In relation to a Stuff story describing a Colonial New Zealand governor, Edward John Eyre, his history is more nuanced than the reference to his brutal suppression of a slave uprising later in his career. His story would have been so much more intriguing if his activity in NZ had been included.

An official history says Edward John Eyre, while in New Zealand, took a keen interest in Maori affairs and helped to acquire large areas of land for Maori within his province.

He also first came to prominence in Australia for his then-liberal view that Aboriginals should be assimilated rather than annihilated.

History’s not that simple, eh?

Edward John Eyre
Lifetime:
5 Aug 1815–30 Nov 1901

Edward Eyre (1815–1901) arrived in Australia in 1832. He made a name for himself as a grazier and explorer, and became a magistrate. He showed some sympathy for the Australian Aborigines, and recommended that they be assimilated rather than annihilated. As a result he was noticed by George Grey, who shared many of his views on Aboriginal welfare and his passion for exploration.

Eyre returned to England in 1845. The following year he was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the New Zealand province of New Munster, which included roughly the South Island and the southern half of the North Island. George Grey was Governor-in-Chief at this time.

Eyre arrived in New Zealand in 1847. He soon fell out with Grey, however, possibly because he made the fatal error of communicating directly with the Colonial Office in London rather than through Grey. He later opposed Grey’s Provincial Councils Bill in the Legislative Council. After this, Grey would not allow him any real authority, and constantly belittled him in public and in private. Nevertheless Eyre took a keen interest in Māori affairs, and helped to acquire large areas of Māori land within his province.

Eyre resigned his post in 1853 and left New Zealand. In 1864 he was appointed Governor of Jamaica. In 1865 he brutally suppressed an uprising on the island. More than 350 people were executed, and 600 were flogged. Many prominent British figures, including John Stuart Mill and Charles Darwin, launched a campaign to bring him to justice. Eyre was recalled to England, but was cleared by a later inquiry.

How to cite this page
‘Edward Eyre’, URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/people/edward-j-eyre, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage),

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