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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.


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DAVIS, Sir “Ernest” Hyam, Kt.


Businessman and philanthropist.

A new biography of Davis, Ernest Hyam appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

“Ernest” Hyam Davis was born on 17 February 1872 at Nelson, the son of Moss Davis (1847–1919), a local merchant, and Leah, née Jacobs. He was educated at Bishop's School, Nelson, and at Auckland Grammar School. He began his commercial career in the Auckland offices of William McArthur and Co., ironmongers, and, at the age of 26, joined his father in Hancock and Co. Davis later became chairman of directors of this firm and held this office until his death. He was also chairman of the Devonport Steam Ferry Co. for 20 years, of the North Shore Transport Co., of the Northern Steamship Co., of the Auckland Meat Co., of Bycroft Ltd., of Brents Ltd., and of Kawerau Hotel Ltd. In addition he was chairman of directors and held controlling interest in New Zealand Breweries Ltd. and in the New Zealand Distillery Co. From 1942 he was a trustee of the Auckland Savings Bank, being chairman in 1947–48 (centenary year) and again in 1960. In 1962 he was elected president of the Associated Trustee Savings Banks.

Davis had a distinguished career in many public offices. About 1912 he was elected to the Newmarket Borough Council, where he served two terms before becoming mayor of the borough for four years. He served two terms on Auckland City Council and was mayor from 1935 to 1941. He also served on Auckland Hospital Board (two terms), Auckland Harbour Board (three terms), Auckland Fire Board (one term), and was chairman of the Auckland and Suburban Drainage Board (one term). It has been estimated that, at some stage, he held leading offices in 94 sporting and social bodies, including 11 national bodies.

Davis was a keen yachtsman and in 1957, to commemorate the seventieth anniversary of his membership of yachting clubs, he was made a life member of the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. In his later years he took an increasing interest in horse racing and was New Zealand's leading owner in 1952–53, 1954–55, 1956–57, and 1957–58. His horse, Arawa, won the Auckland Cup in 1954 and, in February 1958, he won the St. James Cup, Trentham, with Bali Ha'i.

During his lifetime Davis made many benefactions to Auckland. At different times he commissioned Edward Halliday, R.A., the English portrait painter, to paint portraits of Queen Elizabeth II, the Queen Mother, the Duke of Edinburgh, Lord Freyberg, and Sir Edmund Hillary for the city. In 1956 he presented Brown's Island (Motukorea) in Auckland harbour to the city. This has been renamed “Davis Marine Park”. In June 1959 he donated gifts totalling £39,100 to selected Auckland religious groups and charities. The Mater Misericordiae Hospital alone received £20,000 of this sum. In August 1961 he presented two sections in Anzac Avenue to the city as a public park and lookout. Shortly before his death the Government approved plans to establish on Tiritiri Matangi Island the “Davis Marine Light”, which has a strength of 11 million candlepower and cost £20,000. His last gift, made a week before his death, was £10,000 towards the Mater Misericordiae Hospital Nurses' Home extension. Davis died in Auckland on 16 September 1962.

On 2 August 1899, in Auckland, Davis married Marion (1877–1955), daughter of Walter Mitchell, and, by her, he had one son, Desmond Elias (1908–58), and one daughter. After his wife's death on 5 May 1955, Davis built and endowed with £100,000 the “Marion Davis Memorial Medical Library”. This stands in the grounds of Auckland Hospital and is regarded as one of the finest institutions of its kind in the world. Davis left an estate valued at about £800,000 and the residue of this is to be used for further endowment of the medical library. In addition, during his own lifetime, he established a smaller trust, the “Desmond Elias Davis Trust Fund”, as a memorial to his only son who died in 1958.

In the 1937 Coronation Honours Davis was knighted for his public services and, in the following year, the French Government conferred upon him the Cross of a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.

  • New Zealand Herald, 17 Sep 1962 (Obit)
  • Auckland Star, 17 Sep 1962 (Obit)
  • Dominion, 6 Oct 1962
  • Otago Daily Times, 17 Sep 1962 (Obit)
  • Evening Post, 22 Sep 1962.


Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.