Funeral procession for Prime Minister Savage

30 March 1940

Michael Joseph Savage’s funeral procession (Alexander Turnbull Library, 1/1-021744-G)

New Zealand’s first Labour prime minister, Michael Joseph Savage, died in office on 27 March 1940. His body lay in state at Parliament for two days before his funeral cortège, which was more than 1.6 km long, set off for the railway station at 9 a.m. on 30 March. It was to be the longest funeral procession, and perhaps the most striking outpouring of public grief, in New Zealand’s history.

The special funeral train took 28 hours to transport the casket and official mourners to Auckland. At 20 stops along the route, crowds of up to 12,000 people filed past the casket and laid wreaths. Regular updates on the train’s progress were broadcast on radio, allowing people elsewhere in the country to feel part of the events.

An estimated 200,000 people lined the route of Savage’s cortège from central Auckland to his burial site at Bastion Point (Takaparawhā), above Waitematā Harbour. Savage’s body was finally entombed there two years later, below an elaborate memorial dedicated to his memory.