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Douglas Hastings Macarthur

D. H. Macarthur
Elizabeth McLean
Broxt Cottage, Monks Kirby

Douglas Hastings Macarthur was born in Edinburgh in 1839. In the 1851 census he's living with his aunt, Elizabeth McLean (aged 37 years) at Broxt Cottage, Monks Kirby, Warwickshire. She was engaged as a deaconess (teacher) and this is presumably where her nephew received his “good education, including languages”.


In the 1871 census Elizabeth McLean is still living in Monks Kirby, with Jane Kirkman and her daughter Catherine Kirkman, Dorothea Gibbs and a domestic servant, Mary Allington. By 1881 she has moved to The Cottage, Beckenham, Kent. She is now aged 67, and her birthplace is given as Edinburgh, Scotland. Living with her still, are Catherine Kirkman and Dorothea Gibbs and also her niece Marianne Macarthur (a school teacher) and four servants. Elizabeth McLean died aged 79 years in 1893.


Early Days: Macarthur from 1856-1875

D. H. Macarthur arrived in Nelson, N.Z. in 1856. There is a Mr Macarthur on the “China” which sailed from Gravesend,  4 Sep 1855 and arrived in Nelson 4 Jan 1856. George Denton in his journal describes  the voyage of the China 1856

From his obituary in the Feilding Star, Macarthur’s early days are described:

“During the first two years he worked a farm near Collingwood…. he worked as a miner at Collingwood, Deep Creek (Marlborough), at the Dunstan (Otago), and on the Six Mile (Waimea) in Westland and also on  Maori Gully (up the Arnold) on the Nelson South West goldfields where he was moderately successful.”

Panning for gold

Panning for gold. London; Working Men's Educational Union. [1852 or later]. Working Men's Educational Union :[Missionary wall pictures]. - London ; Working Men's Educational Union, [1850s?]. Ref: D-010-010. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

Collingwood (originally called Aorere or Gibbstown) was New Zealand’s first gold rush. It began in April 1857 and peaked in  1858 with 4000 diggers. It was a rough canvas town with no official goldfields legislation, and the roads to the diggings were often channels of mud. The end of the rush came in the winter of  1859, with severe flooding and a fire in which every store and hotel in the town was destroyed. 


Otago is the South Island’s most well known gold rush, beginning with Gabriel’s Gully in 1861 and the Dunstan in August 1862 and later Arrowtown and the Shotover River. Otago gold transformed Dunedin from a village into the first city of N.Z. with miners arriving from Australia and California.

The Dunstan 1862

Hodgkins, William Mathew, 1833-1898. Artist unknown :[Gold-mining village in Central Otago, probably Hartley & Riley's Dunstan diggings on the Clutha. 1862?]. Ref: A-253-035. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

The gold rush at Deep Creek, Marlborough, began April 1864 and six months. In 3 days in May 1864, 2000 miners arrived bringing the population to 4,500. By the 1870’s Deep Creek was mostly abandoned although some mining for quartz continued into the 20th century. The main settlement was Canvastown near Havelock. 


The Six Mile goldfield was opened in Jan 1865 and was the first of the big rushes on the West Coast. From there Macarthur went to Maori Gully, inland from Greymouth in the Arnold Valley. The rush here lasted from Aug 1865 until 1867 and he was present on the West Coast / Grey River goldfields at the time of an infamous murder. 


This was probably the murder of George Dobson, a surveying engineer, on 28 May 1866, who was mistaken for a gold buyer as he traversed the Arnold Valley inland from Greymouth. The gang responsible consisted of Richard Burgess, Thomas Kelly, Philip Levy and Joseph Sullivan, they had also committed crimes on the goldfields of Australia and Otago. From the West Coast they stopped at Canvastown enroute to Picton. Levy went to Deep Creek where he learnt that four men ( Felix Mathieu, John Kempthorne, James Dudley, and James de Pontius) were planning a trip to the West Coast carrying a considerable quantity of gold and money to finance a new business. They would be traveling via the Maungatapu track to Nelson, but unknown to Levy, they had arranged for another store-keeper to follow and bring the horse back.


This led to the early discovery that the four were missing after they were ambushed, robbed and murdered on 12 June 1866. The gang also murdered James Battle who witnessed them travelling on the track to Nelson. A search party was raised 18 June and found evidence of foul play. The gang were already suspects, having been recognized in Nelson and were arrested 19 June. Another search for the bodies began on 25 June in heavy rain and a £400 reward was offered for the recovery of the bodies. Up to 100 people mostly from the Deep Creek settlement took part in the search, with a special ruling invoked protecting their diggings from claim jumping for the duration of the search. Sullivan confessed to being an accomplice and the bodies were found 29 June. Sullivan was taken to the West Coast to give evidence about the death of George Dobson, where he narrowly escaped being lynched on arrival in Hokitika. He received a life sentence and was deported in 1874 but the other three were hanged on 5 Oct 1866. There is a memorial to the five murdered men at the Wakapuaka Cemetery, Nelson.


