Story: Luxford, John Hector

Page 1 - Biography

Luxford, John Hector

1890–1971

Judge, local politician

This biography was written by Judith Bassett and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

John Hector Luxford was born at Palmerston North on 28 May 1890 to William Lewis Luxford, a prosperous timber merchant, and his wife, Isabella Eleanor Carolina Gonzales. He attended schools in Palmerston North and Dannevirke and Wanganui Collegiate School from 1903 to 1907. He was admitted to the Bar in Hamilton in 1913 and first began practice in Te Awamutu. On 15 April 1914 at Hamilton he married Laura Dagmar Otton. Two sons were born of the marriage.

In 1915 Luxford joined the New Zealand Expeditionary Force as a captain in the Machine Gun Corps. He was mentioned in dispatches during the first battle of the Somme and was promoted to major in 1916, but in 1917 he was seriously wounded and invalided home. He wrote With the machine gunners in France and Palestine (1923), the official history of the corps.

In 1919 Luxford resumed legal practice in Hamilton and later moved to Auckland. In 1928 he was appointed stipendiary magistrate in Whangarei and in 1929 became chief judge of Western Samoa. The territory was embroiled in the struggle between the Mau self-determination movement, which claimed the support of two-thirds of Samoans, and a paternalistic, military administration on the Crown colony model. On 28 December 1929 attempts to arrest a member of a Mau procession guarded by 'Mau police' caused an affray in which one constable, a high chief and at least seven other Samoan civilians were killed. Luxford, as coroner, held the inquest into the deaths. He found that the constable had been killed by unidentified Samoans, that the other deaths were caused by rifle fire from the police, and that the machine-gun fired by the police over the heads of an excited crowd 'for its moral effect' had caused no casualties. His report mentioned his 'extensive experience with machine guns' and contained admonitions about the inevitable consequences of 'organized persistent interference amounting to force' against lawful authorities. Mau supporters believed that the inquest was a cover-up.

Throughout 1931 Luxford was engaged on reviewing and consolidating Samoan law. His most controversial decision was the conviction and deportation of O. F. Nelson, the Mau leader, for sedition in 1934. On appeal Nelson’s sentence of eight months' imprisonment was reduced to three weeks. A fine of £5,600 on O. F. Nelson and Company Limited for aiding and abetting the Mau had been similarly reduced to £470. From his New Zealand exile Nelson urged his followers to set up their own Mau courts.

Luxford left Samoa in September 1934 and settled in Wellington, where he sat as a magistrate, and from 1941 became senior stipendiary magistrate in Auckland. He presided over his courts briskly, setting great store by punctuality. A short, dapper man, he insisted upon decorum and was notoriously intolerant of noise. In his 23 years on the Bench he disposed of an enormous number of cases, mostly concerned with breaches of regulations and minor liabilities. Lucidly and briefly, his judgements explained the effects of statutes and regulations. Luxford was completely at home in the regulated society of postwar New Zealand.

During his busy years as a practitioner and magistrate Luxford wrote textbooks to guide others through the regulatory maze; these included Liquor laws of New Zealand (1938, 1953, 1964), Police law in New Zealand (1939), Real estate agency in New Zealand (1946), and Commercial law in New Zealand (1947–49). He retired from the Bench in 1951 and became chairman of the War Pensions Appeal Board and the Auckland Licensing Committee. He strongly advocated reform of the licensing laws. He was made a CMG in 1953.

Luxford was still a vigorous man who felt he had a contribution to make to public life. When the mayor of Auckland, Sir John Allum, decided to seek a fifth term in 1953, Luxford announced that he would stand as an independent. He campaigned as a new-broom candidate and benefited from the disarray of the two main local body factions in Auckland, neither of whom put up a candidate. On 31 October 1953 he won by 1,300 votes. The New Zealand Herald, which had not supported him, said his campaign was 'an object lesson in personal energy and sound organization'.

During the campaign Luxford had talked about team work, but he lacked the political skills to manage a divided council at a time when Auckland was facing an unusual number of major issues: sewerage, the harbour bridge approaches, transport, slum clearance and urban planning. His didactic, magisterial style did not deter councillors from questioning his rulings, and he never acquired the art of managing debates. During his mayoralty the council experienced its first walk-out, and some meetings dragged out into six- and seven-hour marathons.

As mayor, Luxford was exposed to public comment and ridicule in ways that he had never had to face on the Bench. Minhinnick, the Herald's cartoonist, poked fun at his bow-tie. When he opposed the Henry Moore sculpture exhibition at the Auckland City Art Gallery, he was derided by the city's intelligentsia.

His answer to difficulties was, as it had been in Samoa, to work harder. In his single term as mayor Luxford made a considerable contribution to Auckland. He chaired the committee which in 1954 began the Herculean task of reviewing and consolidating the city's by-laws. He convened a conference of regional local bodies to try to develop some system of regional co-operation – an ideal that had eluded those few of his predecessors who had pursued it. The purely advisory Auckland Metropolitan Local Bodies Association that resulted was a more anaemic animal than Luxford had wanted, but it was all that parochialism would concede. He chaired the Auckland Metropolitan Council, the Auckland Regional Planning Authority and the New Zealand Road Safety Council. Luxford had also promised to clean up city hall but his inability to substantiate his allegations of waste delivered him into the hands of the recently retired town clerk, T. W. M. Ashby, who had the inside knowledge to mount a scathing attack on the mayor and defeat him at the local body elections on 17 November 1956.

That year Luxford, still disinclined to relax, became the first executive officer of the Constitutional Society. He served on the Transport Licensing Appeal Authority and the Air Services Licensing Appeal Authority from 1966 to 1968, and was chairman of the No 2 Town and Country Planning Appeal Board (1968–71). John Luxford died in Epsom, Auckland, on 8 April 1971, survived by his wife, Laura, and a son.