Notes for My Successor

Page 5 – A home away from 'Home'

The governor-general's accommodation

Government House in Wellington is a busy place. Every year it hosts about 15,000 guests at 200 functions. These range from formal investitures and credentials ceremonies to book launches and garden parties. It is also the home of the viceregal family, distinguished guests and some staff.

New Zealand has two Government Houses. The main residence, at Wellington, dates from 1912. Sir Frank and Lady Mappin gave the smaller house at Auckland in 1962. An earlier Auckland Government House is now part of the University of Auckland's campus.

Government House in Wellington covers 4,200 square metres, but even a building this big seemed small to governors used to enormous stately homes. In fact, some military secretaries and aides-de-camp had far bigger country houses. Lord Ranfurly (1897–1904), who complained to London about both houses, called Government House Auckland, 'completely worn out inside and also in such order that it would not be fitting for me as the Representative of Her Majesty to occupy it'. He made his point by moving into the Northern Club, just up the street.

BYO cutlery

At first the government furnished only the public parts of the houses, a policy that created much confusion and resentment. Lord Glasgow (1892–7) only discovered on his way out to the colony that the previous governor, Lord Onslow (1889–92), had sold his furniture, thinking it too tatty to hand on. When Glasgow returned to Britain he was pursued by petty bureaucratic letters about government furniture and blankets mistakenly auctioned during the transition.

Things began to get easier after Lord Ranfurly persuaded the government to furnish the Wellington house. As the 20th century unfolded it provided more and more of the furniture, tableware and decorations. Even so, Lord Bledisloe (1930–5) advised that the government provided only hotel-quality cutlery, so the new man should bring his own good silverware.

The government now fully furnishes both government houses.

Protocol, too, has changed. Staff and guests are no longer expected to bow when meeting Their Excellencies first thing each morning or late at night.

Staying with friends

You had to tread carefully in such a small, jealous society. 'Inadvisable to make friends until you have been at least two years in Colony,' Dudley Alexander, private secretary to Lord Ranfurly (1897–1904), warned rather chillingly.

Thirty years later Lord Bledisloe was almost as blunt. 'We are often invited to stay at private houses when on tour, but as far as possible I have avoided this except in a few cases where the host and hostess occupy positions of outstanding prominence in the social world. Otherwise the practice is likely to arouse jealousies.'

Of course they did make friends and they did stay with people such as Canterbury's Elworthy and Rhodes families. But some found even New Zealand's largest houses cramped and inconvenient when compared to their aristocratic piles back Home. 'Not advisable for Staff to bring their own servants,' Alexander advised. 'They cannot be taken to people's houses or to fishing or shooting, and they are generally a nuisance.'

How to cite this page

'A home away from 'Home'', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-May-2023