Page 1: Biography
Orchardist, farmer, politician
This biography, written by Mim Ringer, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
Robert Reyburn was born at Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland, on 4 January 1810, the sixth child of Jean Thomson and her husband, John Reyburn, a bonnet-maker. Little is known of his early life, but he was associated with shipping and woollen-milling in Glasgow. He married Hannah Rathbone at Prestbury, near Macclesfield, Cheshire, on 4 August 1834. They were to have three sons: James Thomson, Robert and John Gee. Robert senior, Hannah and their two younger sons emigrated to New Zealand in 1859, arriving in Auckland on the John Scott on 7 March.
Reyburn soon decided to move north. On 29 April 1859 he bought land at Whangarei from J. G. Petingale, and on 3 May he bought 226 acres at Maungakaramea near Whangarei with land order scrip, leaving Auckland for Whangarei the same day. Reyburn acquired other allotments in the village and several larger blocks in the adjoining Whareora district. He continued the export of fruit and dairy produce which Petingale had begun. With his sons (James Reyburn had arrived in 1867) he engaged in farming and shipping; he held shares in the Argyle, which provided a steamer service to Auckland.
Robert Reyburn was closely involved with the Presbyterian church and the Whangarei community. In June 1859 he was present at the meeting of Presbyterian settlers when it was resolved to build a church. He was one of four elders and a member of the committee. A year later the congregation set up a day school, of which Reyburn was superintendent for a year. He also ran a library from his own premises, and was librarian and vice chairman of the Whangarei Literary Institute. In 1862 he became a justice of the peace.
Reyburn was a strong advocate for the interests of Whangarei in local politics. He supported the movement for separation from Auckland, and pushed for proper representation on highways boards for each district in the Whangarei area. He was a highway trustee for the Whangarei District in 1864, and for both the Whareora and Whangarei Districts in 1868, remaining in the latter position for a number of years. In 1866 the Auckland Provincial Council responded to a financial crisis by cutting much of its funding to schools. An act of 1867 provided for the funding of education by levying rates on land and property, and charged the highways boards with administering the levy. Reyburn strongly opposed these moves. He was appointed one of two members of the Board of Health for the Port of Whangarei. Apparently reluctant to offer himself for provincial government, he was nevertheless member for Marsden from 1869 to 1873. He was the first chairman of the Whangarei High School Board in 1879.
The Reyburn estate, Eglinton, comprising 42 acres of what was originally Whangarei Mains, later became the business centre of Whangarei. Along with Henry Walton and Dr Augustus Perston, Reyburn initiated the development of the city. All three are commemorated in the names of city streets.
Hannah Reyburn died in 1878 and in 1880 Reyburn travelled to Macclesfield where he married Hannah's sister, Mary Anne Lane, a widow, on 14 September 1880. He lived there for eight years before returning to New Zealand alone. A man of integrity, direct and often uncompromising, he called himself a moderationist. After many years in local affairs, he died at Whangarei on 21 October 1892. He was buried in the old mission ground cemetery, Whangarei.