Story: Hamilton, George Douglas

Page 1 - Hamilton, George Douglas

Hamilton, George Douglas

1835–1911

Runholder, station manager

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

George Douglas Hamilton was born on 15 July 1835, in Antwerp, Belgium, and lived there as a child. The son of Mary Wilkinson and her husband, William Hamilton, a merchant, George was a member of a prominent Scottish family. Although 'educated…for the Army' and spending a term at the University of Edinburgh in 1851, he did not take a commission but instead spent his formative years on various farms in Scotland.

Hamilton arrived at Wellington, New Zealand, aboard the Alma on 15 May 1857, and secured employment at Dr Isaac Featherston's Akitio run, and then in 1858 at Ashton St Hill's Tukituki run. While at Akitio Hamilton visited the interior with local Maori, and recognised that several large clearings in the forest would be excellent sheep country. With the approval of the Maori concerned, he occupied an area of about 13,000 acres at Mangatoro, south-east of Dannevirke, in 1861. The first European to settle permanently in southern Hawke's Bay, he resided initially at Waitahora. From 1863 until 1873 he was in partnership with John Wilkinson, possibly a relation. Following the issue of a Crown grant for Mangatoro in 1867, Hamilton and Wilkinson obtained a 21-year lease to 30,750 acres from the 10 grantees.

For nearly 30 years Mangatoro was the district's largest sheep run, and its social and economic centre before the establishment of Dannevirke. Hamilton was prominent in the administration of the area, serving as deputy land frauds commissioner in 1867–68, representing the riding on the Waipawa County Council and chairing the Dannevirke Highway Board from 1877 to 1880. From 1876 he was a justice of the peace.

Hamilton took part as an unofficial volunteer in the skirmish with Ngati Hineuru adherents of Pai Marire at Omarunui, near Napier, on 12 October 1866. Commissioned as an ensign in the Napier Militia, in command of the Forty Mile Bush Detachment, he carried out several scouting missions in the Taupo area in 1869 in search of Te Kooti. He later claimed to have been captain in command of native contingents of Te Arawa and Ngati Kahungunu, and was generally referred to as 'Captain Hamilton' from this time, although never officially holding the rank. The amicable relationship which he enjoyed with local Maori was reflected in the invitation he received to assist in dividing up the £16,000 paid to them for the 250,000-acre Tamaki block in 1871.

Shortly after this Hamilton returned to Britain. On 10 March 1873 at Edinburgh he married Gertrude Helen Alicia Gwendolen Hughes; they were to have four daughters and three sons. While overseas he also took the opportunity to send out six Cotswold stud sheep, fencing materials and two foxhounds. Returning to Mangatoro in March 1874 he embarked on a large-scale development encouraged by the Bank of New Zealand and by a prospective 40-year extension of his lease. By 1884 he owed £44,000. When the bank demanded immediate repayment he was unable to refinance the property, partly because of the depressed conditions and partly because of continuing difficulties with the lease. The bank thereupon took possession of the station. Five years later it bought it at auction after no bids were forthcoming. In 1890 Mangatoro was transferred to the Bank of New Zealand Estates Company. These dubious proceedings were later described in Parliament as a 'standing disgrace' and 'one of the worst blots in connection with the history of banking'.

Hamilton, who had been appointed manager at Mangatoro in 1886 and carried on in that capacity until he was fired in 1890, was left in financial disarray. His wife was reduced to begging for help from their friends to assist in rehousing their family at Tiratu, near Dannevirke. He was adjudged bankrupt in 1896, but may later have received assistance from family in Scotland.

George Hamilton spent the rest of his life seeking redress for what he regarded as a 'sneaking theft'. He took his case not only to the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal but also to Parliament, which he petitioned in 1900, 1902, 1909 and 1910. In 1910 the second of two commissions which examined the case (the other was in 1902) concluded that he had suffered a 'serious wrong', but the government, frightened of creating a precedent, declined to act on its recommendation for compensation.

A keen sportsman, Hamilton may have been the first to establish a trout hatchery in the North Island. When not engaged in his legal battles he occupied himself in later years with stocking the rivers of southern Hawke's Bay with trout. In 1904 the Government Printing Office published his Trout-fishing and sport in Maoriland. He presided over the Hawke's Bay Bush Districts Acclimatisation Society in the 1890s, the Bush Districts Farmers' Club, both the Woodville District and Dannevirke jockey clubs and the Hawke's Bay Angling and Shooting Club from its inception in 1901 until his death.

George Hamilton died of heart failure at Dannevirke on 29 November 1911 after several months of ill health. His wife died on 20 September 1914.