Henry Russell


Henry Russell
Henry Russell

Henry R. Russell (1817-1891) arrived in New Zealand in the late 1840s. With his brothers he grazed stock on land rented from Maori in the Wairarapa. He later acquired a grazing run and became a property developer.

Russell was highly successful, and by 1879 was running more than 25,000 sheep. He also took part in local politics, and was appointed to the Legislative Council in 1862. In 1869 he became General Government Agent in Hawke's Bay.

Like other important locals, Russell was energetic in purchasing Maori land. But he was also genuinely concerned with the situation of Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay Maori. He was in favour of Maori keeping at least some land. In several cases he encouraged Maori attempts to obtain higher prices for their land.

In the early 1870s Russell became a supporter of Henare Matua, a leader of the Hawke's Bay Repudiation movement, which sought to overturn allegedly flawed land transactions. To help his Maori friends Russell set up and funded a "repudiation office" in Napier. He also financed Te Wananga, the movement's Maori-language newspaper. The settler community disapproved of these activities, which also strained his financial resources.

When the Repudiation movement failed to undo any land transactions Russell concentrated on challenging land deeds in the Supreme Court. He succeeded with only a few, however.

By 1879 Russell was heavily in debt, and support for the Repudiation movement began to fall away. In 1883 he returned to England, where he died in 1891. He was not lamented by Maori, who had come to doubt his motives. Clearly he was a man of some complexity.

Adapted from the DNZB biography by Mary Boyd

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Dr Douglas G. Lockhart

Posted: 16 Aug 2015

Your dates for the arrival of Russell in NZ appear inaccurate - he is listed in the 1851 Census in Perthshire, Scotland, his daughter was born in Scotland and his last newspaper advertisement was placed in the Aberdeen Journal, 22 October 1851 p.4 col.1. He sailed on the Agra and arrived Wellington, 1 March 1852.
I have much more on his life in Scotland 1841-51 if interested.