New Zealand’s early leaders had to rent houses when Parliament sat at Auckland. In 1865, when the seat of government moved to Wellington, a small cottage in Tinakori Road, Thorndon, was purchased as a premier’s residence. It was handy to Parliament, but it was a simple structure – until Julius Vogel transformed it into an eight-bedroom mansion dubbed ‘the Casino’ in 1873. However, after Harry Atkinson cut ministerial salaries in the 1880s, premiers settled for smaller, cheaper houses.
The second heyday of the Tinakori Road house was between 1901 and 1928, when Joseph Ward, William Massey and Gordon Coates made it the social heart of political Wellington. Ward called it ‘Awarua House’ after his electorate, while Massey and Coates dubbed it ‘Ariki Toa’ (brave chief). That era ended in the 1930s when George Forbes moved out. Michael Joseph Savage made the break permanent and the building became for many years a school dental clinic. For the next 40 years prime ministers lived in ministerial houses.
In the 1960s the Vogel family gave Vogel House in Lower Hutt to the Crown, and from 1976 it was used as a prime minister’s residence. Robert Muldoon liked it, but David Lange found it too far from Parliament. In 1989 the government decided to restore the Tinakori Road residence. From 1990 prime ministers returned to Premier House in Thorndon, and it became New Zealand’s official prime ministerial residence.
Staff and services
Early premiers had only basic private secretarial support. In 1926 the government formed a very small Prime Minister’s Department (PMD) which grew during the 1940s.
The PMD employed public servants, who were politically neutral. From the 1970s, however, prime ministers also added paid political advisers to their offices. In 1989 a review resolved this uneasy mix by forming two new structures. The Private Office of the Prime Minister supports and advises the prime minister on party political issues. The politically neutral Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) runs the Cabinet Office, supports the governor-general and Government House and coordinates advice from the security units. It also carries out policy and research work.
The names of several early leaders were given to natural features such as glaciers (Fox), mountains and rivers, and small towns (Seddon and Ward). The best more recent ones can hope for is to have streets in subdivisions named after them.
In 1998 a survey of political scientists ranked the top ten leaders. They placed Richard Seddon at the top, followed by Peter Fraser, Michael Joseph Savage, John Ballance, Keith Holyoake, Norman Kirk, William Massey, Julius Vogel, Robert Muldoon and Edward Stafford. ‘Progressives’ only slightly outnumbered ‘conservatives’. More interestingly, the only five who died in office – Ballance, Seddon, Massey, Savage and Kirk – made up half the bunch. A second survey, in 2011, found the five still ranked in the top ten, along with Fraser, Holyoake, Vogel and two newcomers to the list: Jim Bolger and Helen Clark.
Wellington has had just four official statues of leaders. The ones in the grounds of Parliament honour Liberal premiers John Ballance and Richard Seddon. Photographers adore Seddon’s statue, which stands directly in front of Parliament. Fewer snap John Ballance’s, which is in front of the Parliamentary Library. A contemporary grumbled that it was so unflattering that it ‘adds a new terror to Death’.1 Keith Holyoake’s statue stood in front of an office block in Molesworth Street, while Peter Fraser is still shown dashing from the old Government Buildings (now the Victoria University school of law) on his way to Parliament.
Manatū Taonga, the Ministry for Culture and Heritage, cares for three mausoleums in which prime ministers are interred – the Seddon and Massey memorials in Wellington and the Savage memorial in Auckland.