January 20 was the anniversary of the birth of one of South Shields’ most successful but least well known sons.
Sir William Fox was born in Westoe Village in 1812. Educated at Durham School, he and his wife Sarah emigrated to New Zealand in the 1830s, where he initially began working as a lawyer.
In 1855 he was elected MP for Whanganui on New Zealand’s North Island, but these were tumultuous times: after just 13 days, the newly elected Premier Henry Sewell was ousted from office, and Fox was swept to power as his replacement—securing his place in history as the second Premier of New Zealand.
Unfortunately, Fox’s own premiership was not to last, and he too was removed from office just two weeks later, replaced by Edward Stafford. But Fox wasn’t done yet. In fact, he had just begun.
In 1861, a vote of no confidence in Stafford led to Fox being returned to power. He himself then lost a vote of no confidence the following year, but in 1869 he re-entered politics and was elected Premier for a third time.
He was again ousted from power by Stafford in 1872, and vowed never to return to politics—but fate had a different plan.
When Stafford’s government collapsed and his successor resigned, Fox was called on to act as a placeholder until a new leader could be found.
He remained in power for just 36 days, but in doing so became the only person in New Zealand’s history—and one of the few people in world history—to hold the national leadership on four separate occasions.
Knighted by Queen Victoria in 1879, he died in 1893 at the age of 80 and is buried in Auckland, New Zealand—11,000 miles from his hometown.
By Paul Anthony Jones