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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.


HANAN, Hon. Josiah Alfred


Barrister, politician, educationist.

A new biography of Hanan, Josiah Alfred appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

Josiah Alfred Hanan was born at Invercargill on 12 May 1868, the son of James Hanan, an Invercargill storekeeper, and of Sarah, née Clarke. He was educated at the Southland Boys' High School, and qualified in law at the University of Otago in 1891. While still a legal junior he began to take an active interest in public affairs. He was Mayor of Invercargill at 28, and three years later, in 1899, he went to Parliament to represent Invercargill and to commence a political career that was to last 47 years – 26 years in the House of Representatives and 21 years in the Legislative Council. He held the Invercargill seat for a longer period than any of his predecessors or successors, retiring before he was displaced. He held Cabinet rank twice, once for a few brief months in the Mackenzie Ministry of 1912, and again in the wartime Coalition Government of Massey and Ward from 1915 to 1919. When Massey led the Reform Party back on to the Treasury Benches in 1919, Hanan did not find a place in his Cabinet. Though he held the portfolios both of Education and of Justice, Hanan's consuming interest through life was education. He was elected a member of the Senate of the University of New Zealand in 1917, became pro-chancellor in 1927, and in 1935 began a term as chancellor which lasted 10 years. His services to education were recognised by the University of Durham in 1937 when he had conferred upon him the honorary degree of D.C.L. Hanan settled in Dunedin for the last 20 years of his life, and died there on 22 March 1954. In 1901, at Invercargill, Hanan married Susanna Murray by whom he had two sons. The Hon. J. R. Hanan, Attorney-General in the Holyoake Ministry, is a nephew.

Hanan was liberal, both in thought and in practice, to the verge of radicalism, and it was hardly surprising that his policies and methods did not always appeal to the solid conservatism of Massey. Hanan had at all times an unshakable belief in the efficacy of his own version of progress in education, and he always regarded the Invercargill Borstal Institution not only as a model of its kind but also as his own particular creation. He also had claims to be regarded as the father of the Free Place system. He was a debater of some merit, and in Parliament and out of it he was a strenuous combatant and a hard hitter in public. He often found himself opposed in method and temper, even more than in opinion, to his colleagues, but by then politics had become little more than the vehicle for the pursuit of his lifelong enthusiasm – education. He will be remembered as much for his fidelity to that cause as for anything that he personally achieved in its behalf. His work for the cause of education was untiring, and in association with some of the greatest names in university development in the thirties and forties, he deserved well of the community he served.

Hanan's wife, Susanna (1870– ), has also led an active public life. She was born in Invercargill on 1 July 1870, the daughter of John Murray. She was a founder of the New Zealand Free Kindergarten Union, and became its first honorary secretary and treasurer. In 1912 she secured the first Government subsidy for the four kindergarten centres in New Zealand. She was an original member, treasurer, and, later, vice-president of the Plunket Society in Invercargill and Wellington and for a time served on its Dominion Council. She was convenor and first president of the Southland branch of the New Zealand Red Cross Society. During the First World War she was president of the Women's National Reserve (later, the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps). In 1920–21, she was appointed to the Southland High School's Board, the first woman in New Zealand to hold such office.

Susanna Hanan also took an interest in Otago's cultural life and was president of the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra, formed in 1927. She was a forceful platform speaker and took a prominent part in the temperance movement.

by Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.

  • Otago Daily Times, 23 Mar 1954 (Obit).


Ronald Jones, Journalist and Script Writer, New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation, Wellington.