Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

MONRO, Sir David

(1813–77).

Politician and Speaker, House of Representatives.

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

David Monro was the son of Dr Alexander Monro, Professor of Anatomy at the University of Edinburgh, and President of the College of Physicians. His own degree of Doctor of Medicine was taken in that University, with which his family had been prominently connected for over a century and a quarter, three generations having filled the professorial chair.

One of the original Nelson settlers, Monro arrived in the colony in 1842. He accompanied Frederick Tuckett, the surveyor appointed to select a site for the establishment of a Scottish settlement, on his journey to Otago in 1844 and described it in the Nelson Examiner in the following July.

He took an active part in the political development not only of the Nelson Province but of the colony as a whole. He accepted office, briefly, in 1849, as a nominee member of the New Munster Legislative Council and was elected to New Zealand's first Parliament of 1854 as the member for Waimea district. He served assiduously but unspectacularly for the first two Parliaments, then succeeded Sir Charles Clifford as Speaker in 1861. He occupied the Chair through six changes of government. Realising the need for dignity and decorum he was able, with his impressive deportment and extensive knowledge of House of Commons procedure, to lift the office of Speaker to a high plane. His smooth but firm control of debate set a standard which has rarely been surpassed in New Zealand.

He was entrusted, in 1863, with the task of reconstructing the Standing Orders on the model of those of the House of Commons, but it was not until 26 July 1865 that he completed the work. The draft Standing Orders which he then laid on the table were adopted, after long and careful consideration, with only minor amendments. Though few of his rulings still survive in their original form for the guidance of present-day Speakers, many have been absorbed into the traditions of our Parliament.

As Speaker, Monro ruled the House with impartiality, but he never concealed his political feelings. The antipathy between him and William Fox carried right through Monro's service in the House. His casting vote was responsible for the overthrow of the Fox Ministry on 28 July 1862. A few weeks later, when the Speaker had caused the clock to be altered in order to complete the formality of sending a Bill to the Legislative Council, Fox drew attention to the action by moving that a select committee be appointed to investigate it. Nevertheless, it was Fox who remedied the omission of the House to accord Sir David a tribute when he resigned the Speakership by moving, on 3 October 1871, that a suitable address of thanks be presented to Sir David.

On the other hand, Monro's friendship with Stafford was almost lifelong. They had been friends in Edinburgh and had been close together in their journeys to Australia and then to New Zealand, both settling in Nelson and from the beginning taking an active and prominent part in the political life of the district. Monro frequently wrote for the Nelson Examiner in support of Stafford's politics and, like him, was strongly in favour of the paramountcy of the General Government over the provincial system.

Monro resigned the Speakership at the end of the 1870 session, but contested the 1871 election for the electorate of Motueka. As the voting was equal, the Returning Officer exercised his casting vote in favour of Monro. A petition by the defeated candidate, heard by a special Election Petition Committee, was successful and Monro was unseated on 20 September 1871. He was elected as member for Waikouaiti in June 1872, but resigned after a year, because of failing health. He died on 15 February 1877 after a long and tedious illness.

David Monro ruled the House with dignity. His role was made easy by the courteous members who served under him, and the stature he achieved was due in great measure to the cooperation of the House. Such success would have been more difficult of attainment during the late seventies and early eighties, when bitterness within the House of Representatives brought in a period of unruly debate.

by Charles Philip Littlejohn, LL.B., Clerk of the Journals and Records, House of Representatives, Wellington.

  • Colonist (Nelson), 17 Feb 1877 (Obit)
  • Marlborough Express, 17 Feb 1877 (Obit)
  • Lyttelton Times, 19 Feb 1877 (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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