Henry Wynn-Williams

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The Honourable
Henry Wynn-Williams
b&w portrait image of a man
Henry Wynn-Williams in 1882
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Heathcote
In office
1881 – 1884
Personal details
Born 1828
Died 27 October 1913
Relations Charles James Watkin Williams (brother)
Occupation lawyer

William Henry Wynn-Williams (1828 – 27 October 1913) was a 19th-century Member of Parliament from Canterbury, New Zealand. He was a prominent lawyer in Christchurch.

Early life[edit]

Wynn-Williams was born in August 1828 in Llangar, Conwy County Borough, North Wales.[1]

His father was the rector Peter Williams, and his mother was Lydia Sophia Price. One of his brothers was Watkin.[2] The birth dates for William and Charles are uncertain, as they were apparently born in August and September 1828, respectively *Parish registers of Llangar show Watkin baptised in Sept 1827 & Henry in Sept 1828[3].

His brother Charles studied medicine initially, but changed to a law degree. William was educated in preparation for joining the Indian army, but then also studied law. After practising in Wales for two years, William emigrated to New Zealand, arriving in Wellington in 1856. He worked on farms in the South Island and settled in Christchurch in 1860.[4]

Professional career[edit]

Information board at Ferrymead Heritage Park on Wynn-Williams

He began practising law in New Zealand in July 1860 when he joined the practice of Harry Bell Johnstone, who had started his legal firm in January 1859.[4][5][6] Johnstone ceased to practice in 1864, but Wynn-Williams remained with the firm until 1912.[4] The firm of Wynn Williams & Co still exists today.

He was involved in conveyancing, criminal trials and significant civil litigation. He is described as fearless and often represented the underdog.[4]

Political career[edit]

Political activism[edit]

George Allen was a leader of several protest groups. One such group, the Ratepayers' Mutual Protection Association, challenged the right of the Christchurch City Council to exist. Wynn-Williams was active with the group and took the case to court.[7] Ratepayers started to withhold their rates, and in April 1866 the Council was forced to drastically cut expenditure in order to fend off bankruptcy.[8] Staff were laid off, street cleaning suspended, some streets no longer lit and contracts cancelled. In May 1866, the city drainage scheme was abandoned, a project that had been estimated to cost £160,000.[9] A shipment of pipes that had just arrived from England was sold off, ensuring Christchurch's reputation as the most polluted and unhealthy city for another 20 years.[8] Wynn-Williams eventually lost the lengthy case and left the Ratepayers' Mutual Protection Association, which then folded.[7]

Provincial Council[edit]

Wynn-Williams was a member of the Canterbury Provincial Council from 1865 until the abolition of provincial government with one interruption. He represented Heathcote (July 1865 – May 1866), City of Christchurch (June 1866 – November 1870) and Papanui (October 1871 – June 1875).[10]

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1881–1884 8th Heathcote Independent

The 10 December 1881 general election in the Heathcote electorate was contested by the incumbent James Fisher, Wynn-Williams and Major Alfred Hornbrook. They received 119, 243 and 167 votes, respectively. Wynn-Williams was thus elected with a majority of 76 votes.[11][12]

Wynn-Williams was an advocate of the working class.[13] Although the Christchurch newspaper The Press was conservative and thus from the opposite end of the political spectrum than Wynn-Williams, they praised him in an editorial on 21 April 1883 for speaking his forthright opinion rather than following the attitude of other politicians of saying what the voters want to hear and what is popular with them:[13]

It gives us a new and a delightful sensation to read the speech he made to his constituents at Woolston on Thursday evening so free it is from humbug or deception, and so vigorous with fearless candor.

His great-grandson, Robert Wynn-Williams, used the editorial as inspiration for the title of his biography.[13]

The nominations for the 1884 general election in the Heathcote electorate took place on 16 July.[14] The 22 July election was contested by the incumbent Wynn-Williams, John Coster and James Fisher. They received 245, 445 and 15 votes, respectively.[15] Coster was thus, with a majority of 200 votes, elected to represent Heathcote in the 9th New Zealand Parliament.[16]

Community involvement[edit]

Wynn-Williams was on the council of the Canterbury Society of Arts, a group organising exhibitions of paintings.[17] In 1881, he was vice-president of that organisation.[18]


He died on 27 October 1913[19] and is buried at Barbadoes Street Cemetery.[20]


  • Wynn-Williams, Robert (2013). Free from Humbug: The Life and Times of Henry Wynn Williams. ISBN 9780473226244. 


  1. ^ "Mr. William Henry Wynn Williams". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia Company Limited. 1903. Retrieved 27 April 2010. 
  2. ^  Norgate, Gerald le Grys (1900). "Williams, Charles James Watkin". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography. 61. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 
  3. ^ Wales Archives Services, Baptism registers of All Saints Church, Llangar Merionethshire: entry 419 1827 & entry 446 1828
  4. ^ a b c d Whiteside, Peter. "Speech at Cocktail Party on 30 January 2009 on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Wynn Williams & Co". Wynn Williams & Co. Archived from the original on 6 August 2010. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  5. ^ "Barristers". Victoria University. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  6. ^ "Early Residents of Fendalton". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  7. ^ a b "Unsung Heroines: Lizzie Cooker". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  8. ^ a b "Christchurch: a chronology (1866)". Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  9. ^ Southern Provinces Almanac, 1865 (PDF). ??? and Reeves, Printers. 1865. p. 69. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  10. ^ Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 197. 
  11. ^ "CANTERBURY ELECTORATES". The Star (4255). 10 December 1881. p. 3. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  12. ^ Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103. 
  13. ^ a b c Crean, Mike (22 February 2014). "Forgotten figure was fiery lawyer and politician". The Press. p. C12. 
  14. ^ "Heathcote" (5055). Star. 16 July 1884. p. 3. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  15. ^ "The Elections". X (1250). Manawatu Times. 23 July 1884. p. 2. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  16. ^ "Heathcote". The Star (5016). 23 July 1884. p. 3. Retrieved 26 April 2010. 
  17. ^ "The Third Annual Exhibition of the Canterbury Society of Arts I883" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  18. ^ "Canterbury Society of Arts First Annual Exhibition (18 Jan – 12 Feb 1881)" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  19. ^ "Personal Matters". The Evening Post. LXXXVI (103). 28 October 1913. p. 7. Retrieved 10 November 2010. 
  20. ^ "The late Mr W. H. Wynn-Williams". The Press (14810). XLIX. 30 October 1913. p. 2. Retrieved 11 August 2014. 
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
James Fisher
Member of Parliament for Heathcote
Succeeded by
John Coster