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The Governors: NZ's Governors and Govenors-General


The Governors: New Zealand's Governors and Govenors-General

by Gavin McLean

Release date: 24 October / illus + 16 pp b&w / Hardback $59.95

New Zealand's 'virtual presidency' explored in world first

New Zealand is about to publish the world's first complete history of a nation's governors. The Governors: New Zealand's Governors and Governors-General, by historian Gavin McLean, explores the constitutional milestones that have shaped a little-understood office into a 'virtual presidency'.

Grey, Jervois, Fergusson, BledisloeŠ While their names litter the New Zealand landscape, adorning buildings, streets, entire towns - and even hills, rivers and waterfalls - little has been written about the people who have occupied Government House, especially the successors to Hobson, FitzRoy and Grey.

And yet many colourful and controversial characters have filled the position. Sir Arthur Gordon complained about being 'highly paid, well housed and well fed, for performing the functions of a stamp' in the 1880s. Lord Liverpool unwittingly 'bitched' the Prince of Wales during his 1920 royal visit with what the Prince called his 'pompous' behaviour. Sir Bernard Fergusson, Governor-General 1962-67, all monocle, medals and plumed helmet, spoke Maori and was expected to sell used cars to make ends meet. More recently, we have seen New Zealanders in the role, each with their own distinctive personality.

The Governors both tells the stories of these individuals, and focuses on the nature and history of the office itself, and what it says about New Zealand's political and constitutional journey.

In early Crown colony days there were no elected politicians and the governors ruled personally, to the frustration of settlers. In 1856 New Zealand attained responsible government. While local politicians gained control of a range of policy, 'native affairs', defence and foreign policy remained under British direction and an uneasy period of adjustment followed.

The late 1880s brought a new breed of aristocratic governors who presided ceremonially. Although Britain and the dominions rewrote their relationship between the world wars, New Zealand preferred the old ways. It suited politicians to have short-term, imported governors with no direct party connections, financially supported by Britain and who were kept out of mischief by making official first visits (the first two years) and farewells (the last year).

Since 1972, however, all governors-general have been New Zealand residents, and more recently the office has acquired an important new diplomatic role, representing the nation overseas in addition to representing the sovereign in New Zealand.

The Governors explores the position's ceremonial and community roles as well. In words and in over 200 pictures, the book examines vice-regal ceremonies, from the days of street parades and welcoming bands, to ceremonies of state and the more relaxed style of the New Zealand governors. Seen in detail and in context, the vice-regal role is richer and more complicated than conventional portrayals of plumed patricians being sidelined by nation-building democrats suggests.

The Governors: New Zealand's Governors and Governors-General is published by Otago University Press, with the assistance of Government House and the Ministry for Culture and Heritage. It will be launched at Government House on 24 October.


Gavin McLean was born in Oamaru and received his PhD in history from the University of Otago. A well-known reviewer and writer, he is a senior historian at the Ministry for Culture & History. He has written histories of the Oamaru and Otago harbours, Moeraki and early Wellington, and in 2006 edited and prepared for publication K.C. McDonald's Oamaru 1878: A Colonial Town, and co-edited with Kynan Gentry Heartlands: New Zealand Historians Write About Where History Happened. His recent books include Frontier of Dreams (co-edited with Bronwyn Dalley in 2005).

In 2007 Otago will publish his guide to researching and writing local history and Reed Books will publish Whare Raupo, his centenary history of the company, and Whare Korero, an anthology of writing by Reed's authors.

Publication details

The Governors: New Zealand's Governors and Governors-General
Gavin McLeanRelease: 24 October 2006

RRP $59.95


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