First Prime Minister Died – 14th May 1879

On 14th May 1879, New Zealand’s first Premier (Prime Minister) Henry Sewell died in Cambridge, England.

Sewell could do amazing things with money and numbers – which made him more than a little unpopular!

A lawyer by trade, he became the Deputy Director of the Canterbury Association, arriving at Lyttelton in 1853. He walked into Christchurch with his sleeves rolled up.  He had been sent to sort out the increasing debts of Canterbury and wind up the affairs of the Association who were about to disband. He instantly clashed with James Edward Fitzgerald (Canterbury’s first Superintendent) but he wasn’t there to make friends.  He was also Christchurch’s harshest critic, writing in his journal the following:

“Was much struck by the laziness and stagnation of the place…streets laid out without pavements, roads unmacadamised.  Small low sheds serving for shops and dwellings – gardens only half cultivated – rough palings…everything in short appearing as if done yesterday in a hurry – all this did not produce a pleasing first impression”. – 3rd February 1853

In fact, his only friends were the Simeon family, remembered today in the naming of Simeon Street (which was once known as Wilderness Road after the Wilderness Farm owned by the Simeon’s) and the naming of the suburb of Barrington.  When this family returned to England in 1855, it was a great push for Sewell to move his life to Wellington and pursue New Zealand politics.

In 1856, he became New Zealand’s 3rd Colonial Secretary and New Zealand’s First Prime Minister – for a whole thirteen days! After losing his placing to Sir William Fox, Sewell returned to England where he mingled with the big wigs back in London and promoting New Zealand. He returned to Christchurch in 1859.  After serving in the New Zealand Legislative Council, he left New Zealand for good in 1873.

*Text courtesy of ‘The Journal of Henry Sewell 1853 – 7’ edited by W. David McIntyre*

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