Henry Barnes Gresson

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Henry Barnes Gresson
portrait of a man in his 50s
Justice Gresson in circa 1862
2nd chairman of the board of Governors of Canterbury College
In office
Preceded by Joshua Williams
Succeeded by William Montgomery
Personal details
Born 31 January 1809
County Meath, Ireland
Died 31 January 1901(1901-01-31) (aged 92)
Fendalton, Christchurch, New Zealand
Relations Kenneth Macfarlane Gresson (grandson)

Henry Barnes Gresson (31 January 1809 – 31 January 1901) was a New Zealand judge.

Early life

Gresson was born in 1809 in County Meath, Ireland. His father, Rev George Leslie Gresson, was rector of Ardnurcher in County Westmeath.[1] His mother was Clarissa Gresson (née Reynell).[2] Gresson was home schooled until age 14, then attended a private school in Westmeath for three years. He matriculated from Trinity College, Dublin and practised in Dublin for eight years.[1] Together with his colleague Edward Hartson Burroughs, he published a book on Irish equity pleading.[3]

He married Anne Beatty in 1845, the daughter of Andrew Beatty of Derry.[4]

New Zealand

The family emigrated on the Egmont to Auckland, arriving on 24 June 1854.[5] A month later, they arrived in Lyttelton on the steamer Nelson.[6] The family made their way over the Bridle Path on foot to their home in Christchurch, but their luggage was shipped and lost on the Sumner bar, including Gresson's legal library.[4]

In October 1854, the Executive Council of the Canterbury Provincial Council led by Henry Tancred resigned, and Gresson was appointed onto the new executive as provincial solicitor.[7] He served on various executive councils under the leadership of John Hall (1854–1855), Joseph Brittan (1855), Tancred (1855–1857 and 1857–1858), Richard Packer (1867), Charles Bowen (1867), and Thomas Cass (1867).[1] He was never an elected member of the provincial council.[8]

Gresson was one of the initial 23 members of the Board of Governors of Canterbury College from 1873 to 1876. In 1875, he was the board's second chairman.[9]

Gresson was committed to the Anglican church. He worked towards the erection of ChristChurch Cathedral, belonged to the diocesan synod for many years, and served as a chancellor of the Christchurch diocese.[1]

Soon after his arrival in Christchurch, Gresson was appointed Crown Prosecutor, but resigned from that post and his provincial roles when he was appointed acting judge in 1857 for the South Island.[1] Prior to that, Justice Sidney Stephen[10] sometimes visited the South Island in judicial matters.[1] The third judge in New Zealand at the time was Daniel Wakefield.[11] Both Stephen and Wakefield were in poor health in late 1857,[4] and they died within days of one another: Wakefield on 8 January 1858 in Wellington,[11] and Stephen five days later in Auckland.[10] That left Gresson as New Zealand's sole judge until the arrival of Chief Justice George Arney later in the following month,[12] and eight months before a second puisne judge, Alexander James Johnston, was appointed.[4]

On 4 September 1858, Governor Thomas Gore Browne appointed Gresson judge of the Supreme Court.[13] He travelled by horseback with the help of a Māori guide. After gold was found in Central Otago, a separate judge was appointed for the area south of the Waitaki River. Further boundary adjustments followed and in the end, Gresson's area of jurisdiction was for Canterbury only.[1]

Following an enquiry into the conduct of the justice for Otago, Henry Samuel Chapman, Parliament passed a resolution that allowed the Minister of Justice to order judges to move to a different court. This would have required Gresson to be transferred to Nelson, to which he objected in the strongest terms. Gresson led the opposition of New Zealand's judges to this interference and even went to Wellington, but to no avail. In early 1875, three of New Zealand's five judges resigned over this affair: Gresson, Chapman, and Chief Justice Arney. Gresson explained his objection in the following words:[4][14]

What becomes of the independence of the Judges if they may be ordered by the Minister of the day, as often as he pleases, to remove to whatever part of the colony he pleases? It is obvious that such a power is open to gross abuse, and that if these be the terms on which they hold office, the Judges are not better off than when their commission was only during pleasure.

Gresson's strong stance has since been the acknowledged reason for maintaining the independence of the New Zealand judiciary.[4]

Gresson went to Ireland and England in 1876. Upon his return, Gresson turned to farming. He sold his farm in Woodend in 1891 and retired to Fendalton.[1]

Death and family

Justice Gresson with his wife and his two daughters in 1865. His son was studying at Cambridge University at the time.

