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The Cyclopedia of New Zealand [Auckland Provincial District]

Hon. Joseph Augustus Tole

Hon. Joseph Augustus Tole, B.A., LL.B., who was a Minister of the Crown in the Stout-Vogel Government from 1884 to 1887 (under which heading he is referred to on page 82 of the Wellington Volume of the “Cyclopedia”), and late member of the House of Representatives, was born in Yorkshire, of Irish parentage. He came out with his parents to Auckland and shortly after arrival was sent to the Catholic school which was then under the direction of the late Mr. R. J. O'Sullivan, subsequently Inspector of Schools for the provincial district under the Board of Education. One of Mr. Tole's school-fellows was the late Hon. John Sheehan, for some time Native Minister for the Colony. A few years later his parents decided to send him to pursue his studies in the higher educational institutions of Sydney, New South Wales, and he accordingly entered St. John's College, affiliated to the university of that city, and matriculated in 1865. After a successful career at the university he graduated B.A. in 1868. Hon. Edmund Barton (who has been Attorney-General and Speaker of the New South Wales Assembly and was lately leader of the Australian Federal Convention), and Mr. Justice Pope Cooper (recently transferred to the supreme court, South Brisbane), were contemporaries of Mr. Tole at the university. The subject of this notice decided to adopt the law as his profession, and entered the chambers of one of the most brilliant men of the Australian Bar, the late Hon. Edward Butler, Q.C., who was several times Attorney-General of New South Wales. After passing his examination in law—the late Justice Sir George Long Innes and Mr. Justice Manning being his examiners—Mr. Tole was admitted to the Bar in 1871 by the late Sir Alfred Stephen, C.B., then Chief Justice of New South Wales. Whilst reading law, Mr. Tole pursued his studies with a view to further graduating at the university, and eventually obtained the LL.B. degree. On his return to New Zealand he passed the usual ordeal of further examination, and was admitted in 1872 to the practice of his profession in this Colony. He soon began to take an active part in public affairs, and, his energy and ability being recognised by his fellow citizens, he was elected to the Ponsonby Highway Board, of which he was chairman for several years; and he also sat as one of the progressive members of the Auckland Harbour Board. In the general election of 1876 Mr. Tole was induced to contest the Eden seat—then a very extensive constituency—in the House of Representatives. He stood as a staunch supporter of Sir George Grey, who had just re-entered public life as the champion of provincial institutions (which were threatened and doomed to destruction), and who, as the grand old political educator of the people, had begun his crusade against capitalists and landed monopolists of the Colony. Mr. Tole was elected, and was afterwards the intimate friend and coadjutor of his veteran chief in most of the important measures which were submitted to Parliament. On the dissolution of 1879, Mr. (afterwards Sir) Frederick Whitaker left his constituency of Waikato, and determined to stand in opposition to Mr. Tole for Eden. The contest, one of the most memorable in the Colony, resulted in the return of Mr. Tole by a large majority, Mr. Whitaker being then called to the Legislative Council. At the next election Mr. Tole defeated Mr. Reader Wood, and at the general election of 1884, consequent upon the fall of the Atkinson Government, was again returned by an overwhelming majority. On the reassembling of Parliament, the Atkinson Government resigned, and, after several ministries had been formed and defeated in quick succession, a coalition (Stout-Vogel) ministry was formed in which Mr. Tole held the portfolio of Minister of Justice till September, 1887, in which year partly owing to the strong feeling in Auckland against the Conservative element in the Government, partly to a third candidate entering the contest, Mr. Tole was defeated at the general election. Strangely enough, at the same time Sir Robert Stout was also defeated in Dunedin by a small majority. Mr. Tole's defeat evoked general expressions of surprise and regret, even from many who differed from him politically. It may be mentioned that, in the negotiations for the formation of his Ministry in 1884, the Hon. Major Atkinson offered Mr. Tole a life seat in the Legislative Council and the leadership of the Government in that chamber, but Mr. Tole declined, on the ground that the acceptance of the offer might compromise his relations with his friend, Sir George Grey. During his parliamentary career Mr. Tole introduced and amended many important measures, amongst them the Adoption of Children Act, amendments in the Patent Acts, Abolition of Grand Juries, Criminal Code (now law), and Abolition of Coroners' Juries Acts; and made efforts to introduce shorthand writers into the Supreme Court. Probably the most important measure connected with his name, however, is “The First Offenders' Probation Act, 1886”—the first of its kind in the British Empire, and now to some extent adopted in the neighbouring Colonies and in England. This merciful legislation marked a new era in the administration of the criminal law, and that it has answered most admirably is testified by the reports of Colonel Hume, inspector of prisons, who states that, in addition to its effects as a measure of social and moral reform, it has already saved the Colony nearly £20,000, besides being the means of leading to the recovery of thousands of pounds' worth of property, either stolen or misappropriated. Mr. Tole resumed the active practice of his profession as a barrister in 1888, and in 1892, page 108 a vacancy occurring in the office of crown solicitor and crown prosecutor for the Auckland district, he was appointed to that position. Scarcely had he assumed his duties, when he found himself plunged into the intricacies of the Scott murder case, in which the prisoner after a protracted trial of a fortnight's duration, was found guilty. During his tenure of office as prosecuting counsel, Mr. Tole has had to deal with many other causes celebres, in which he has shown marked ability and been eminently successful. Mr. Tole holds many varied and important public offices, from which it may be gathered that he takes a fair share as a citizen in the life and progress of the Colony. For some years he has been and still is, the University Senate's representative on the Auckland Grammar School Board of Governors, also member of the Auckland University College Council, elected by members of Parliament resident in Auckland. He is examiner in jurisprudence and constitutional history for his college, and was at one time a law examiner to the New Zealand University. Besides being a member of the council of Technical Education, a trustee of the Jubilee Blind Institute, and one of the patrons of the Auckland Catholic Literary Society, Mr. Tole has been for three sessions unanimously elected speaker of the Auckland Parliamentary Union. As president of the Auckland branch of the Irish National Federation, he has given unmistakeable proofs of the sincerity of his attachment to the land of his forefathers, and his talents have been ungrudingly devoted to the promotion of the lawful aspirations of Ireland. Mr. Tole was married in 1882 to the eldest daughter of Mr. Edward Lewis, merchant, late of Wanganui. In private life Mr. Tole is genial and unassuming, and possesses the art of making his associates and friends perfectly at home in his company, without in any way diminishing that respect which his cultured manners command. Following the bent of his musical tastes, he has been for many years connected with several musical societies, such as the Choral Society and Liedertafel, of which he is a vice-president. Indeed, in years past he was a performing member of the Choral Society, and sang the tenor solos in Spöhr's “Last Judgment,” the “Messiah,” and other classical pieces. On the occasion of the visit of H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh to Sydney University in 1868, Mr. Tole took a leading rôle in the French play staged by the undergraduates. His histrionic talents evoked from the press of the day the eulogium that his acting was “equal to that of a good professional actor,” being also mentioned in similar terms in Oakes' book, “Cruise of the Galatea.” Mr. Tole is an accomplished violinist. In public and in private life, at the Bar and in Parliament, in civic and in national institutions, in the discharge of his many duties and as a cultured Christian gentleman, Hon. Joseph A. Tole has achieved a record of which any colonist might feel justly proud, and which might be studied with advantage by the younger generation.

Hon. J. A. Tole.

Hon. J. A. Tole.