The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Whitaker, Hon. Sir Frederick

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Whitaker, Hon. Sir Frederick, K.C.M.G., M.L.C., sometime Premier of New Zealand, was the eldest son of Frederick Whitaker, J.P. and D.L., and was born in 1812, at Bampton, Oxfordshire, England. Early in 1889 he was admitted to practise as a solicitor and attorney in England, and towards the close of the same year he left for Australia, landing in Sydney in 1840. Staying but a short time in New South Wales, he went to New Zealand, settling at Kororarika, then the seat of government, where he entered on the practice of his profession, which he continued till the removal of the seat of government to Auckland in 1841, when he removed to that city. In the year 1842 he was appointed county court judge, the court having civil and criminal jurisdiction, like the present district courts. In 1844 the county court was abolished, and a Court of Requests substituted. In the following year Mr. Whitaker was appointed senior non-official member of the Legislative Council, and sat in the last council held by Governor Fitzroy, and also in the first council held by his successor, Governor Grey. The Northern insurrection breaking out, Mr. Whitaker served in the New Zealand Militia, in which force he held a major's commission; and he was engaged in garrison duty in Auckland when the rebellious Northern natives threatened destruction to the infant settlement. In the year 1851 the Provincial Legislative Council was established, one-third of whose members were nominated, and the remaining two-thirds elected. Mr. Whitaker was one of the representatives elected for Auckland city, but the Council was never called together. The passing of the New Zealand Constitution Act in 1852 by the English Parliament and the inauguration of popular representative institutions in the colony in 1853 again brought him to the front in political life. He was elected a member of the Provincial Council, and sat in several sessions. During the superintendency of General Wynyard he acted as Provincial Law Adviser, and as a member of the Provincial Executive. In 1853 he was called to the Legislative Council of New Zealand, and in the following year attended the first session of the General Assembly. In 1855 he succeeded Mr. Swainson as Attorney-General, under the lieutenant-governorship of General Wynyard. In the same year he was Speaker of the Legislative Council; but in May 1856 he resigned the post of Speaker to accept the portfolio of Attorney-General in the Bell-Sewell Ministry, which was ejected from office within a fortnight. Mr. Fox, who formed the succeeding administration, was in turn supplanted within a like period by Mr. Stafford; and Mr. Whitaker again resumed his portfolio, with the leadership of the Legislative Council. On July 12th, 1861, the Stafford Ministry was defeated on the question of native affairs, and more especially on the Taranaki war of 1860 and the Waitara question, by Mr. Fox, the leader of the so-called Philo-Maori party. Mr. Whitaker then resigned his seat in the Legislative Council, and entered into partnership with Mr. Thomas Russell, under the style of Whitaker & Russell, and carried on an extensive legal business. In Jan. 1863 Mr. Whitaker was again appointed Attorney-General, but declined the proffered accompaniment of a seat in Mr. Domett's Ministry. On the formation of the third Fox Ministry, in Oct. of the same year, he accepted, at the request of Mr. Fox, the offices of Premier and Attorney-General, with a seat in the Legislative Council. In Nov. 1864 the members of the Fox-Whitaker Ministry tendered their resignation, owing to the differences of opinion which arose between them and the Governor, Sir George Grey, relative to the conduct of the Waikato war and the confiscation of lands of natives in rebellion. Mr. Whitaker at this period resigned his seat in the Legislative Council. In 1865 he was elected Superintendent of Auckland without opposition, and in the following month was returned to the House of Representatives for Parnell. He became the leader of the Auckland party. In 1867 he retired from the superintendency and from his seat in the Assembly. At this time he took an active interest in the development of the mining interest at the Thomas goldfields; he was also largely interested in the timber trade, and in extensive pastoral operations. In 1876 he returned to the political arena, and was elected without opposition for Waikato. On the retirement of Sir Julius Vogers second administration in Sept. 1876, he accepted the office of Attorney-General with Ministerial precedence in Major Atkinson's administration, and with permission to reside in Auckland. In Sept. 1876 he accepted the additional portfolios of Postmaster-General and Commissioner of Telegraphs. In Oct. 1877 the Atkinson administration resigned on an adverse vote carried by Sir George Grey. Parliament was dissolved shortly afterwards. On the formation of the Hall Ministry in Oct. 1879, Mr. Whitaker was called to the Upper House, proffered his old portfolio as Attorney-General, and undertook the conduct of Government business in the Legislative Council. On the resignation of Sir John Hall, owing to ill-health, in April 1882, Mr. Whitaker became Premier, which position he resigned in Sept. 1883, in consequence of his private affairs requiring his presence in Auckland. In Feb. 1884 he was appointed K.C.M.G. by her Majesty. Sir Frederick was one of the founders, and for many years a director, of the Bank of New Zealand. He was Attorney-General in the last Atkinson administration from Oct. 1887 to Dec. 1890, when he retired with his colleagues. Sir Frederick, who died in Dec. 1891, married in 1843 Augusta, stepdaughter of Alexander Shepherd, Colonial Treasurer of New Zealand, who died in 1884.