Notes for My Successor

Page 4 – Staff and servants

Upstairs downstairs

In 1935, Lord Bledisloe (1930–5) felt that senior staff:

should be fond of dancing and of games and sport of all kinds, as these accomplishments appeal to people here I would not have them so young or temperamental as to be unduly susceptible to the attraction of young ladies. Among other accomplishments, it is of great convenience if they can typewrite, drive a car, and play Bridge.

Sir Bernard Freyberg (1946–52) felt that 'it is a great advantage if the Lady-in-Waiting is good at flower decoration'.

They were, of course, talking about the personal staff, who were often relatives or titled friends. The comptroller of the household or the military secretary was the most important. He ran the household. In addition most governors-general had a couple of aides-de-camp, who kept the visitors' books, looked after visitors and accompanied Their Excellencies on official visits. There was always a lady-in-waiting and sometimes a governess.

Freyberg recommended changing even senior staff, such as the lady-in-waiting, after two and a half years. 'After that time, the tendency for all but an angelic character is to become openly bored with the women's functions, which are the duty of a Governor-General's wife,' he warned, 'and to have to attend the functions with a bored companion does not make her speech-making any easier'.

Beneath the personal staff came the domestic staff, up to 30 cooks, butlers, footmen, housemaids, gardeners and chauffeurs. Some were locals, but most came from Britain. They would arrive a week early to prepare Government House for Their Excellencies.

Things did not always go smoothly, for as Dudley Alexander, Governor Ranfurly's private secretary, complained in 1903, 'servants, as a rule, deteriorate quickly in the colonies and there is no means of replacing them satisfactorily'. Bledisloe cautioned that 'it is not wise to bring out married servants if it can be avoided'.

The governor or governor-general paid all these staff from his allowances. In 1949, however, the government, which had also paid for a small official staff, headed by the official secretary, began paying the domestic staff. It later put the personal staff on its payroll.

Today Government House employs about 30 staff, all public servants or contract workers.

How to cite this page

'Staff and servants', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 16-May-2023