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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.


RUSSELL, Sir William Russell


Minister of the Crown

A new biography of Russell, William Russell appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.

William Russell Russell was born on 12 November 1838 at Sandhurst, Berkshire, the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Hamilton Russell and Eliza Ann, née Howlett. He was educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and on 16 March 1855 commissioned as an ensign in the 58th Regiment. Promoted Lieutenant on 12 December 1856, Russell joined his regiment's headquarters in New Zealand in the following year. In 1859 he returned to England where he transferred, with the rank of captain, to the 14th Regiment. He accompanied the 14th to New Zealand in 1861 – being stationed at Wellington – but sold his commission the next year in order to take up land in Hawke's Bay.

From 1869 until 1871 he represented Waimarama in the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council, after which he represented the Napier Country district until 1876. On 30 November 1875 the Napier constituency returned him to the House of Representatives, where he remained until 1881; and, from 1884 until his defeat in 1905, he represented Hawke's Bay. In 1884, during Atkinson's short-lived ministry, Russell held office as Postmaster-General. He rejoined the ministry on 17 October 1889 when he assumed the portfolios of Colonial Secretary, Defence, and Justice. Following the defeat of Rolleston, at the 1893 general election, Russell became Leader of the Opposition, a post he retained until 1903. With Sir John Hall, Russell represented New Zealand at the first Australasian Federation Convention in 1889; and, with Sir George Grey, he attended the resumed convention in 1891. On this occasion he opposed Grey's Elective Governor proposal and voted against the rest of his delegation. In 1900 he was a member of the Federation Convention.

In addition to his political interests, Russell served on many local bodies, including the Hawke's Bay Education Board, the County Council, the Hospital and Charitable Aid Board, the Waste Land Board, and the Rabbit Board. He was also a governor of the Napier High Schools' Board, a captain in the Meeanee Militia, and, later, in the Hastings Rules. For many years Sir William Russell bred and raced his own horses. He was the first president of the New Zealand Racing Conference and, from his earliest connection with the sport, endeavoured to raise its tone. In 1902 Russell was created Knight Bachelor – the only occasion in New Zealand where the Leader of the Opposition has been recommended for such an honour by the ruling Prime Minister. On 26 June 1913 the Massey Government summoned him to the Legislative Council, shortly before his death.

In 1867, at Chichester, Russell married Harriette Julia Hodgskin, of Cawley Priory, Sussex. He died at Napier on 24 September 1913 leaving two sons and four daughters. Sir William was an uncle of Major-General Sir Andrew Russell.

During his lifetime Russell was known for his unfailing courtesy and capability as an administrator.

Sir William's eldest son, Harold Arthur Russell, was born at Napier on 29 January 1871 and educated at Bradfield College, England, and Lincoln Agricultural College, New Zealand. For many years he farmed the family property at Sherenden and Flaxmere Stud Farm in Hawke's Bay. He captained the Hawke's Bay polo team which won the Savile Cup in 1907, 1909, 1910, 1911, and 1912. On 22 June 1934 he was called to the Legislative Council where he remained until his death on 14 July 1938.

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

  • N.Z.P.D., Vol. 165, 24 Sep 1913 (Obit)
  • Hart's Army List, 1861, Hawke's Bay Herald, 24 Sep 1913 (Obit).


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