Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

CARROLL, Sir James, K.C.M.G., M.L.C.

(1853–1926)

Minister of the Crown, Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand.

A new biography of Carroll, James appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

James Carroll was born on 20 August 1853 at Wairoa, Hawke's Bay, the sixth of the eight children of Joseph Carroll. His father, of Irish extraction, had been born in Sydney and was Wairoa's first European farmer. His mother, the chieftainess Tapuke, who belonged to a noted East Coast tribe, had been born at Makauri (near Gisborne), but had moved to Turanga (Gisborne) with her tribe at an early age. Young Carroll passed his early childhood with Ngati Kahungunu relatives in Hawke's Bay until his father reclaimed him and put him under the guardianship of George Richardson, an old friend of the family. He attended school until he was 10 and then worked on his father's station, where he learned to talk and debate with the other musterers. On a visit to Ireland, many years later, Carroll was asked by his hostess what university he had attended and he replied, with a twinkle in his eye, “the University of Nature”.

In 1871, at the age of 17, Carroll joined the Waikaremoana expedition against Te Kooti and for his bravery was mentioned in despatches and awarded the New Zealand Medal, with a gratuity of £50. After this campaign he joined the Native Lands Department in Napier as a cadet. There his ability drew Sir Donald McLean's notice and led to his being transferred to Wellington, where he remained for a year. At the end of this time he returned to Wairoa, but later accepted a position as Native Interpreter to the House of Representatives. In July 1884 he resigned to contest Eastern Maori with Wi Pere, but was unsuccessful. He therefore joined Judge Logan as an interpreter for the Native Land Court. In September 1887 Carroll defeated Wi Pere for Eastern Maori and retained the seat in the 1890 election. In 1893 he contested the Waiapu (European) electorate when he defeated C. A. de Lautour – a veteran politician. Carroll retained this seat until he was defeated by W. D. Lysnar in December 1919. He was subsequently appointed to the Legislative Council, where he remained until his death.

In March 1892 Carroll joined the Ballance Ministry as member of the Executive representing the Native Race. During this period he helped Seddon to draw up the Native Land Purchase and Acquisition Bill, a measure by which the Government sought to obtain Maori Land by more equitable means than formerly. In February 1896 Seddon appointed Carroll Commissioner of Stamp Duties; he thus became the first Maori to hold a ministerial portfolio. He became Minister of Native Affairs in December 1899, retaining this portfolio in the Hall-Jones and Ward Ministries until the Liberals were defeated in 1912. For three months in 1909 and seven months in 1911 Carroll was Acting Prime Minister of New Zealand. In the Coronation Honours, 1911, Carroll was created K.C.M.G. On the inauguration of the Australian Commonwealth (1901) he accompanied Seddon to the celebrations. In 1918 he was selected to visit the battlefronts in France and Belgium. There he met and was greatly impressed by Bonar Law, the British statesman.

As Minister of Native Affairs, Carroll was, in effect, the arbitrator on many questions between the Maoris and the Government. When the tribes were not disposed to trust the Native Land Court, Carroll intervened and persuaded them to allow 650,000 acres of their lands to be opened for settlement. He persuaded Mahuta Te Wherowhero the Maori “King”, to accept seats in the Executive and Legislative Councils, and by so doing to submit to the sovereignty of Queen Victoria. Although his native policy was conservative (taihoa), Carroll did his best to promote local self-government among the Maoris. He greatly facilitated the passing of the Maori Councils Act of 1900 which conferred autonomy on the villages in matters of health and education, and instituted a stricter supervision over the sale of spirits to natives. The first general conference of the Maori Councils, held in Rotorua on 17 April 1903, sought additional powers for the village committees, and put forward proposals for better medical facilities in native areas and suggested model by-laws to limit tohungaism (witchcraft). In all such matters the Government sought Carroll's advice.

Carroll's name is also associated with the passing of the Maori Lands Administration Act of 1900. In 1898 he had accompanied Lord Ranfurly and Seddon to a great meeting of King Country chiefs, where the questions of the alienation of native lands and the declining population of the race were discussed. There, Seddon informed them that his Government intended to prohibit the further sale of Maori lands in an attempt to prevent the Maoris from becoming a landless class and in order that their numbers might have a chance to increase. These proposals were embodied in the Maori Lands Administration Act, which was placed in the administrative sphere of the Native Minister. Carroll was deeply interested in cooperative farming and encouraged its adoption. He also prepared the way for the consolidation of all legislation dealing with native lands. Under the Native Land Act of 1909 the distinction between European and Maori lands, first instituted by the Treaty of Waitangi, was abolished and, where native lands were vested in an individual owner or a small group, all prohibitions and restrictions on their sale were removed. In the case of lands owned in fee simple by 10 or more natives as communal property, alienation could not be made without the consent of the group. Special Maori Land Boards were empowered to deal with the disposition of native land, with the consent of the owners, by sale or lease. The principles consolidated in the 1909 Act remained in force for many years.

Carroll became known as Seddon's right-hand man and confidential adviser in all the Government dealings with the Maori people. On one occasion in the 1890s when Seddon contemplated sending 300 Maori warriors to settle troubles in Samoa, Carroll demanded to be allowed to lead them. At Seddon's funeral Carroll was the chief Maori spokesman. Possessing a rare dignity, he was an eloquent speaker in English and Maori and so could use his immense influence to further the understanding between Maori and Pakeha. His gift for picturesque speech was seen at its best when he unveiled the memorial to his old friend and opponent the Hon. Sir William Herries: “Standing by this memorial… My mind is a hive to which are homing a hundred honeyed memories.”

Carroll was undoubtedly one of the finest speakers the New Zealand Parliament has known. As an orator he carried conviction through the simplicity and sincerity of his words. He was both prudent and just and displayed a wonderful sense of humour. One of the most dramatic scenes ever witnessed on the floor of the House of Representatives occurred after Carroll had defended his administration of native affairs against a most scathing and apparently unanswerable denunciation by Herries. While Herries was speaking Carroll sat slumped in his seat alongside the Premier apparently half asleep. As Herries sat down even Carroll's fellow Liberals felt daunted. But Carroll, speaking without notes, answered each charge to the satisfaction of his own party and the opposition alike. And, in the triumphant moment when he concluded, Herries was seen to walk across the floor of the House to congratulate him on his reply.

Early in life Carroll married Heni Mataroa, who survived him. There were no children but they brought up 30 foster children. His interests outside politics were many. He enjoyed boxing, wrestling, athletics, and bowls, both as a spectator and as a lively participant. He was also fond of horse racing and kept his own stables. When Carroll died in Auckland on 18 October 1926 a brief but impressive memorial service was held at St. Patrick's Cathedral, after which the embalmed body was sent by the Wainui to Gisborne for interment. At the time of his death Sir James was a member of the Legislative Council and a trustee of the East Coast Native Trust Lands.

by Robert Ritchie Alexander, M.A., DIP.ED.(N.Z.), B.T.(CALCUTTA), PH.D.(MINNESOTA), Teachers' Training College, Christchurch.

  • N.Z.P.D., Vol. 212 (1927) (Obits)
  • Life and Works of Richard John Seddon, Drummond, J. (1907)
  • King Dick, Burdon, R. M. (1955)
  • Bay of Plenty Times, 20 Oct 1926 (Obit).


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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.

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