Hobson, William (1793–1842), naval officer and first governor of New Zealand, was born 26 September 1793 in Newtown Lodge, Waterford city, third among five sons of Samuel Hobson, assistant barrister for Co. Cork, and his wife Martha Jones, who was a member of a family that had produced many dignitaries of the Church of Ireland, including Henry Jones (qv), as well as military men. Aged only nine, and thus three years under age, young William Hobson was sent to England in August 1803 to join the navy at Deptford, on HMS Virginie, a ship commanded by Sir John Poo Beresford (1766/8–1844), of the Waterford family. Hobson made steady progress in the navy; the Napoleonic wars and the 1812 war with America provided ample opportunities for active service. He served in the West Indies and the Gulf of Mexico, and was made lieutenant before he was 20. His ship Peruvian was part of the convoy that carried the defeated French emperor Napoleon to exile on St Helena, and Hobson spent a year on Ascension Island.
After eighteen months in England on half-pay, Hobson was put in command of a chartered brig, the Frederick, to chase Mediterranean pirates; in disguise, his crew overpowered a small pirate ship. Hobson was commended for his service, and was sent to the West Indies to command small ships hunting for pirates in the creeks and inlets round the islands. In August 1822 he and his crew were captured by a notorious pirate called Diablito, tortured and starved for eight days, and finally set adrift in an old sloop without provisions, rudder, or anchor. They had the great luck to be rescued after several days, near death from thirst, and Hobson returned to the hunt for the buccaneers; after a fierce fight, two schooners were captured and the pirates routed. Hobson was put in command of the refitted pirate ship, renamed HMS Lion, and was known thereafter as ‘Lion Hobson’. He successfully pursued pirate vessels throughout 1823, making another daring escape from pirates in July and seizing four armed schooners and one unarmed, and receiving official commendations and prize money; he was promoted commander in May 1824. He took command of an eighteen-gun sloop, the Scylla, in the West Indies in 1826. He married (17 December 1827), at Nassau, Eliza (d. 1876), only daughter of a Scots merchant there, Robert Wear Elliot, and she accompanied him back to Waterford for a visit and then to England. Hobson's daring exploits and naval actions were apparently the basis of a novel, Tom Cringle's log (1833) by Michael Scott (1789–1835), and are said to have been used also by Frederick Marryat in his naval stories, which were very popular in the nineteenth century.
After six years of enforced leisure in Plymouth, Hobson commanded the Rattlesnake on a voyage in 1834 to the East Indies, and was then ordered to sail to New Zealand to protect English settlers there in a threatened war between Maori tribes; en route the ship visited Port Phillip in Australia, and Hobson helped explore and survey the area round what was later known as Melbourne; ‘Hobson Bay’ there commemorates his work. The Rattlesnake went on to New Zealand in May 1837, and Hobson spent five weeks negotiating with Maori chiefs and preparing a report on the territory's future development. This impressed Lord Glenelg, secretary of state for the colonies, and in February 1839 Hobson accepted the position of English consul in New Zealand. In July 1839 he was ordered to New Zealand to become the first lieutenant governor. With his family, he sailed from Plymouth on 28 August 1839; a daughter was born on board ship in December.
Hobson had orders to treat with the Maori to bring about a voluntary cession of the territory to the British crown, and to establish a British colony on lands thus legally acquired and sold to settlers. Unfortunately, he was in poor health, brought about by repeated attacks of yellow fever in the West Indies and by stressful disagreements with the naval commander, Joseph Nias, who was supposed to provide military support to the lieutenant governor's authority. Hobson was in other ways ill-equipped for the task: the Foreign Office had not provided his mission with an official draft of the document he was to promulgate, and instead he himself, with no legal training, was expected to produce the treaty, with the assistance only of a rather motley and mostly unimpressive team of officials, as well as missionaries, assembled in Waitangi on the North Island. The task of preparing the treaty was completed in only four days, and translation into the Maori language was carried out by missionaries who worked throughout one night to produce it. Though to some extent Hobson tried to protect Maori rights in its provisions, and though his forceful personality and persuasiveness reassured the chiefs about the British government's intentions, the Maori did not fully understood how such a treaty, and its standing in international law, would affect the lives of their people, and linguistic and legal arguments have continued ever since it was first read out to the assembled chiefs in Waitangi. Nonetheless, on 6 February 1840 (now commemorated annually in New Zealand as ‘Waitangi day’), Hobson and about forty chiefs ceremonially signed the treaty, and others later assented in a series of meetings throughout the North Island.
Hobson was planning other visits and the move of the colony's capital to a new site at Waitemata, when on 1 March 1840 he was incapacitated by a serious stroke. He made a gradual recovery, and was able to outmanoeuvre discontented settlers who were planning independence, when he precipitately proclaimed British sovereignty over both North and South Islands on 21 May 1840. Hobson became governor of New Zealand when it was formally established as a colony on 1 July 1841. Despite lack of support from Nias, he took speedy action to preempt a planned French settlement a few days later. The last months of his life were very difficult; he had insufficient administrative and military support, and settlers opposed his authority. He died of a further stroke 10 September 1842, and was buried in Waitemata, the town he had founded, which was to become the city of Auckland (named after Lord Auckland, Hobson's patron). Hobson's widow and her four daughters and one son remained in New Zealand until June 1843, when they returned to England. The son, William Robertson Hobson (1831–80), became a Royal Navy officer and accompanied Leopold McClintock (qv) on the polar expedition of 1859 which discovered the fate of Sir John Franklin.