Story: MacWilliams, William Francis

Page 1 - Biography

MacWilliams, William Francis

1860–1931

Goldminer, businessman, bailiff, sportsman

This biography was written by G. C. Staples and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 2, 1993

William Francis MacWilliams, born McWilliams and better known as Daldy MacWilliams, was born at Papakura, south of Auckland, New Zealand, on 23 July 1860. He was one of eight children of Martha Letitia Tullkin and her husband, John McWilliams, a police constable. The McWilliams family were among the early settlers at Mackaytown, near Paeroa; they moved there around 1877 and opened a store in an old hotel which had been closed after the initial Ohinemuri goldrush of 1875.

In August 1879 Daldy MacWilliams was involved in an incident which illustrated the tension at that time between the government and Maori landowners in the Ohinemuri area. In early 1879 the government had purchased the Pukehanga block at Rotokohu, near Paeroa, from Ngati Koi, a sub-tribe of Ngati Tama-Te-Ra. However, the sale was opposed by another sub-tribe, Ngati Hako, who claimed ownership of the block, and they had issued a general threat against anyone trying to occupy the land.

Plans went ahead for the subdivision of the land by local surveyors Daniel Bayldon and Henry Crump, who advertised for assistants. Daldy MacWilliams joined the survey party with the aim of making some money and hunting wild pigs on the side. He knew of the threats, but did not think anything would come of them. Shortly after the survey work commenced a group of Ngati Hako opened fire on the survey party. MacWilliams, who had donned clean clothes that morning, was mistaken for the leader and was seriously wounded. The other members of the party all managed to escape, and MacWilliams feigned death until the attackers departed.

That night he was rescued and taken to Thames hospital. He was ill for many months until a visiting doctor extracted a piece of shirt from his wound, whereupon he made a rapid recovery. He is said to have petitioned Parliament on several occasions for compensation but was unsuccessful. Two Ngati Hako, Pakara and Epiha, were accused of the shooting and found guilty by a Maori runanga. The runanga, however, upheld the claim of Ngati Hako to the surveyed land. It appears that Pakara and Epiha were later convicted in a Pakeha court but served only a short part of their sentence; they were released when Te Kooti received his pardon in 1883.

During the 1880s Daldy MacWilliams was involved in various goldmining ventures. He prospected on Te Aroha goldfield after it was opened in 1880, and in 1882 was associated with John McCombie in the discovery of a large gold-bearing reef at Karangahake. For several years MacWilliams worked on this field and in mines at Waitekauri and Thames.

Daldy MacWilliams married Florence Rosina Payne, a talented amateur musician, at St George's Church, Thames, on 21 November 1893. The couple were to organise many concerts in aid of patriotic and community causes. About 1895 Daldy MacWilliams opened a hair-dressing business in Thames. At the same time he commenced work as a mining reporter. He is said to have contributed articles on mining to the New Zealand Herald and the London Mining Journal, Railway and Commercial Gazette. He was prominent in athletic circles, became a boxing instructor, and was noted as a great footballer.

In 1901 Daldy and Florence MacWilliams left Thames to settle in Waihi, where Daldy was subsequently employed as a bailiff and draughtsman at the magistrate's court. He was on the staff for 25 years. During his residence in Waihi he was active in the Waihi Boxing Association.

Although he did not smoke or drink, Daldy MacWilliams was sociable and enjoyed great popularity in the mining communities where he lived. He was a natural leader, and was much admired, especially by young people, for his sporting prowess. He died at Waihi on 18 January 1931 and was survived by his wife and three children.