Story: Hughes, Robert Clinton

Page 1 - Hughes, Robert Clinton

Hughes, Robert Clinton

1847–1935

Lawyer, conservationist

This biography was written by Mary Donald and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

Robert Clinton Hughes was born in Auckland, New Zealand, probably in July 1847, the son of Robert Hughes and his wife, Mary Ann Madden. Around 1850 the family moved to New Plymouth where Robert senior tried his hand at a number of businesses. He opened a boot and shoe shop, owned a hotel, and was part-owner of the Perseverance Company which searched for gold at Boar's Head Creek in the Kaitake Range near New Plymouth.

When war broke out in March 1860 Hughes was attending Beardsworth's School in New Plymouth. His diary gives an impression of what it was like to live in the town, with vivid accounts of the overcrowding caused by settlers coming in from the outlying areas, and families seeking safety at the barracks on Marsland Hill. His father had been a founder member of the Taranaki Volunteer Rifle Corps in 1855, and he himself was to spend seven years in the Taranaki Militia. On leaving school Hughes served an apprenticeship with the New Plymouth solicitor, William Halse. In 1870 he was admitted to the Bar and opened his own practice.

As an adolescent, Hughes pursued numerous sporting and recreational interests. He enjoyed climbing and exploring the bush: much later, in 1890, it was Hughes who arranged the climb in which Sir William Fox, at the age of 77, trekked to the summit of Mt Egmont. He was a keen distance swimmer, and on occasions swam out to collect the mail when the weather was too bad to allow ships to come in. He was also an expert boxer.

Hughes was deeply involved in the community life of New Plymouth. In 1875 he was a foundation member of the Board of Trustees for Public Recreation (later the Botanical Gardens Board), which wished to develop a botanical garden in the town. He campaigned successfully against the proposed use of the landmark Paritutu rock as landfill, and was the driving force behind the establishment of the Recreation Ground (later Pukekura Park) in 1876. He devoted hours of voluntary work to improving the park and planted trees in its grounds. Hughes was also a member of the New Plymouth Beautifying Society.

Hughes served on the Taranaki Provincial Council from 1874 to 1876 and on the New Plymouth Borough Council. He was involved in numerous community and religious groups including the Total Abstinence Society, the Band of Hope Society, the Temperance Alliance, the Taranaki Philharmonic Society, the Mount Egmont Lodge of the Freemasons, the Baptist and Anglican churches, and the SPCA.

Robert Hughes was noted for his humour and wit and his keen love of poetry. He travelled extensively in England and Europe and was fluent in both French and German. From his youth he showed an interest in Maori customs, mythology and traditions, often staying for days at pa and learning the language.

Robert Hughes married Amy Grace Burton at Dunedin on 1 December 1898; there were no children of the marriage. He died at New Plymouth on 18 January 1935; Amy Hughes lived until 1948.