Premiers and Prime Ministers

Page 3 – Biographies

Leaders of the nation

Find out more about the 39 premiers and prime ministers who have held office in New Zealand since 1856. Each biography links to a page with further information. The entries are in chronological order of term served.

Henry Sewell

Henry Sewell

Premier: 720 May 1856

Henry Sewell, our first premier, was more of a sojourner than a settler. Although he spent 17 years in New Zealand in three periods between 1853 and 1876, he never put down deep roots. More...

William Fox

William Fox

Premier: 20 May2 Jun 1856; 12 Jul 18616 Aug 1862; 28 Jun 186910 Sept 1872; 3 Mar8 Apr 1873

William Fox headed New Zealand governments four times. A rug-puller rather than a bridge-builder, he was better at defeating governments than he was at leading them. More...

Edward Stafford

Edward Stafford

Premier: 2 Jun 185612 Jul 1861; 16 Oct 186528 Jun 1869; 10 Sept11 Oct 1872

Edward Stafford was New Zealand's youngest leader and a stable influence on the early colonial government. He held the post of premier on three different occasions between 1856 and 1872. More...

Alfred Domett

Alfred Domett

Premier: 6 Aug 186230 Oct 1863

Alfred Domett is best remembered for establishing the Parliamentary Library and for his much-derided epic verse Ranolf and Amohia: A South-Sea Daydream. More...

Frederick Whitaker

Frederick Whitaker

Premier: 30 Oct 186324 Nov 1864; 21 Apr 188225 Sept 1883

Despite Frederick Whitaker’s advanced views on electoral reform, this two-time premier tarnished his reputation by land speculation and confiscation. More...

Frederick Weld

Frederick Weld

Premier: 24 Nov 186416 Oct 1865

Frederick Weld was only briefly premier, but the fact that he was a Roman Catholic showed how different New Zealand was to Britain (which has still never had a Catholic PM). More...

George Waterhouse

George Waterhouse

Premier: 11 Oct 18723 Mar 1873

George Waterhouse, who never stood for elected office here, was a premier on both sides of the Tasman, leading South Australia (1861-3) and New Zealand (1872-3). More...

Julius Vogel

Julius Vogel

Premier: 8 Apr 18736 Jul 1875; 15 Feb1 Sept 1876

Although he spent just 18 years in New Zealand, journalist, businessman and politician Julius (Sir Julius from 1874) Vogel dominated this country's political scene. More...

Daniel Pollen

Daniel Pollen

Premier: 6 Jul 187515 Feb 1876

Largely forgotten today, Daniel Pollen was considered a ‘safe man’ and a good administrator. In July 1875 he took over the premiership from the absent Sir Julius Vogel, although Harry Atkinson really ran things. More...

Harry Atkinson

Harry Atkinson

Premier: 1 Sept 187613 Oct 1877; 25 Sept 188316 Aug 1884; 28 Aug3 Sept 1884; 8 Oct 188721 Jan 1891

Harry Atkinson was premier four times – five if you count the ‘reconstitution’ of his first ministry a fortnight into its life. Like Edward Stafford, he was a stabilising force who transcended regionalism for national interests. More...

Sir George Grey

Sir George Grey

Premier: 13 Oct 18778 Oct 1879

Sir George Grey was our only politician for whom the premiership was an anticlimax. He had governed autocratically from 1845 to 1853 (greatly shaping our constitutional arrangements) and returned as governor in 1861. More...

John Hall

John Hall

Premier: 8 Oct 187921 Apr 1882

John (later Sir John) Hall was a force in our politics for several decades. In the late 1880s and early 1890s he led the parliamentary campaign for votes for women. More...

Sir Robert Stout

Sir Robert Stout

Premier: 1628 Aug 1884; 3 Sept 18848 Oct 1887

The careers of Sir Robert Stout and Sir Julius Vogel were so closely intertwined that Stout’s governments are usually referred to as Stout-Vogel ministries. Both men started their public lives in Otago and followed similar policies. More...

John Ballance

John Ballance

Premier: 24 Jan 189127 Apr 1893

John Ballance, who led the Liberals to power in 1891, was called ‘the rainmaker’ by voters relieved to see the return of prosperity. More...

Richard Seddon

Richard Seddon

Premier: 1 May 189310 Jun 1906

Richard Seddon’s nickname, ‘King Dick’, says it all. Our longest-serving and most famous leader didn't just lead the government – many argued he was the government. For 13 years he completely dominated politics. More...

William Hall-Jones

William Hall Jones

Prime Minister: 21 Jun6 Aug 1906

Although William Hall-Jones merely warmed the seat while Richard Seddon’s designated successor, Sir Joseph Ward, returned from Europe, he was the first leader to enter office as prime minister, not premier. More...

Sir Joseph Ward

Sir Joseph Ward

Prime Minister: 6 Aug 190612 Mar 1912; 10 Dec 192828 May 1930

Sir Joseph Ward, New Zealand’s political Lazarus, led governments nearly a quarter of a century apart. He entered Parliament in 1887 and used his interest in technology and business to strengthen the early Liberal Cabinets. More...

Thomas Mackenzie

Thomas Mackenzie

Prime Minister: 28 Mar10 Jul 1912

The Liberals were already yesterday’s men when they named Thomas Mackenzie as successor to Sir Joseph Ward. He only lasted three and a half months before being defeated in the House – the last New Zealand PM to lose power in this fashion. More...

William Massey

William Massey

Prime Minister: 10 Jul 191210 May 1925

William Massey is our second-longest serving leader. Reviled by the left for crushing 1913 strikers with his ‘Massey’s Cossacks’, he kept most of the Liberals’ reforms, cleaned up the public service, increased home ownership rates and spent more on education, roads and electricity. More...

