John Bates Thurston

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Sir John Bates Thurston

John Bates Thurston.jpg
Acting Premier of the Kingdom of Viti
In office
23 March 1874 – 10 October 1874
MonarchSeru Epenisa Cakobau
Preceded byGeorge Austin Woods
Succeeded bynone (position abolished)
Acting High Commissioner for the Western Pacific
In office
21 January 1885 – 1 January 1887
Preceded bySir William Des Vœux
Succeeded bySir Charles Mitchell
Acting Governor of Fiji
In office
21 January 1885 – 1 January 1887
Preceded bySir William Des Vœux
Succeeded bySir Charles Mitchell
4th High Commissioner for the Western Pacific
In office
Preceded bySir Charles Mitchell
Succeeded bySir George O'Brien
5th Governor of Fiji
In office
Preceded bySir Charles Mitchell
Succeeded bySir George O'Brien
Personal details
Born31 January 1836
London, United Kingdom
Died7 February 1897(1897-02-07) (aged 61)
Suva, Fiji
Resting placeMelbourne General Cemetery
Spouse(s)Madame de Lavalatte
Amelia Berry
14 January 1883 – 7 February 1897 (his death)
Children3 sons, 2 daughters

Sir John Bates Thurston KCMG FRGS (31 January 1836 – 7 February 1897) was a British colonial official who served Fiji in a variety of capacities, including Premier of the Kingdom of Viti (before the islands were ceded to the United Kingdom) and later as colonial Governor.

Early life[edit]

Thurston was born on 31 January 1836 in London, England, where he received an elementary education before pursuing a nautical career in 1850. In 1855 he became the first officer, but shortly afterwards was struck down by cholera and was sent to Australia to recover. He became a sheep farmer with a friend, but in 1862 the farm was destroyed by a flood. In 1864, he joined a botany expedition to the South Sea Islands and was wrecked off the coast of Samoa, where he was stranded for eighteen months, before being rescued and brought to Fiji.

Political life in Fiji[edit]

Shortly after his arrival in Fiji, he was employed by the British Consulate. In 1869 he became acting Consul for Fiji and Tonga.

In June 1871, Thurston, then Britain's honorary consul, forged a "marriage of convenience" between the Bauan chief Seru Epenisa Cakobau and the British settlers. He persuaded the Fijian chiefs to surrender the independence of their fiefdoms and accept a constitutional monarchy with Cakobau as King, but with real power in the hands of a cabinet and legislature dominated by settlers. The arrangement was not particularly successful. Within months, government overspending had led to the accumulation of an unmanageable debt which led to economic and social unrest.

In 1872, Thurston approached the British government, at Cakobau's request, with an offer to cede the islands to the United Kingdom. (A previous offer almost two decades earlier had been turned down). The British were much more inclined to annexe Fiji now than they had been previously. The murder of Bishop John Patteson of the Melanesian Mission at Nukapu in the Reef Islands had provoked public outrage, which was compounded by the massacre by crew members of more than 150 Fijians on board the brig Carl.

Two British commissioners were sent to Fiji to investigate the possibility of an annexation. The negotiations were concluded with Thurston himself acting as Premier, from 23 March to 10 October 1874, when Cakobau and his fellow-chiefs formally ceded the archipelago to the United Kingdom.

Thurston later served as Colonial Secretary. In this capacity, he persuaded the Colonial Sugar Refining Company to extend its operations into Fiji by providing it with 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of land to establish its plantations.

1879 Thurston became the secretary to the High Commissioner.

In February 1888, Thurston became Governor of Fiji, a position he held until he died on 7 February 1897.

Botanical contributions[edit]

Thurston was also responsible for the establishment of Suva Botanical Gardens, later named Thurston Gardens in his honour. Thurston's Palm (Pritchardia thurstonii) is named after him.

Personal life[edit]

He married, first, about 1866, a French lady, Madame de Lavalatte; secondly, on 14 January 1883, Amelia, daughter of John Berry of Albury, New South Wales, who, with three sons and two daughters, survived him. The British government granted Lady Thurston a civil list pension in consideration of her husband's services, and the government of Fiji a pension of 50l. to each of the five children during minority.

In 1895 Thurston's health gave way, and he returned to England on leave. Returning to his post in 1896, he died at sea on S.S. Burrumbeet 7 February 1897, between Sydney and Melbourne. Sir John Bates Thurston is buried in Melbourne General Cemetery and his grave site has its upkeep paid by the Fijian Government. He was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1880, and Knight Commander of that same order in 1887; he was a fellow of the Linnean and Geographical societies.

Coat of arms of John Bates Thurston
Sir John Bates Thurston Achievement.png
A stork Argent legged Azure [1]
Sable three bugle horns stringed Or garnished Azure.


Political offices
Preceded by
George Austin Woods
Premier of the Kingdom of Viti (acting)
office abolished
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Charles Mitchell
High Commissioner for the Western Pacific
Succeeded by
Sir George Thomas Michael O'Brien
Governor of Fiji