By 1872 Macarthur is back in the Collingwood district (Waikaramumu) where he takes out several gold mining leases. The Nelson Provincial Museum has this photo of Macarthur:

Collingwood 1870s

A view of Collingwood circa 1870s. Bloch, Theodor Thorlacius, 1844-1935 :Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: PA1-q-034-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

When the Manchester block was settled Macarthur was appointed (1874) a sub agent for the Emigrants' and Colonists' Aid Corporation, and when Halcombe relinquished the management of the Feilding settlement he was appointed to succeed him (1881). The appointment was made from London and it is interesting to speculate how this came about;

  • Had he already met A.W.F. Halcombe who arrived in N.Z. about 1855-6? Halcombe's brother, Christopher, took up the position of missionary curate at Aorere near Collingwood in 1861.

  • Did he finally use his “letters of introduction to several influential residents” he had brought out with him?

  • Did his aunt, Elizabeth McLean, living at Monks Kirby near the home of the Earl of Denbigh, promote the merits of her nephew to Colonel William Feilding and his father, The Earl?


Or there is a family story about a romantic attachment between his sister, Elizabeth Macarthur, and William Feilding, which, because of the difference in their social positions could not continue. Elizabeth was presented with a carriage clock and promises of undying love as long as the clock should tick. She was also given a Victorian mourning locket that contained intertwined hair engraved with the dates Jan 17th, 1848 and June 25th, 1865 (for when William's father and sister died). Elizabeth arrived in Feilding circa 1878 and in 1893 she was running a school in Warwick St, Feilding. Colonel Feilding married Charlotte Leighton in 1893 and brought her with him on his final visit to Feilding in 1894, but he died of cholera in Bangkok during the return trip in 1895. Elizabeth died, unmarried, in Feilding in 1898.

Broxt, Feilding

In 1875 Macarthur returned briefly to Takaka to marry Mary Lilias Louise Hannay.

Macarthur built his house “Broxt” in Feilding. Broxt Cottage at NZ Historic Places Trust
He became the first Mayor of Feilding, Chairman of the Manawatu highway board, Chairman of both Manawatu and Oroua counties, and Captain of the Manchester Rifles.
He was elected Member of the House of Representatives in 1884 and re-elected in 1887, and for Rangitikei in 1890. He was a man of considerable ability and force of character, and was offered a post in the Atkinson cabinet but differed on customs policy. The loans to local bodies act was introduced by him.

NZ Politics 1880-1900

From the 1870's NZ politics ran on railway tracks. A good member of parliament (MHR) was one who could get public works expenditure for his district. A new bridge was worth a lot of farmers votes and the hottest political issues were often competing demands for railway lines, but after 1886 there was no money to build them. (The main trunk line was not completed until 1908.) Macarthur introduced the Government Loans to Local Bodies Act and was able to borrow £26,000 to build roads in the Manawatu district.

D. H Macarthur

Politicians tended to group around issues or individuals rather than ideologies and structures. Robert Stout, the Premier, had lost his seat in the 1887 election and no-one wanted to govern in a depression but Harry Atkinson collected together an ill-assorted cabinet ("The Scarecrow Ministry") which governed until 1890. In order to keep the colony from bankruptcy he reduced expenditure and in 1888 borrowed £1 million to cover the deficit and increased custom duties. The 22 members who voted against this (including Macarthur) represented conservative rural interests.The remaining opposition formed the Liberal Party under John Ballance and backed by the trade unions won the 1890 election.


Macarthur died suddenly in 1892 at the age of 53 "a man in the prime of his life". Eulogies noted that he was regarded as the coming Treasurer of the Opposition Party and he'd been suggested for the post of Agent-General in London.
Ballance died in 1893 and was succeeded by Richard Seddon as Premier. Notable legislation that occurred during "King Dick's" reign were women's suffrage (1893), the old age pension (1898) and penny postage (1901).

Douglas Hastings Macarthur. General Assembly Library :Parliamentary portraits.Ref: 35mm-00111-f-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.



Scholefield G.H. (ed) Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, Wellington: Dept. of Internal Affairs, 1940.

Johnson M. Gold in a Tin Dish Volume 1 –The History of the Wakamarina Goldfield, Nelson; Nikau Press, 1992.

May P.R. The West Coast Gold Rushes, Pegasus Press 1962 (2nd edition 1967).

The Feilding Star, 27 May 1892.

New Zealand's Heritage: The Making of a Nation (21 vols), Sydney: Hamlyn House, 1971.
Sinclair K. and Harrex W. Looking Back, Oxford University Press, 1978.
NZ Parliamentary Debates (Hansard), Customs Duties Bill 1888, p 480-485.


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