The Gressons had three children: two girls and one boy.[6] John Beatty Gresson, his son, was born on 25 September 1848. He was educated at Christ's College, Christchurch and the University of Cambridge.[15] Kenneth Macfarlane Gresson (born 1891) was his grandson.[16]

Justice Gresson was the patriarch of one of two dominant Canterbury families of lawyers; the other patriarch was Thomas S. Weston.[17]

At first, the Gresson family lived in a rented house in Madras Street,[4] and Gressons Lane off Madras Street in the central city commemorates him.[18] They then lived in Oxford Terrace East, from where Gresson began his legal work.[1] For many years, their residence was on the corner of Worcester and Manchester Streets.[1][3] Gresson's country property, which he bought in 1864,[1] was in a locality called Waiora between Woodend and Rangiora, and the street names Waiora Lane and Gressons Road refer to this.[19] In 1867, Gresson bought the farm 'Gresford' of Samuel Bealey; it was located north of Bealey Avenue and east of Madras Street.[20] Gresford Street in the suburb of Edgeware is named for that property.[18] Gresford Estate was subdivided into 127 lots and sold in 1901.[21]

His wife died on 11 June 1889 and was buried in Woodend.[22] His son John died in 1891 in a railway accident.[23]

Gresson died at his home in Fendalton on 31 January 1901 on his birthday. He was buried at St Barnabas churchyard in Woodend next to his wife.[22] Parishioners from Woodend built a lychgate to commemorate the judge.[19] His daughter Henrietta died in 1918.[19]


  • Burroughs, Edward Hartson; Gresson, Henry Barnes (1850). The Irish Equity Pleader: Being a Collection of Forms of Bills in Equity Suits in Ireland, with Preliminary Dissertations and Practical Notes. Dublin: Hodges and Smith. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Scholefield 1940a, pp. 322f.
  2. ^ Mennell, Philip Dearman, ed. (1892). Dictionary of Australasian Biography: Comprising Notices of Eminent Colonists From the Inauguration of Responsible Government Down to the Present Time. London: Hutchinson & Co. pp. 197f. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  3. ^ a b "Judge Gresson". Star (7014). 1 February 1901. p. 5. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g McLintock, A. H., ed. (22 April 2009) [1966]. "Gresson, Henry Barnes". An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand. Ministry for Culture and Heritage / Te Manatū Taonga. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  5. ^ "Port of Auckland". Daily Southern Cross (730). 27 June 1854. p. 2. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Shipping News". Lyttelton Times. IV (186). 29 July 1854. p. 6. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  7. ^ "Page 4 Advertisements Column 1". Lyttelton Times. IV (209). 1 November 1854. p. 4. Retrieved 21 September 2013. 
  8. ^ Scholefield, Guy (1950) [1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 193. 
  9. ^ Gardner, W. J.; Beardsley, E. T.; Carter, T. E. (1973). Phillips, Neville Crompton, ed. A History of the University of Canterbury, 1873–1973. Christchurch: University of Canterbury. p. 59. 
  10. ^ a b Scholefield 1940b, pp. 328f.
  11. ^ a b Scholefield 1940b, pp. 441f.
  12. ^ "Shipping Intelligence". Daily Southern Cross. XV (1112). 23 February 1858. p. 2. Retrieved 28 September 2013. 
  13. ^ Cyclopedia Company Limited (1903). "Supreme Court". The Cyclopedia of New Zealand : Canterbury Provincial District. Christchurch: The Cyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  14. ^ "The Retirement of the Judges". The New Zealand Herald. XII (4191). 20 April 1875. p. 5. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  15. ^ Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "St. Paul's Anglican Cemetery Tour : Papanui" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. pp. 61–63. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Finn, Jeremy. "Kenneth Macfarlane Gresson". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 23 April 2017. 
  17. ^ Cooke 1969, pp. 272f.
  18. ^ a b Harper, Margaret. "Christchurch Street Names F to G" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. pp. 152f. Retrieved 9 October 2013. 
  19. ^ a b c "Women in Print". The Evening Post. XCV (123). 24 May 1918. p. 9. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  20. ^ Pritchard, Bob (January 2002). "Proposed new Road and Right of Way Names" (PDF). Christchurch City Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 October 2008. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  21. ^ "Land Sale". Star (7661). 17 January 1901. p. 3. Retrieved 10 October 2013. 
  22. ^ a b "Death of the Hon. H. B. Gresson". The Press. LVIII (10881). 4 February 1901. p. 9. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 
  23. ^ "Further Details". Star (7115). 17 March 1891. p. 3. Retrieved 7 October 2013. 


Academic offices
Preceded by
Joshua Williams
Chairman of the Board of Governors of Canterbury College
Succeeded by
William Montgomery
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