SEWELL, HENRY (1807-1879), first premier of New Zealand, was the fourth son of Thomas Sewell, a solicitor, who was steward of the Isle of Wight, and of Jane, youngest daughter of John Edwards, curate of Newport. Richard Clarke Sewell (1803- 1864)], Dr. James Edward Sewell. and William Sewell (1805-1874) [q, v.] were his brothers, and Elizabeth Missing Sewell, the novelist, his sister. He was born at Newport on 14 Sept. 1807, and educated at Hyde Abbey school, near Winchester. He qualified as a solicitor, and joined his father's in 1826, living first in Newport and then at Pidford, lie moved to Brockhurst, but, on the death of his first wife in 1844, went to reside in London, where he interested himself in the Canterbury Association for the Colonisation of New Zealand, ultimately becoming secretary and deputy chairman in 1850.

At the end of 1852 Sewell was sent out to New Zealand to wind up the affairs of the association. Arriving in February 1853, lie settled at Lyttleton (whence he afterwards moved to Nelson), and commenced practice as a solicitor. In May 1854 he was elected to the Honse of Representatives as member for Christchurch, and from June to August was in the Fitzgerald ministry. He became on 7 May 1856 the first premier on the introduction of responsible government, but on 13 May he resigned because the crown declined to allow the ministry full responsibility. On 2 June 1856 he joined the first Stafford ministry as colonial treasurer and commissioner of customs, and held office till April 1859. From 12 July 1861 to August 1862 he was attorney-general in the Fox ministry, in December 1861 giving up his seat in the House of Representatives and becoming member of the legislative council for Wellington; he continued as attorney-general under Alfred Domett till January 1863. He was minister of justice in Sir A. Weld's first ministry from 24 Nov. 1864 to 16 Oct. 1865, and again under Sir J. Fox from 28 June 1869 to 10 Sept. 1872. For his action in joining this government he was violently attacked in the lower house and on 17 Oct. 1872 made a long and characteristic personal explanation in the council (New Zealand Debates, xii. 733). Thus for more than ten years Sewell was one of the most active and prominent of New Zea- land politicians (cf. GISBORNE).

Sewell left New Zealand in the spring of 1876, and went to reside at Romford, Essex, where his eldest son was curate. He moved to Salisbury Villa, Station Road, Cambridge, where he died on 14 May 1879. He was buried at Waresley, Huntingdonshire.

Sewell married first, on 15 May 1834, Lucinda Marianne, eldest daughter of General William Nedham of Mount Olive, Jamaica, and Widcombe, Bath, M.P. for Athenry in the last Irish parliament, 1798-1800) (she died, 28 July 1844, leaving six children); secondly, on 23 Jan. 1850, Elizabeth, second daughter of Capt. Edward Kittoe, R.N., of Deal, who survived him just over a year.

Sewell was author of 'Thoughts on the Relations of Men to the External World' London, 1848, and of three pamphlets on New Zealand politics.

[Private information gathered by Mr M. C. Orwen, also from Miss E. M. Sewell; Mennell's Diet, of Australasian Biography; Gisborne's New Zealand Eiders and Statesmen.] C. A. H.


Harris, C. Alexander. “Sewell, Henry.” Dictionary of National Biography. Ed. Sidney Lee. XLI, 286. London: Smith, Elder, 1897. Internet Archive version of a copy

Last modified 30 January 2013