reduced it to the nominal fee of one penny per acre. About the same time the Waitara difficulty came before him. Colonel Wakefield claimed to have bought certain lands in the Taranaki district, and the Ngatiawas disputed the sale. A commission under Mr. Spain reported in favour of Colonel Wakefield, but the Governor decided to have further investigations made. This course, among other things, led to a memorial, signed by many leading, public men, praying for the censure of the Governor by the Queen. Captain Fitzroy struggled with his difficulties, which included a lack of money and of troops, but the rising of a chief called Honi Heke, and his attack on Kororarika, induced the Home Government to recall him, and, on Nov. 18th, 1845, Sir George Grey assumed the reins of Government In 1857 he became Rear-Admiral, and Vice-Admiral in 1863. In 1854, when the meteorological department of the Board of Trade was established, he was placed at its head, and for many years devoted himself to the duties of his office. His assiduity has identified his name to a large degree with the science of meteorology; but it would seem that his mind gave way under the strain, for he committed suicide on April 29th, 1865. He was the author of "Narrative of Voyages of the Adventure and Beagle and the Beagle's Circumnavigation of the Globe" (3 vols.), 1839; "Remarks on New Zealand," 1846; and "Sailing Directions for South America," 1858. Admiral Fitzroy married, first, in 1836, Mary Henrietta, second daughter of Major-General B. J. O'Brien (who died 1852); second, in 1854, Maria Isabella, third daughter of John Henry Smyth, of Heath Hall, co. Yorks.