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Bicentenary of suicidal New Zealand leader

Bicentenary of suicidal New Zealand leader

The 5th July 2005 is the two-hundredth anniversary of the birth of Robert FitzRoy – New Zealand’s most controversial Governor, who ruled from 1843-1845, captain of the HMS Beagle and host of its famous passenger, Charles Darwin, groundbreaking weather forecaster, and religious fundamentalist who tragically ended his own life with a knife across his throat.

Auckland University of Technology senior lecturer in Maori Studies, Dr. Paul Moon, wrote the first complete biography of FitzRoy’s life, and says that FitzRoy was sincere, painfully honest, and obsessed with justice – regardless of who was offended in the process. ‘By the time FitzRoy was recalled from his post in late 1845’, says Moon, ‘he had become so hated in New Zealand that settlers burnt effigies of him and celebrated his downfall in the streets’. Moon is in no doubt that the hatred FitzRoy faced in New Zealand contributed to his suicide.

Other aspects of FitzRoy’s life have also drawn attention to him, but for entirely different reasons: ‘He was certainly a man ahead of his time’, says Moon. ‘He coined the phrase ‘weather forecasting’, and his plans for predicting weather patterns are the basis of all modern, satellite-based forecasting today’.

FitzRoy also designed naval ships, devised New Zealand’s first Treaty settlement, waged the country’s first colonial war (against Hone Heke), organised a bizarre kidnap that ended in the early deaths of some of the captives, and managed to square up all these activities with his powerful Christian faith.

‘Until fairly recently, FitzRoy was loathed by most historians’, says Moon, ‘but a new image of the man is emerging – one which is far more complex, breathtakingly exciting at times, and ultimately fatally tragic’.


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