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Notes for My Successor

Page 7 – The governor-general on the move


'Government is very liberal in allowing the Governor the use of the Government Steamers to carry his family, servants, baggage, carriages and horses to and from Auckland or Christchurch to Wellington free of expense,' Dudley Alexander, private secretary to Lord Ranfurly (1897–1904), advised. They needed it. A fully equipped viceregal party could haul 60 tonnes of equipment and stores up to the Queen City for the annual Auckland season.

The steamers were the Stella, Hinemoa, Tutanekai and Matai, lighthouse tenders that doubled as politicians' yachts. Since they also had to carry out normal servicing duties and satisfy the politicians, governors and governors-general sometimes had to wait. Both Lords Glasgow (1892–7) and Ranfurly clashed with ministers over the steamers.

A favourite excursion for governors-general and their families was the annual summer cruise to Fiordland and the sub-Antarctic islands.


Then there were the viceregal railway carriages. There was usually a set in each island. Until the coal crisis of the late 1940s briefly reduced the carriages to singles, there were two luxuriously appointed carriages, with their own dining rooms and reception areas as well as suites for the governor-general, his wife and senior staff. The carriages were updated every five years or so. They conferred two benefits: they reduced hotel costs and allowed the governor-general to entertain local worthies. Lord Bledisloe (1930–5) thought that 'the attendants and meals are first-rate'.


Until the 1960s, governors-general usually brought out three or four vehicles. For political reasons they had to be English. For practical reasons they had to have plenty of headroom for plumed helmets and top hats.

The first New Zealand governor to ride in a motor vehicle, Lord Ranfurly, liked neither the car nor the rough Canterbury roads. But roads and cars got better, and by the 1920s governors-general were being driven almost everywhere. They did not have to display number plates and often received an Automobile Association escort in the regions.

Lord Cobham (1957–62), brought six vehicles, all bearing the Cobham family crest. He sometimes drove his own Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud and would surprise reporters by motoring into town with the lady-in-waiting and the aide-de-camp seated in the back.

Since the 1960s the New Zealand government has supplied the cars. The current official car is a BMW 7 Series.

vice-regal horse-drawn carriage

Lady Ranfurly and the private secretary, Dudley Alexander, in the governor's carriage
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The governor-general on the move, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated