An active Governor - William Hobson

"He strove to be just", but...

First Governor of New Zealand, and co-author of the (English language version) of the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi.

William Hobson was born in Waterford, Ireland. He joined the Royal Navy in 1803, at the tender age of ten years, and was promoted to Commander in 1824. In his active career as a naval officer, he was twice captured by pirates in the Caribbean. During this time, he had yellow fever three times, which left him with severe headaches for the rest of his life.

He met and married his wife Eliza Elliot, on Nassau in the Bahamas in 1827. They had four daughters and one son.

In 1836 he took the ship HMS Rattlesnake to New South Wales, Australia, where he became assistant to the Governor, Sir George Gipps.

In 1837 Gipps received a request for help from James Busby, the British Resident in the Bay of Islands, where a number of Europeans, were living.

Although New Zealand's independenace had been recognised in 1837, its was still considerede within the sphere of influence of the Colony of New South Wales. Gipps sent Hobson to investigate and he submitted a report to the British Government advising that New Zealand should be annexed as a colony.

He survived a stroke soon after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, as a result (said the surgeon of the ship Herald) of “violent mental excitement.”

Even while recovering, Hobson founded the City of Auckland as the colony’s new capital in September 1840, and became the first Governor of New Zealand in 1841, when it became a separate colony from NSW.

After this land was exchanged by Ngāti Whatua, Hobson set it aside for use as a cemetery in 1842 - ironically becoming one of the first people to be buried here. He was only Governor or Governor-General to be buried in New Zealand until Sir Keith Holyoake (1904-1983).

“William Hobson's intelligence and sound education, most of which was gained at sea, are reflected in his dispatches and letters. He was of medium height and slender build, appearing prematurely aged from years in the tropics and from the inroads of disease. His private conduct was irreproachable; he was a good husband, father and friend, a gracious host and an entertaining speaker. A firm Christian believer and member of the Church of England, he showed marked tolerance for other denominations. In his official duties he strove to be just, and saw protection of the Maori as a major reason for establishing British rule. He could be obstinate and lacking in diplomacy. He was capable of poor decisions, but the tragedy of his governorship arose mainly from his ill health and inept advisers, and unrealistic Colonial Office policy towards the new colony.”

- Te Ara, Encyclopedia of New Zealand.

The Ministry for Culture and Heritage is responsible for the upkeep of Hobson’s Grave.

  • <p>Governor Hobson in a 1913 painting by James Ingram McDonald. <em>Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, Ref: G-826-1.</em></p>
  • <p>Modern reconstruction by artists Marcus King showing Tāmati Wāka Nene signing the Treaty in front of James Busby, Captain William Hobson and other British officials and witnesses. Some Māori signatories are assembled on the left,1938. <em>Marcus King. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, Ref: G-821-2.</em></p>
  • <p>Hobson's grave at Syomonds Street cemetery</p>
  • <p>Ngāti Whatua elder Te Hikoi Paora delivering a speech in 1965 at the annual commemoration of Hobson’s death with Colonel LF Rudd in attendance for the Royal NZ Navy.<br><em>Photo: Reweti/Paora family collection.</em></p>
  • <p>Captain William Hobson's grave at Symonds Street Cemetery in 1913. <em>Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1389.</em></p>
  • <p>The 95th anniversary of the death of New Zealand's first governor commemorated at the grave in Symonds Street Cemetery. <em>New Zealand Herald, Volume LXXIV, Issue 22831, 11 September 1937, Page 10.</em></p>

Aerial photo location

Where is the grave?

Just down the steps from the entrance to the Anglican section of the cemetery, you will see a horizontal slab in three tiers of different stone, surrounded by an iron fence, in the middle of the concrete courtyard. Site 2 in the Hobson Walk Trail Guide.