Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.

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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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ORMOND, Hon. John Davies

(1832–1917).

Superintendent of Hawke's Bay, Minister of Public Works, member of the Legislative Council.

A new biography of Ormond, John Davies appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

J. D. Ormond was born in 1832 at Wallingford, Berkshire, England, the son of Captain Frank Fredrick Ormond, RN, and of Frances, née Hedges. He was educated at Plymouth and, at the age of 16, came to New Zealand in the Ralph Burnell as the protég of E. J. Eyre, the newly appointed Lieutenant-Governor of New Munster. Their relationship became closer in April 1850 when Eyre married Ormond's elder sister. In December 1849 Eyre appointed Ormond as his private secretary and Clerk of the New Munster Executive Council. In June 1852, when the first native land purchases in Hawke's Bay were made, Ormond resigned and took up a sheep run near Waipukurau. For some years he busied himself developing his run but the agitation in 1858 for the creation of separate provincial institutions in Hawke's Bay led him to enter politics. On 7 March 1859 the Waipukurau electors returned him to the new Provincial Council of which he remained a member – successively representing Porangahau and Hastings – until the abolition of the provinces in 1876. He was Speaker of the Council in 1859, a member of the Executive (Provincial Treasurer) from April 1861 and, between 1863 and 1869, on four occasions, he acted as Deputy Superintendent to Sir Donald McLean. On 3 September 1869, when the latter resigned, Ormond succeeded him as Superintendent and retained this office until 31 October 1876. As might be expected of one of the first settlers in the province, Ormond took a keen interest in promoting public works and immigration. In his first years as Provincial Treasurer he proposed two such projects – draining Napier's swamps, and leasing the Ahuriri Plains for close settlement. Unfortunately, however, the province's finances precluded action being taken in either case. Ormond's superintendency saw considerable development in the province, and he undertook to carry out arrangements for some of the immigration measures that were a feature of the 1870s. The Fox Government proposed, in conjunction with their railway-construction and public works policy, to locate a number of Scandinavian immigrants in the area known as Seventy-mile Bush. At the Government's request, Ormond agreed to have the land surveyed and subdivided. In September 1872 Ormond accompanied the newcomers to Norsewood and Dannevirke where he arranged for the allocation of sections. His work in this connection is commemorated in Ormondville – the name given to one of these settlements.

Ormond represented Clive in the House of Representatives from February 1861 to November 1881, and Napier from July 1884 until October 1890. On 18 September 1869 he was appointed to succeed Donald McLean as “Agent for the General Government in the Province of Hawke's Bay and adjoining districts”, and in this position he had to organise supplies and reinforcements for Whitmore's East Coast campaign against Te Kooti. His efforts in this regard were given special commendation in Sir George Bowen's address at the opening of the 1870 parliamentary session. Ormond served briefly as Minister of Public Works under Fox (1871–72), and Water-house (1872). He was Secretary of Crown Lands, and Minister of Immigration under Atkinson (1876), and held the portfolios of Public Works, Postmaster-General, and Telegraphs in the reconstructed Atkinson Ministry of 1876–77. Ormond did not seek re-election after the 1890 session but, on 20 January 1891, accepted a seat in the Legislative Council where he remained until his death, in Napier, on 6 October 1917.

Ormond was one of the founders of Napier Grammar School which subsequently developed into the two high schools of today; he was also chairman of the Board of Governors when these moved to their sites on Scinde Hill. He was largely responsible for the Hawke's Bay Provincial Education Ordinance and always kept an interested eye upon its operation – in fact, there was, during his superintendency, one occasion when, in order to assist the inspector who was ill, Ormond personally inspected several of the province's schools. For many years after the passing of the Education Act (1877) he served as chairman of the Hawke's Bay Education Board.

In the field of local administration, Ormond was chairman of the county council and of the Napier Harbour Board. In connection with the latter, in provincial days, he had suggested the development of the Ahuriri Lagoon, and was instrumental in obtaining Sir John Coode's report on the project. Subsequently, when Coode's plan was discarded in favour of a breakwater scheme put forward by Goodall, another engineer, he became a strong supporter of the new scheme. Ormond was the chairman of the first Hawke's Bay Rivers Board where he made a great effort to induce the district to agree upon a uniform plan for soil conservation and river control.

On its foundation in 1863, Ormond was secretary of the Hawke's Bay Club. He was a promoter of the Hawke's Bay Agricultural and Pastoral Society, the society's second show (1866) being held during his presidency. He was successful as an exhibitor, and his poultry, sheep, and horses regularly secured championship awards. The racehorses from his Karamu stud were deservedly famous and, over the years, won nearly every major racing and trotting trophy in New Zealand including the Auckland Cup, the New Zealand Cup, and, on two occasions, the Wellington Cup. Until the end of his life Ormond was a member of the New Zealand Racing Conference.

As an early settler of the district, Ormond participated in many of the native land deals, and the evidence shows that he was one of the few who was scrupulously fair in his relations with the Maoris. From relatively modest beginnings he so expanded his interests that, by 1871, he held six large sheep runs as well as two smaller farms; in that year his sheep tallied nearly 28,000. By 1907 his sheep and cattle operations alone were reaping him a profit of £5,000 a year. In addition to his own runs, Ormond was associated with other large land holdings, and, in 1876, one of these – the 30,000-acre Oruanui run on the shores of Lake Taupo – involved him in lengthy Court proceedings against Sir George Grey, the former owner. Besides his farming activities Ormond participated in many industrial ventures. He was among those who established the boiling-down and freezing industries in Hawke's Bay; and he was a promoter of the Buller Coal Co. and of the unsuccessful Maharahara Copper Mining Co., in the Ruahine foothills behind Dannevirke.

In 1859, at Te Aute, Hawke's Bay, Ormond married Hannah, the sister of G. E. G. Richardson, a Napier merchant and co-founder of the Richardson Line of coastal steamers. By her, he had three sons and two daughters.

Although one of the largest land holders in Hawke's Bay, Ormond is now remembered chiefly for his public services. In provincial politics he became known as Sir Donald McLean's alter ego, a fact which has to a large extent tended to obscure Ormond's own contribution, particularly in regard to public works. In 1858 he was one of the prime movers in the campaign to secure provincial separation from Wellington. Fifteen years later he realised that the provincial system had served its purpose and was thus one of the three Superintendents in the House of Representatives to vote for abolition. Throughout his political career Ormond continued a feud with Sir George Grey. This had its origin in the 1840s over Grey's treatment of Lieutenant-Governor Eyre, was fanned by their differences over the land question and over the Oruanui run, and culminated, in 1877, in the Grey Party's attempt in the House of Representatives to have Ormond impeached for his share in the Heretaunga Plains purchase. In the bitter debate which followed, Ormond cleared himself of the charges. Gisborne who knew him, described Ormond as “a man of great mental power, cool, observant, cautious and resolute; a deep thinker but lacking in sympathy. He was indifferent to office and dropped out at the first opportunity to devote himself to the affairs of his district”.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • Ormond Papers (MSS), Hawke's Bay Museum and Art Gallery
  • N.Z.P.D. Vol. 25 (1877)
  • Hawke's Bay Herald, 8 Oct 1917 (Obit).


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