Notes for My Successor

Page 6 – Pay and perks and handy hints

Pay and perks

The colonial government cut the viceregal salary and allowances from £7500 to £5000 in the late 1880s, just when the declining British aristocracy was looking to the Empire to provide paying work. 'No Governor should accept the appointment unless he is prepared to spend a good deal of his salary,' Lord Glasgow (1892–7) warned in 1896.

He had a point. Governors had to pay their staff wages and other costs from their package. Glasgow would not be the last to plead poverty, but as the century progressed, the pay increased, and the government picked up more of the expenses. Sir Charles Fergusson (1924–30) and Lord Bledisloe (1930–5) thought that they came out even.

Still, for as long as governors-general met any of the salary bills from their allowances, it remained messy and confusing – the government might pay for gardeners, but the governor-general had to buy the seeds for the kitchen garden. In recent decades the government has greatly simplified and tidied up the system. A tax-free salary is now paid, and all expenses are clearly set out.

Handy hints

The 'Notes for My Successor' from an outgoing governor-general could praise the Dominion's hunting, shooting and fishing while warning that you might have to rough it. 'No good men's tailor. Ladies' things cost about 40% more than in England. Bring boots from England. In fact bring everything,' Dudley Alexander, private secretary to Lord Ranfurly (1897–1904), advised in 1903. Even Lord Bledisloe, who loyally wore New Zealand-made clothes to support a 'Buy New Zealand' campaign during the Depression, privately confessed that local suits were costly and poorly cut. On the other hand, Lord Glasgow (1892–7) noted, 'horseflesh is cheap'.

Alexander praised the washing service offered by Mr Wills in Wellington, but not that of Mr Steer at Auckland. Finding good laundry staff for Government House was always a bother.

Advice about liquor was not overlooked. Governors-general shipped out extensive liquor cellars, but some thought that the thrifty could make economies here. 'Do not touch Australian whisky or gin,' Sir Bernard Freyberg (1946–52) warned, but 'their champagne, white wine and two kinds of vermouth are quite good enough except for those who really know – of whom there are not many here'.

How to cite this page

'Pay and perks and handy hints', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-May-2023