Henry Fish


Henry Fish
Henry Fish

An able but controversial politician, Henry Smith Fish is best remembered for his aggressive attempts to prevent women getting the vote.

He was born in London in 1838 and travelled with his family to Melbourne as a child. In 1863 he came to Dunedin, where he worked for the family painting and glazing business and in 1867 became a city councillor. He soon gained a reputation for being conceited, rude and untrustworthy, but was also a skilled tactician with a talent for electioneering. As well as serving for more than 20 years on the city council, six as mayor, Fish was elected to the Otago Provincial Council in 1870 and again in 1873, and was a member of the Otago Harbour Board for six years.

In politics Fish switched allegiances often, and rumours of dubious morality and petty corruption dogged him. Nevertheless, he had a faithful following among the working men of South Dunedin. He was elected to Parliament in 1881 and after being voted out in 1884 returned in 1887. Fish soon fell out with the Liberals and became notorious for insulting behaviour. He resisted extending the vote to women and organised two petitions against this, but his credibility was tarnished when it was discovered that he had paid people to sign them. In 1892, women ratepayers helped tip the balance against him in the Dunedin mayoral race, and his failure to be re-elected to Parliament in 1893 was also attributed to female voting power. He won back his seat in 1896, but died the following year.

Adapted by Nancy Swarbrick from the DNZB biography by F. R. J. Sinclair

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