HARRIS, John Hyde
Superintendent of Otago.
John Hyde Harris was born on 24 November 1826 at Deddington, Oxfordshire, the son of John Harris and Ann, née Hyde. He was educated at Deddington and then trained for the law. In September 1850 he came to Dunedin in the Poictiers and from the time of his arrival played a leading part in politics. He was a member of the Otago Settlers' Association and drew up the Otago petition for representative government. For some years he practised as a lawyer, being in partnership with John and T. B. Gillies. From 1853 until 1858 he served on the Provincial Council, being a member of the Executive (1858–59). In 1858 he was appointed Judge of the District Court but retired in 1862 when this office was abolished. He acted as Deputy Superintendent under Richardson and on 9 April 1863 succeeded him in the superintendency. Shortly after his taking office Harris was forced to deal with the urgent and difficult economic problems created by the discovery of gold, and during the greater part of his term had to work against a hostile Council. He prosecuted many necessary public works, acted as president of the Dunedin Exhibition (1865), but incurred a certain amount of public displeasure when he dissolved the Dunedin Town Council. During the gold boom period he had speculated heavily and his cumulative losses, £28,000 in four years, obliged him to resign from the superintendency in 1865. Harris was a member of the Legislative Council on two occasions (1858–64) (1867–68) and during the latter period served as Solicitor-General in the Stafford Ministry.
In addition to his legal and political duties, Harris also served on a number of local bodies. He was a founder of the Mechanics' Institute, the Otago Witness, a promoter of the Otago Savings Bank, a member of the Dunedin Town Board (1856), and mayor of Dunedin (1867–68). He was one of the promoters of the University of Otago and served on the University Council from 1871 until his death. An able lawyer and a man of substance and social position in Otago, Harris was well equipped to lead the province in a particularly difficult economic crisis. In the early years of the province, notwithstanding his close family ties with Cargill, Harris took sides with W. H. Cutten against the Superintendent. He would probably have played an even more important part in provincial and colonial politics but for his unfortunate financial speculations. At different times Harris held extensive landed estates in Otago. He lived at The Grange, North Dunedin, for many years and owned runs at Waihola, Otokia, Lee Stream, and West Taieri.
Throughout his life Harris was a keen Freemason, being a member of the English Constitution. On 11 August 1864 he was elected Provincial Grand Master of the Lodges under the English Constitution in Otago. He retained this office until 1880 when, with seven other masons, he formed the Supreme Council, 33°, of New Zealand. Afterwards Harris took part in the negotiations which led to the amalgamation of the New Zealand and Scottish Supreme Councils.
Harris was twice married: first, in 1851, at Dunedin, to Annie Cunningham, daughter of Captain William Cargill; and, secondly, on 3 November 1881, at Dunedin, to Kate Philomena, daughter of William Wallis Dunphy. He had six sons and three daughters by his first marriage. Harris died at Dunedin on 24 July 1886.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- The History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
- Otago Daily Times, 24 Jul 1886 (Obit)
- Evening Star (Dunedin), 24 Jul 1886 (Obit)
- Evening-Herald (Dunedin), 24 Jul 1886 (Obit).