Story: Ward, Crosbie

Page 1 - Biography

Ward, Crosbie

1832–1867

Farmer, journalist, businessman, politician

This biography was written by Geoffrey W. Rice and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 1, 1990

Crosbie Ward is said to have been born on 10 February 1832 at Killinchy, County Down, Ireland, and was baptised there on 11 August 1833. He was the third son of Henry Ward, rector of Killinchy, and his wife, Anne Mahon. He married Margaret (Maggie) Townsend, of Rangiora, on 13 January 1857 at Lyttelton, New Zealand. Their only child, Harriett Louise Frances, married Burnett Silver in 1885.

Ward was educated at Castletown, Isle of Man, and at Trinity College, Dublin. Three of his brothers sailed on the Canterbury Association ship Charlotte Jane in September 1850 to take up farming on Quail Island, in Lyttelton Harbour. When the two elder brothers were drowned in 1851 Ward was sent out to wind up their affairs, arriving on the Stag on 17 May 1852. He and his younger brother, John Hamilton Ward, soon gave up the unprofitable Quail Island farm and bought a small run north of Rangiora. They borrowed a plough from Mt Grey station and W. Stapleforth sowed their first wheat crop, which yielded a bumper 65 bushels to the acre. Ward remained a partner when his brother bought part of the Racecourse Hill run, but took no further part in farming, turning instead to journalism and politics. He was one of the wealthiest young men in the Canterbury settlement.

In 1855 Ward was elected to the Canterbury Provincial Council, representing Akaroa. The following year, with Charles Christopher Bowen, he bought the Lyttelton Times for £5,000. They wrote most of the paper themselves. An employee later recalled that when Ward took control 'he made things hum', organising annual staff picnics and a band. Electorate preference for a resident candidate cost him his Akaroa seat in 1857 and his late bid for a Lyttelton seat was unsuccessful. He was now fully occupied with journalism, for which he was brilliantly talented, with a prose style marked by 'vigorous terseness' and poetic gifts which enabled him to produce skits and parodies on political topics. His 'Song of the Squatters' (20 February 1858), a witty comment on the land regulations debate, was widely quoted, adding to his reputation as Canterbury's best satirical writer. His partner, Bowen, once destroyed a whole issue of the Lyttelton Times for fear that Ward's personal epigrams on candidates for the superintendency would cause offence, or even litigation. Such a penetrating wit was a dangerous gift in such a small community, but it was so free from malice that very few were seriously angry when jokes were made at their expense.

In May 1858 Ward was elected to represent Lyttelton in the General Assembly. A few months later he was also re-elected to the provincial council. In the General Assembly he was described as 'a very glutton for work', yet he found time in 1860 to act in an amateur production of Sheridan's The rivals, at Government House, Auckland. In 1862, in the company of William Fox, Henry Sewell and the Auckland members on their way to the sitting of the General Assembly in Wellington, he was shipwrecked in the steamer White Swan, near Castlepoint.

Ward rose rapidly in the ministry of William Fox, becoming postmaster general and then secretary for Crown lands on 2 August 1861. In 1862 Fox sent him to Hawke's Bay where he settled a dispute over Maori land with exemplary tact. When Alfred Domett became premier, Ward was reappointed as postmaster general after the resignation of Walter Mantell. He travelled to England in 1863 to negotiate contracts for a fast mail service through Panama and a guarantee for a £500,000 loan. He also held talks with the British government on the cost of keeping imperial troops in New Zealand, and wrote a notable letter to Lord Lyttelton on relations between the Maori, the settlers and the British government.

In April 1860 Ward helped raise a Lyttelton company of the Canterbury Rifle Volunteers; this became two companies in September 1860, and Ward was commissioned as captain of No 4 Company on 22 October 1860. This company was disbanded in January 1862, and on 26 October 1864 Ward was commissioned as captain in No 1 Company of the Canterbury Rifle Volunteers. He was also a foundation member of the Lyttelton Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Canterbury Club and the Provincial Grand Lodge of Canterbury. He edited an anthology, The book of Canterbury rhymes (1866), which included several of his best pieces and gives a vivid glimpse of early Christchurch people and issues. He also edited Punch in Canterbury, writing much of it himself, and delighting in 'the squibs and crackers of political warfare…to dazzle and annoy the enemy.' The 1866 election for the superintendency was greatly enlivened by the political duel waged between Ward and James Edward FitzGerald through their two rival newspapers, the Lyttelton Times and the Press.

As a politician Ward became a popular speaker with a knack for winning over an audience. He declined a post in Weld's ministry in 1864 but was elected for Avon in 1866. The following year he was appointed agent in London for the Canterbury provincial government. In London he immersed himself in work, despite failing health, and soon sold £150,000 of debentures on behalf of the province. Ward died in London on 10 November 1867.