Sir Francis Henry Dillon Bell

Sir Francis Bell

Prime Minister: 1430 May 1925

Sir Francis Bell was PM for only 16 days, but held several distinctions – he was our second-oldest PM (74), the first born in New Zealand, and the last to come from the Legislative Council. More...

Gordon Coates

Gordon Coates

Prime Minister: 30 May 192510 Dec 1928

Gordon Coates seemed unbeatable. Tall and handsome, this affable war hero embodied modernity – he was the ‘jazz premier’. In 1925’s presidential-style election voters were invited to take their ‘Coats off with Coates’. More...

George Forbes

George Forbes

Prime Minister: 28 May 19306 Dec 1935

George Forbes succeeded the dying Sir Joseph Ward, but his term in office coincided with the harsh economic and social climate of the 1930s Great Depression. More...

Michael Joseph Savage

 Michael Joseph Savage

Prime Minister: 6 Dec 193527 Mar 1940

Michael Joseph Savage, New Zealand’s first Labour PM, was probably also its best-loved. His avuncular image hung in the homes of the Labour faithful for decades. More...

Peter Fraser

 Peter Fraser

Prime Minister: 27 Mar 194013 Dec 1949

Peter Fraser, New Zealand’s wartime PM, led the nation for nine years. He was respected rather than loved like his predecessor Savage. But he is rated by many experts as our finest PM. More...

Sidney Holland

Sidney Holland

Prime Minister: 13 Dec 194920 Sept 1957

The National Party's first PM came from a Canterbury political dynasty. His father, Henry, a mayor of Christchurch, entered Parliament in 1925. Sid's son Eric later followed his father into the House. More...

Keith Holyoake

Keith Holyoake

Prime Minister: 20 Sept12 Dec 1957; 12 Dec 19607 Feb 1972

‘Kiwi Keith’ Holyoake is our third-longest-serving leader. Although criticised for sending troops to the Vietnam War, he is now seen as ‘the most dovish of the hawks’, doing the bare minimum to keep America happy. More...

Walter Nash

Walter Nash

Prime Minister: 12 Dec 195712 Dec 1960

At almost 76, Walter Nash was New Zealand’s oldest incoming PM and the last one born outside New Zealand. He had two wives, Lotty, and Parliament. He was still an MP when he died aged 86. More...

John (Jack) Marshall

 John (Jack) Marshall

Prime Minister: 7 Feb8 Dec 1972

‘Gentleman Jack’ Marshall, for long – too long, he felt towards the end – Keith Holyoake’s deputy, spent mere months as PM. But he served Cabinet well for two decades. More...

Norman Kirk

Norman Kirk

Prime Minister: 8 Dec 197231 Aug 1974

In 1972 Norman Kirk broke National’s 12-year-long grip on the Treasury benches and became Labour’s first New Zealand-born PM. Two years later he became the fifth PM to die in office. More...

Wallace (Bill) Rowling

 Wallace (Bill) Rowling

Prime Minister: 6 Sept 197412 Dec 1975

Norman Kirk’s death brought Bill Rowling to the prime ministership unexpectedly in August 1974. A member of an old Tasman Bay farming family, and a teacher by training, he had been finance minister since 1972. More...

Robert Muldoon

Robert Muldoon

Prime Minister: 12 Dec 197526 Jul 1984

Rob Muldoon was one of our most polarising PMs. To supporters he was the voice of ‘the ordinary bloke’; to his opponents he was a dictatorial bully. More...

David Lange

David Lange

Prime Minister: 26 Jul 19848 Aug 1989

Seven years and one stomach-stapling operation after entering Parliament in 1977, David Lange became PM just a month short of his 42nd birthday. More...

Geoffrey Palmer

 Geoffrey Palmer

Prime Minister: 8 Aug 19894 Sept 1990

Geoffrey Palmer, the hardworking, loyal deputy who became PM when David Lange resigned dramatically in August 1989, knew that Labour was doomed. ‘What I got from Lange was a hospital pass.’ More...

Mike Moore

Mike Moore

Prime Minister: 4 Sept 19902 Nov 1990

In September 1990, just weeks from an election Labour seemed certain to lose, the caucus made Mike Moore New Zealand’s third PM in 13 months. More...

Jim Bolger

Jim Bolger

Prime Minister: 2 Nov 19908 Dec 1997

New Zealand’s most openly republican PM, Jim Bolger presided over major electoral reform and Treaty of Waitangi settlements. He also outflanked Cabinet opposition to funding the new national museum. More...

Jenny Shipley

Jenny Shipley

Prime Minister: 8 Dec 19975 Dec 1999

‘This ain’t a damn beauty contest. If you come into politics to be popular, then you’ve picked the wrong sport’, Jenny Shipley declared. New Zealand’s first woman PM came to power in 1997 after staging a carefully planned coup against Jim Bolger. More...

Helen Clark

Helen Clark

Prime Minister: 5 Dec 199919 Nov 2008

Jenny Shipley may have been our first female PM, but Helen Clark was the first elected one. In 2008 she became our fifth-longest-serving PM and the first Labour leader to win three consecutive elections. More...

John Key

John Key

Prime Minister: 19 Nov 200812 Dec 2016

John Key’s parliamentary apprenticeship before becoming PM was the shortest since David Lange’s. Like Lange, he was one of the few recent PMs without prior Cabinet experience. More...

Bill English

Prime Minister: 12 Dec 2016-

Coming soon

How to cite this page

'Biographies', URL: https://nzhistory.govt.nz/politics/premiers-and-prime-ministers, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 12-Dec-2016