Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

MACANDREW, James

(1820–87).

Politician and businessman.

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

Macandrew was born in Aberdeen, educated at the Ayr Academy, and trained in London for a mercantile career. He became interested in the Otago Lay Association, joining the London branch in 1845 and giving this body a good deal of service, before going to Otago himself with his brother-in-law, W. H. Reynolds (he had married Elizabeth Hunter Reynolds), and a family party. Having bought the iron-hulled schooner Titan and filled it with goods, they sailed in September 1850 and reached Otago on 15 January 1851.

On arrival Macandrew flung himself into public affairs simultaneously with business. In the latter pursuit he and Reynolds established a store in Dunedin and also undertook coastal voyages, and Reynolds made a very profitable round trip in the Titan – Otago, Australia, California, Otago – with varied cargoes. Reynolds was a sound businessman and Macandrew's many schemes were less effective after their dissolution of partnership in 1856. Macandrew was indeed addicted by temperament to new enterprises both for himself and for the public, first shipping wool direct to London, projecting an Otago Bank, which could not be floated owing to legal restrictions, and, instead, issuing his own notes (which obliged his rival, Johnny Jones, to do the same). In 1858 he bought the steamer Queen and other ships to establish a service to Melbourne and, it was hoped, to Panama, again in competition with Jones. These business and public interests were inextricably entangled, and, when his ambitious shipping enterprises had exhausted his means, Macandrew resorted to “the use of a portion of the Public Funds for private purposes”. When the findings of an official committee of investigation were published, he was removed from the office of Provincial Superintendent, which, indeed, he had abused in another way, though in a manner as much comic as degraded. In January 1861, when arrested for debt, he used his powers as Superintendent to declare his own house a prison and make it his place of detention; in March, however, the Governor ordered his removal to the Dunedin gaol.

Macandrew took a prominent part in the agitation for constitutional government. In 1853 he was elected to the first Otago Provincial Council and also to Parliament as member for the Town of Dunedin (1853–60). He was a member (1855) of the first Dunedin Town Board. For three years (1856–59) Macandrew was speaker of the Otago Provincial Council. On Cargill's retirement in 1859 he was elected Superintendent. His public career suffered an eclipse as a result of the events 1860–61) mentioned above, but it was by no means total. His recovery of the Superintendency in 1867 by a substantial majority was the index of his popularity and an indication that his genuine sympathy with working-class interests as well as his zeal for the material advancement of the Otago Province were recognised by his fellow citizens. He retained this office until 1876 when, in spite of his strenuous efforts to delay the inevitable, provincial government was abolished. Macandrew in fact enjoyed an extraordinary local ascendancy, “notwithstanding the most marked exhibitions of imprudence”.

In 1865 Macandrew was returned again to Parliament to represent Bruce: he remained a member for the rest of his life, for Clutha, Dunedin City, and Port Chalmers. In Grey's ministry (1877–79) he was Secretary for Lands and Minister of Immigration and Public Works. When Grey was turned out of office in 1879 through the desertion of some of his followers, Macandrew was elected Leader of the Liberal Party and might possibly have been Prime Minister but for the adroit action of Hall in inducing four Auckland Liberals (the “Auckland rats”) to change sides. Macandrew was a Minister also in the Stout-Vogel Government of 1884. He died, as the result of an accident, on 25 February 1887.

As a provincial and colonial politician, Macandrew urged both the extension of railways to develop the country and all forms of harbour development. He favoured easier terms for land settlement, seeking to introduce immigrants to Otago from Australia in the fifties and, in later years, crofters from Scotland. He worked hard for education, in the sixties joining with the Dunedin Presbytery to help found a university in Otago, and in 1872 was the moving spirit in the establishment of a medical school. He also advocated an Otago agricultural college. He was chairman of the Otago Harbour Board from 1874 to 1877.

The sanguine Macandrew, projecting large schemes, often impatient of detail mastered by less imaginative men, was not typical of the provincial politician. Gisborne gives him credit for conceiving ideas often carried out successfully by others. McLintock sums up his career: “narrow and dogmatic to an insufferable degree, he had, by way of compensation, the unquenchable courage of his convictions, an unsurpassed faith in himself and his destiny, and, above all, an almost incredible tenacity of purpose”.

by David Oswald William Hall, M.A., Director, Adult Education, University of Otago (retired).

  • History of Otago, McLintock, A. H. (1949)
  • New Zealand Rulers and Statesmen, Gisborne, W. (1897)
  • Contributions to the Early History of New Zealand, Hocken, T. M. (1898).


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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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