Edward Stafford, New Zealand’s youngest leader, was William Fox’s great rival and a more stable influence on early colonial government.
In 1842 this member of the Anglo-Irish gentry went to Nelson to farm but soon got mixed up in the democratic movement. He became Nelson’s superintendent in 1853 and entered Parliament two years later where he championed strong central government.
When the first responsible government met in 1856, Stafford stood back, taking the premiership only after Henry Sewell and Fox fell. The longevity of his first administrations owed much to his knowledge of constitutional theory and to sheer hard work – most years he did not even have a private secretary. His ‘compact’ of 1856 defined the financial relationships between central and provincial government and settled the New Zealand Company’s debts. He was ‘one of the few early politicians who transcended regional parochialism’, being ‘a populist, a centralist and a nationalist.’
Defeated in 1872, Stafford left politics and later returned to Britain where, after refusing offers of governorships, he went into business.
By Gavin McLean