Charles Southwell

Hard case rabble-rouser

Charles Southwell was the inconvenient truth-teller of colonial Auckland.

Actor, free-thinker, radical, editor. Charles Southwell unmasked crookedness in priests, sacred texts and dodgy land deals. He called colonial Auckland to account.

An intelligent but naughty child, Charles Southwell grew to be an all-round rabble-rouser - freethinker, lecturer, newspaper owner and editor, and actor. He could speak Latin, French and Greek, and had a lifelong love for reciting Shakespeare , in a melodramatic style. He could speak extempore (off-the-cuff) for hours on end.

In England, he was jailed for a year in 1841 and fined £100 for blasphemy, when he wrote an article about Biblical inconsistencies.

In Melbourne, Australia, he campaigned for election (but withdrew when his past was exposed), and gave Shakespeare recitals at the Bendigo Goldfields.

He arrived in Auckland in January 1856, with WH Foleys’ Theatrical Group. He acted briefly at the new Theatre Royal, but “quarrelled with the company and left.” (Quotes from Te Ara). Later he leased the theatre to run it as a ballroom.

An engaging public speaker, Southwell lectured on subjects as diverse as Napoleon III, phrenology (the study of skull measurement), and universal secular education (of which he was a lifelong advocate).

He kept trying to enter politics, but was never successful.

Southwell again turned to publishing, with the weekly Auckland Examiner, “a weekly muck-raking paper which lampooned rivals and corrupt local officials.” He ran the paper with the help of his third common-law wife Elizabeth Edge.

His failing health led to the collapse in July 1860 of the Auckland Examiner. On the 7 August 1860 he died of pulmonary tuberculosis, a disease he had refused to acknowledge. He was only 46.

They appeared to have left no children. Although, astonishingly Southwell was the 33rd child born to his father by three wives (although Charles was the only child of the last wife).

  • <p>The memorial for Charles Southwell in the Wesleyan section near the Symonds Street entrance.</p>

Aerial photo location

Where is the grave?

Enter the Wesleyan section of the cemetery at the upper St Martins Lane entrance. Southwell's grave is about 40m along the path into the cemetery. Site number 14 in the Hobson Walk Trail Guide.