24 May 1854

Today is the anniversary of the meeting of New Zealand’s first Parliament on 24 May 1854. The date was the 35th birthday of Queen Victoria (and coincidentally has been a public holiday in much of Canada since that date).

Colonel Wynyard, the Superintendent of Auckland Province (the Senior Military Officer in the colony – and former Deputy Governor of New Ulster under the earlier constitutional arrangements) had been the Administrator since George Grey left for Africa on appointment as  Governor of the Cape Colony in late 1853. There were 37 Members (both nominees to the Legislative Council and elected to the House of Representatives) summoned to the General Assembly following New Zealand’s first election in 1853. Twenty of those Members were elected without opposition in a franchise restricted to property owning male British subjects aged over 21.

Travel to Auckland took almost 2 months for some Members who sailed into Onehunga and about two weeks for others who were taken by steamer to Auckland.  The Legislative Council had already met earlier in May and had elected William Swainson as its Speaker. He was the Attorney General who together with the Chief Justice, had arrived in New Zealand to take up their appointments in August 1841.

Following a 21 gun salute from Fort Britomart, the Members were sworn in.  The Parliament was then adjourned until 27 May allowing the Members to take part in a dinner and ball to celebrate the occasion. Interestingly the media report of the 27th refers to the session having being postponed on the 24th.

The date obviously has national significance but that first Parliament was not yet empowered to establish a responsible government.