WATERHOUSE, Hon. George Marsden
Merchant, runholder, colonial statesman
G. M. Waterhouse was born at Penzance, Cornwall, on 6 April 1824, sixth son of the Rev. John Waterhouse, a Wesleyan clergyman of somewhat liberal views, who in 1839 accepted office as Superintendent of Wesleyan Missions in Australia and Polynesia, which post he held till he was lost at sea on a voyage between New Zealand and Tasmania on 30 March 1842.
Waterhouse was educated at the Wesleyan College, Knightsbridge, near Bristol, and in 1839 emigrated with his father and family (seven sons and three daughters) to Hobart, where he obtained a post in a merchant's office. In March 1842 he paid a short visit to Auckland, New Zealand, and in 1843 he and a brother set up their own business in Adelaide, from which he was able to retire at the age of 29 with a competence. On 5 May 1848 he married Lydia Giles, daughter of William Giles, also of Adelaide, who predeceased him by many years. There was no family.
In August 1851 Waterhouse was elected for East Torrens to the partly elective Legislative Council, where he sat until 1854 when he retired to go abroad. At this period he was also elected to the Central Board of Education, but retired when he found his views were in conflict with those of the majority. He visited the United States in 1855, where he discussed Customs reciprocity between the British colonies and America. In 1856 he was elected to the Adelaide Waterworks Board, but resigned in 1857 to contest East Torrens for the first Legislative Assembly constituted under responsible government. He sat for one session only when ill health compelled his retirement. He was elected to the Legislative Council in April 1860, and sat until his retirement in December 1864. In May 1860 he joined the Reynolds Ministry, finally becoming Premier on 8 October 1861. A month later he formed his second Ministry which lasted until July 1863 when he resigned the Premiership after his Government had been saved solely by the Speaker's casting vote. Shortly afterwards he left the colony, visiting England in 1864. He returned to South Australia in 1865, where, in June, he presided over a meeting of pastoralists seeking reclassification of their runs. He again visited England in 1865. During these years Waterhouse was a director of the South Australian Banking Co. His right to the title “Honourable” was gazetted in South Australia on 18 August 1864. The Governor, Sir Dominique Daly, also recommended him for a knighthood – but for various reasons this was never awarded.
In January 1869 Waterhouse purchased the 20,000-acre Hungaroa Station, Wairarapa, with its 18,000 sheep, from Messrs Clifford and Revans for £21,000. He poured capital into this enterprise, pioneering such agricultural techniques as dipping, and employing at times 100 men. To this he added 2,462 acres from the Crown block at Wharekaka. In 1878 he sold his Hungaroa holdings to the Hon. J. Martin, walk-in walk-out, for over £56,000. (Martin later laid out Martinborough on part of it.) Waterhouse also bought a smaller run, later extended, at Tiraumea and Whareama on the East Coast.
It was not long before Waterhouse began to take an active part in New Zealand politics. In 1869 he wrote to Lord Granville urging the retention of Imperial troops in New Zealand. In 1870 Revans suggested he should stand for Wairarapa for the House of Representatives, but Waterhouse instead accepted a seat in the Legislative Council (May 1870). In October Waterhouse represented the Fox Ministry in the Legislative Council, resigning after the session to look after his extensive business interests. On Stafford's defeat in 1872, Waterhouse accepted Vogel's invitation to head a new Ministry. While Vogel attended a Postal Conference in Australia, Waterhouse acted as Colonial Treasurer. This insight into Vogel's financial methods led him in 1873 to submit his resignation to Governor Bowen, who was on the point of leaving New Zealand. When Bowen refused to accept this, Waterhouse denied His Excellency the use of the Government steamer. Bowen capitulated, appointed Fox as Premier, and reported the incident to the Colonial Office.
In the Council, Waterhouse played an important part on various committees – Education, Wastelands, Native Affairs, and Legal Affairs being his major interests. Hall asked him to join his Ministry in 1879, but Waterhouse declined when he discovered he was to hold no portfolio. He acted as Deputy Governor to Sir William Jervois in 1884, and was for five months Speaker of the Council during Fitzherbert's absence in 1887. Jervois recommended him for a knighthood, but the Colonial Office, remembering 1873, refused. Waterhouse retired to “Hawthornden”, Torquay, in 1889, where, except for a brief visit to New Zealand in 1894, and his presence among distinguished colonial statesmen at the Jubilee in 1897, he remained quietly until his death on 6 August 1906.
After 1870, Waterhouse served on a succession of local bodies, including Lower Valley Board of Wardens (1870), Wellington Education Board (1872–73), Wellington Benevolent Institution (1873), and New Zealand Institute (1876), and was suggested as a New Zealand Commissioner for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition (1885).
When Waterhouse arrived in New Zealand, he was already a well-known colonial statesman. Possessed of a wide knowledge of parliamentary procedure, probably unrivalled in the colonies, he was well fitted for Parliament and leadership, while his flair for political tactics at times approached brilliance. Although his undoubted abilities enabled him to amass a vast fortune, his strict Methodist upbringing often conflicted with the exigencies of political life, so that whenever he found himself in a position which offended his conscience, he invariably extricated himself by resigning, a trait not always appreciated by colleagues. He was the only man ever to be Premier of two British colonies, and although twice recommended for knighthood, he was passed over both times, the first because he had entered New Zealand politics before his delayed recommendation came through, and the second because of his cavalier treatment of Governor Bowen.
His death in 1906 was noted in newspapers throughout the Empire, but it is perhaps significant that customary tributes were not paid in either of the two Parliaments in which he had so long served.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Responsible Government in South Australia, Combe, G. D. (1957)
- Wellington Independent, 16 Jan 1869, 14 Sept 1869
- Torquay Times and South Devon Advertiser, 10 Aug 1906 (Obit), 24 Aug 1906.