When the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 was established, New Zealand was split up into six provinces. Each province was its own sub-government and these were built around the six original settlements. The Canterbury Province sat between the Hurunui and Waitaki Rivers and stretched right over to the West Coast.
At the head was a Superintendent and below him, councilors. To be able to become a member of the Canterbury Provincial, you had to be over 21 years old and own land worth over £50.
On 20th July 1853, James Edward Fitzgerald was elected as Canterbury’s first Superintendent. Twelve councilors were also elected and on 27th September 1853, the Canterbury Provincial Council had their first meeting. This took place in an empty house, close to the Avon – the only clue to its location. The Canterbury Provincial Chambers weren’t completed until 1859.
Fitzgerald’s interest in New Zealand was sparked by the famines that shook Ireland (his parents were both Irish) in the 1800′s. He thought emigration to the new colonies was one of the answers and, in 1849, he became the secretary of the Canterbury Association. The Fitzgerald’s were passengers on the ‘Charlotte Jane’ and in fact, James Fitzgerald was the first to step ashore from first of the First Four Ships on 16th December, 1850. Some reports state that he literally pushed Dr. A.C. Barker aside to be the first ashore!
During Fitzgerald’s term, he kept pushing for Canterbury’s independence from the Canterbury Association. This came to pass in July 1856 when the benefactors were paid back in full. Most of the members of Canterbury Association had thought they would never see their money again. His last act as Superintendent was to drive on the newly opened Sumner Road as its official opening.
The attached photo was taken by Dr. A.C. Barker as an inside joke. Titled ‘Before and After a Temperance Meeting’, Fitzgerald was poking fun at the Temperance Movement.
For a more in depth look at James Edward Fitzgerald, please check out the attached link: http://www.peelingbackhistory.co.nz/lincoln-springston-james-edward-fitzgerald-1818-1896/
*Image courtesy of the Canterbury Museum – 3397*