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John Sheehan (New Zealand politician)

John Sheehan (5 July 1844 – 12 June 1885) was a 19th-century New Zealand politician. He was the first New Zealand-born Member of Parliament elected by a general electorate (rather than a Māori electorate) and he was the first New Zealand-born person to hold cabinet rank. [1]

John Sheehan
John Sheehan, 1884.jpg
Sheehan circa 1884
5th Minister of Justice
In office
13 October 1877 – 8 October 1879
Prime MinisterGeorge Grey
Preceded byCharles Bowen
Succeeded byWilliam Rolleston
Personal details
Born5 July 1844
Auckland, New Zealand
Died12 June 1885
Napier, New Zealand
Spouse(s)Lucy Caroline Young



Early life and careerEdit

Sheehan was born in Auckland in 1844. He was educated at St Peter's School under the guidance of his teacher, Richard O'Sullivan[2] and where he knew another later Cabinet Minister, Joseph Tole.[3]

Political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1872–1875 5th Rodney Independent
1876–1879 6th Rodney Independent
1879–1881 7th Thames Independent
1881–1884 8th Thames Independent
1885 9th Tauranga Independent

He was the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Māori Affairs from 1877 to 1879.[4] He represented several North Island electorates: Rodney from 1872 to 1879, then Thames from 1879 to 1884, when he was defeated (for Napier by John Davies Ormond).[5][6] He then represented Tauranga from a by-election on 22 May 1885 until he died shortly after on 12 June.[5]

A fluent Maori speaker and a lawyer, he is noted for his efforts with the Repudiation Movement in the 1870s to solve land issues on behalf of Hawkes Bay Maori chiefs who claimed large European land holders, such as McLean, had acquired land improperly. The Repudiation Movement failed but Sheehan gained a positive reputation with Maori leaders. In 1877 he became Native Minister in the Grey Government. He tried to negotiate land deals in Taranaki with iwi leaders and, in respect of the King Country, with King Tawhaio, but failed. However, during these meetings he discovered that Rewi Maniapoto wanted to sell land and negotiated land sales to Europeans in the King Country that the government hoped would speed up assimilation. Sheehan negotiated unsuccessfully with Te Whiti whose base of Parihaka was destroyed by the Armed Constabulary in November 1881 after Sheehan had ceased to hold ministerial office (in 1879).[2] Sheehan was also active in promoting secular education and widening the franchise but he wanted only one system of Parliamentary representation, the abolition of separate Maori seats and the end of plural voting. He was one of the first ministers to advocate breaking up of the large runholder monopolies which he believed had created a social elite at the expense of the normal citizen.[2]


Sheehan died of pneumonia and cirrhosis of the liver in Napier on 13 June 1885 aged 40 years.[2]


  1. ^ Scholefield 1940, p. 295.
  2. ^ a b c d Waterson, D. B. "Sheehan, John". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 7 April 2011.
  3. ^ Cyclopedia Company Limited (1902). "Hon. Joseph Augustus Tole". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Auckland Provincial District. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 24 February 2012.
  4. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 67.
  5. ^ a b Wilson 1985, p. 234.
  6. ^ "The General Election, 1884". National Library. 1884. p. 1. Retrieved 17 March 2012.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
William Rowe
Member of Parliament for Thames
Served alongside: George Grey
Succeeded by
William Fraser
Preceded by
George Morris
Member of Parliament for Tauranga
Succeeded by
Lawrence Grace
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Bowen
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
William Rolleston