Page 1: Biography
Tucker, William Henry Terry
Soldier, farmer, clerk, interpreter, land agent, mayor, politician
This biography, written by Sheila Robinson, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.
William Henry Terry Tucker was born at Auckland, New Zealand, on 5 January 1843, the son of Elizabeth Howell and her husband, Henry Tucker, colonial storekeeper and former paymaster on the Royal Navy supply ship Buffalo. His mother died when he was nearly two, and his father, who remarried the following year, died when he was seven. William was educated at Wesley College, Auckland, and at about the age of 15 joined his first of many volunteer military groups. On 21 November 1865, at Waipawa in Hawke's Bay, he married Elizabeth Ann Rundle; they were to have four daughters and one son. Early photographs of Tucker show an upright and commanding figure, a handsome man sporting a magnificently parted set of Victorian whiskers.
After experience in Hawke's Bay with sheepfarming and military volunteers, Tucker moved to Poverty Bay in 1866 to manage G. S. Cooper's sheep run, Pouawa. When hostilities with Te Kooti broke out he was appointed lieutenant in the Poverty Bay Militia, and was present at the battle of Ngatapa in January 1869. In August 1870 Te Kooti raided Tolaga Bay. Tucker, now a captain, led 120 pro-government Maori on a three-day pursuit through thick bush, without success. His reminiscences of his war experiences, written many years later, imply rather more action than would be expected of a militia man, who was normally given a support role. There is no doubt that Tucker saw action, but he did not claim a New Zealand War Medal.
During these years Tucker had been forced to abandon his farming venture, and in 1871 was secretary to Captain G. E. Read, Poverty Bay's most prominent trader and businessman. Over the next decade he worked as a law clerk, licensed interpreter and sheepfarmer. He was clerk to the Cook County Council from 1877 to 1880. However, his true interest lay in managing property, in which his chief associate was Riperata Kahutia, a leader of Te Aitanga-a-Mahaki, for whom he looked after areas of tribal land. On good flat land at Makauri, just north of Gisborne, he turned leasehold into freehold and subdivided it to promote rural settlement. At Waikanae, close to the beach where he built his first home, a piece of land known as Tucker's Paddock became a venue for rugby and trotting meetings, while another was made available for golf.
Tucker's close association with Riperata Kahutia stood him in good stead in community affairs. When she died in 1887 he continued to manage her properties for her daughter, Heni Carroll, as well as acquiring much land of his own. In spite of later suggestions that he profited at the expense of her family, Kahutia's descendants believe his conduct was fair and just. At the time of his death his obituary observed that those properties had been 'well conserved in the interests of the beneficiaries.'
In 1900 Tucker leased Campbell Island, the most southerly of New Zealand's outlying islands, and established a sheep run. In 1904 he brought out Shetlanders to work there, because it was thought they would be accustomed to an inhospitable climate. When they left in 1908 shore whalers were persuaded to help with the sheep. The run produced over 100 bales of wool a year from 1906 until 1916 when Tucker transferred the lease; at that time it carried 6,800 sheep. Tucker's name is remembered in Tucker Cove near the head of Perseverance Harbour.
Meanwhile, in Gisborne Tucker had become a well-established and very wealthy man. By 1896 he had moved with his family to Makauri, where a fine home was built, befitting a man who had been mayor of Gisborne in 1887 and 1888 and chairman of the harbour board in 1888 and 1889. From 1902 he served as chairman of the Cook County Council and of the Cook Hospital and Charitable Aid Board; he chaired the board of Common Shelton and Company, general merchants, for some years, and was active in the temperance movement. From 1907 to 1914 he was a member of the Legislative Council.
Elizabeth Tucker died of cancer on 25 February 1910. On 18 February 1916 at Napier, William Tucker, then 73, married 34-year-old Lucy Parnell. They had one son. Tucker's death at Gisborne on 19 February 1919 came as a shock to all who knew him. He was survived by his wife and all his children. His obituary paid tribute to the unobtrusive way in which he had done much to advance local interests. It also remarked on his proverbial cheerfulness and his reputation for fine oratory.
Captain Tucker's story is not an unusual one. Like many of his generation he related well to his Maori friends, spoke their language, and fathered a Maori branch of the family when Merekingi Paraone (Brown) bore him twin sons and a daughter. Like many men in new settlements he had practical, moderate visions – visions which saw fulfilment. He became a very wealthy man, but his fellows remembered him, not for his money, but for the time and energy he contributed to the development of his corner of New Zealand.