The Hon. William Swainson
was Attorney-General of New Zealand from the 10th of August, 1841, to the 7th of May, 1856. His name stands first on the list of those who were summoned to the Legislative Council in 1853, and in 1868 he ceased, through absence, to be a member of the Council. As Attorney-General he was, ex officio, a member of the Executive Council from the date of his appointment until the establishment of responsible government on the 7th of May 1856. He wa a native of Lancaster, became a member of the Inner Temple, and was appointed Attorney-General of New Zealand by Lord John Russell early in the year 1841. Mr. Swainson left England on the 9th of April in that year in the barque “Tyne,” with his friends, the newly-appointed Chief Justice Martin, and Mr. Outhwaite, the first Registrar of the Supreme Court. The “Tyne” reached Wellington on the 9th of August, and after a month's detention there she sailed for Auckland. She was nineteen days between the ports, and Mr. Swainson finally landed at Auckland on the 25th of September, 1841. At that time the infant capital of the infant colony was in a most primitive condition with its one public building, a long, low, native-built hut, which served as a post office police court, and church, all rolled into one. On the voyage out Mr. Swainson was engaged with the Chief Justice in framing measures for establishing Courts of Judicature for the administration of justice, for providing a system of oral pleading, for the transfer of real property, for the establishment of municipalities, for simplifying the form and language of indictments in criminal proceedings, and for the regulation of marriage, etc. In the early days the office of Attorney-General was more onerous and important than it was in the later times of responsible Government, as its holder had not only to devise and frame every Government measure but to take charge of them through the Council. When the new constitution was brought into operation Mr. Swainson was senior member and first Speaker of the Legislative Council, and in the stormy first session of the General Assembly, in 1854, he was brought into close contact with Edward Gibbon Wakefield, under conditions which are graphically set forth in “New Zealand and its Colonisation.” On the establishment of responsible Government Mr. Swainson ceased to be Attorney-General, but continued to be a member of the Legislative Council and now and then acted as an honorary member of the Executive Council. Mr. Swainson took an active part in laying the foundation of the English Church in New Zealand. He was a member of the Conference held in June, 1857, for devising its constitution; also a member of the first General Synod, and framed the fundamental measures introduced at its first session, held in Wellington, in March and April, 1859, and conducted them through the Synod.
He was afterwards for several years a member of the Synod of the diocese of Auckland. Throughout the episcopate of Bishop Selwyn in New Zealand he was that prelate's legal coadjutor in organising the members of the Church of England into a branch of the mother church, and in devising the measures necessary for its institution and government. Mr. Swainson loved travelling in the bush, and traversed the length and breadth of the North Island on foot, with a tent and three Maoris. He mixed much with the natives, and was from the first regarded by them as a friend of the race. Before leaving England, Mr. Swainson published a pamphlet on the climate of New Zealand, and many years afterwards Smith, Elder and Co. published a small book written by him on “Auckland, the Capital of New Zealand and the Country Adjacent.” In 1855 he went to England on leave, and spent a good deal of time in travelling about the country giving lectures on New Zealand in London, at Richmond, Bristol, Plymouth, Hereford, Lancaster, etc. These lectures were published in 1856 by Smith, Elder and Co. In 1859, Mr. Swainson published a larger work, “New Zealand and its Colonisation.” “New Zealand and the War,” published in 1862, was his latest literary work, and its object was to enforce the impolicy of engaging in a costly and protracted war to gain possession of land at the Waitara. Mr Swainson was a man of great culture and affability, and at his home at “Taurarua,” near Auckland, he lived a life of extreme simplicity. For thirty years his next door neighbour was his friend, Sir William Martin, and he himself resided in a small house which he had brought with him from England. He called his unique little
abode his “cottage by the sea,” and there his friends in the Colony or visitors from abroad were ever sure of a cordial welcome and refined hospitality. Mr. Swainson died on the 1st of December, 1884.