Story: Guinness, Francis Hart Vicesimus

Page 1 - Guinness, Francis Hart Vicesimus

Guinness, Francis Hart Vicesimus

1819/1820?–1891

Police officer, magistrate, labour organiser

This biography was written by John Rosanowski and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Francis Hart Vicesimus Guinness, generally known as Frank, was born probably in 1819 or 1820 in Dublin, Ireland. His father's name was Hosea Guinness; his mother's name is unknown.

Frank Guinness was an indigo planter in India by 1844, possibly with the East India Company. There he married Catherine Marian Richardson at Patna, on 16 November 1844; they were to have seven children. The family emigrated first to Australia and then, in August 1852, to New Zealand on the Tory. Guinness became a cadet on Michael John Burke's station, Halswell, and although he selected a run of 6,000 acres on the Halswell River, was unable to hold it, being at this time 'chronically hard up'. He then became a horse dealer and later an auctioneer and land salesman in Christchurch. He was active in sporting and social circles, helping to form the Canterbury Jockey Club and the Canterbury Rifle Volunteers, and taking second place in the 1861 Anniversary Day rifle shooting match. He was appointed lieutenant in No 1 Company of the Rifle Volunteers in 1860 and captain in 1861.

Looking for more secure employment, Guinness had joined the Canterbury Province Armed Police Force as a sub-inspector in 1862. Initially in charge of the Christchurch station, he was posted temporarily to Akaroa from late 1862 to 1864. He was threatened with losing this position when the necessity of having an inspector at such a small place was questioned. His superiors also disapproved of his political sympathies, for he openly expressed a concern for the interests of working people, including policemen. He resigned in December 1864, and in 1865 was appointed postmaster and clerk to the Bench at Akaroa. His resignation from these positions seems to have been precipitated in the same year as he was adjudged bankrupt.

A second phase in Guinness's career opened with his appointments as warden's clerk to the goldfields at Greymouth in 1867 and as receiver of gold revenue in 1869. In 1872 he was appointed justice of the peace and resided at Ahaura. He moved in 1874 to Collingwood, Nelson, where he had been appointed resident magistrate. His popularity was such that there were said to have been protests when he was transferred to Ashburton in 1879. He returned to Christchurch in 1882 where, after a brief return to auctioneering, he took over a horse repository, saleyards and produce store, retiring in 1883.

After his retirement Guinness became prominent in the nascent radical labour movement. In 1881 the Working Men's Political Association had been formed in Christchurch with the aim of achieving worker representation in Parliament. The association's programme included protection of local industry, a land and income tax and payment for members of the House of Representatives. Members were also active in pressing for land nationalisation, closely restricted immigration and the eight hour day.

There were close links between the leadership of the WMPA and the rationalist-humanist Freethought Association. In 1883 Guinness, almost certainly a member of the latter, became president of the WMPA and actively promoted ideas which echoed the views of Henry George and Karl Marx. During 1884 Guinness, now vice president of the WMPA, was part of an enthusiastic group which gave a tumultuous hearing to another who had become more radical with age, Sir George Grey. Grey was especially well received on account of his support for the notion of taxing the unearned increment. Guinness seconded a motion of thanks. The WMPA, apparently riven by faction on fundamental issues, in particular the nationalisation of land, went into recess during 1885 with the suggestion that a new society be formed on a revised platform.

During 1887 a meeting of Christchurch unemployed formed a Canterbury Labour Union and soon adopted the rules and name of the American-based Knights of Labour, which sought to promote the interests of industrial workers along with land nationalisation and a state bank. Guinness was added to the standing committee after a strong attack on 'the great evil of introducing assisted immigrants'. He showed further concern for the unemployed the following year by moving that the New Zealand Knights of Labour urge the government to provide relief work building roads out of Christchurch. He also spoke strongly in support of replacing the property tax with a land and income tax.

Frank Guinness died on 18 September 1891 at Wellington, his wife having died in Christchurch on 11 February the same year.