Keith Holyoake

Sir Keith Jacka Holyoake, KG, GCMG, CH, QSO, KStJ, PC (/ˈhlik/; 11 February 1904 – 8 December 1983) was the 26th Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving for a brief period in 1957 and then from 1960 to 1972, and also the 13th Governor-General of New Zealand, serving from 1977 to 1980. He is the only New Zealand politician to date to have held both positions.[lower-alpha 1]

Sir Keith Holyoake

Holyoake in 1960
13th Governor-General of New Zealand
In office
26 October 1977  25 October 1980
MonarchElizabeth II
Preceded byDenis Blundell
Succeeded byDavid Beattie
26th Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
12 December 1960  7 February 1972
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor-GeneralCharles Lyttelton
Bernard Fergusson
Arthur Porritt
DeputyJack Marshall
Preceded byWalter Nash
Succeeded byJack Marshall
In office
20 September 1957  12 December 1957
MonarchElizabeth II
Governor-GeneralCharles Lyttelton
DeputyJack Marshall
Preceded bySidney Holland
Succeeded byWalter Nash
1st Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
In office
13 November 1954  20 September 1957
Prime MinisterSidney Holland
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byJack Marshall
Father of the Parliament
In office
4 June 1968  10 March 1977
Preceded byWalter Nash
Succeeded byWarren Freer
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Pahiatua
In office
25 September 1943  10 March 1977
Preceded byAlfred Ransom
Succeeded byJohn Falloon
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Motueka
In office
1 December 1932  15 October 1938
Preceded byGeorge Black
Succeeded byJerry Skinner
Personal details
Born(1904-02-11)11 February 1904
Pahiatua, Wairarapa, New Zealand
Died8 December 1983(1983-12-08) (aged 79)
Wellington, New Zealand
Political partyReform
National (after 1936)
Norma Janet Ingram (m. 1934)
ParentsHenry Victor Holyoake
Esther Eves
RelativesKen Comber (son-in-law)

Holyoake was born near Pahiatua in the Wairarapa region. He left formal education at age 12 to help on the family farm. Before entering politics, he was active in various local farming associations. Holyoake was first elected to Parliament in 1932, representing the conservative Reform Party. He played an instrumental role in the formation of the National Party in 1936. He lost his seat two years later but was earmarked for the safe seat of Pahiatua, which he held from 1943. Following National's first election victory, Holyoake entered Cabinet in 1949. In 1954, he was appointed the first Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand, under Sidney Holland. Holyoake became Leader of the National Party and Prime Minister two months before the 1957 election, after Holland's resignation due to ill health. Following an election defeat, he served as the Leader of the Opposition for three years before National returned to power in 1960.

Holyoake's government rewrote the criminal legal code, passing the Crimes Act 1961. One of the main features of this act was the abolition of capital punishment, though only ten National MPs voted for its abolition. Among many conservative reforms, his government introduced a form of "voluntary unionism". In foreign policy, Holyoake supported the United States and sent troops to Vietnam. Holyoake led his party to four consecutive election victories (not since surpassed). In 1972, he resigned as Prime Minister to ease the succession for his deputy and friend, Jack Marshall.

In 1977, the National government of Robert Muldoon appointed Holyoake as governor-general, creating controversy as opponents argued that a former politician should not hold the non-partisan position. Holyoake's term was limited to three years, not the normal five. In 1980, he became a Knight of the Order of the Garter, a rare honour.[1]

Holyoake is to date the third longest serving New Zealand prime minister (just under 12 years), surpassed only by Richard Seddon's 13 years and William Massey's close to 13 years; he was also the first to be born in the 20th century.[2] Holyoake was known for his diplomatic style and "plummy" voice. He was also fondly (or mockingly) known as Kiwi Keith, a name given to him in childhood to distinguish him from an Australian cousin with the same name.[2]

Early life

Holyoake was born at Mangamutu,[2] a short distance from Pahiatua, a town in New Zealand's Wairarapa region, the son of Henry Victor Holyoake and Esther Eves.[3] Holyoake's great-grandparents, Richard and Eliza Holyoake, settled at Riwaka near Motueka in 1843, and his maternal great-grandparents, William and Sarah Eves, arrived in Nelson in 1842.[4] Relatives of the 19th-century secularist George Holyoake,[5] the Holyoakes ran a small general store at Mangamutu, and then lived for a time in both Hastings and Tauranga, before settling on the family farm at Riwaka, following the death of Holyoake's grandfather in 1913.[3]

Holyoake was raised in the Plymouth Brethren church, and his social life as a child was very restricted.[4] At age 12, having left school after his father's death, Holyoake worked on the family hop and tobacco farm in Riwaka. His mother had trained as a school teacher, and continued his education at home. After taking over the management of the farm, he became involved in various local farming associations, something that increased his interest in politics.[3]

Early political career

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
19321935 24th Motueka Reform
19351936 25th Motueka Reform
19361938 Changed allegiance to: National
19431946 27th Pahiatua National
19461949 28th Pahiatua National
19491951 29th Pahiatua National
19511954 30th Pahiatua National
19541957 31st Pahiatua National
19571960 32nd Pahiatua National
19601963 33rd Pahiatua National
19631966 34th Pahiatua National
19661969 35th Pahiatua National
19691972 36th Pahiatua National
19721975 37th Pahiatua National
19751977 38th Pahiatua National

The Reform Party, which had strong rural support, selected Holyoake as its candidate for the Motueka seat in the 1931 election. The incumbent MP, George Black, held the seat, but died the following year. Holyoake was the Reform Party's candidate in the resulting by-election in 1932, and was successful. He became the youngest Member of Parliament at the time, at the age of 28.[2] In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[6]

In the 1935 election, Holyoake retained his seat under the motto "Follow England and Vote Holyoake"[2] despite a massive swing against the United–Reform Coalition. In the aftermath of this election, he played a key role in transforming the coalition into the modern National Party. He very quickly gained considerable respect from his colleagues, and was regarded as a rising star in the new party. The 1937 electoral redistribution was unfavourable for him and when the boundary changes applied at the 1938 election, Holyoake lost his seat to a rising star of the governing Labour Party, Jerry Skinner.[7] Holyoake had been discussed as a possible successor to the party's conscientious but lack-lustre leader, Adam Hamilton, but without being an MP, this was no longer considered an option.[8]

In 1943 he returned to Parliament as MP for Pahiatua, having been lined up by National for that nomination. In 1946, he became the party's deputy Leader.[9]

First National Government: 1949–1957

National won the 1949 election and formed the First National Government, new Prime Minister Sidney Holland appointed Holyoake as Minister of Agriculture. Holyoake was also for a year (1949–50) in charge of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research, and was Minister of Marketing until the department was abolished in 1953.[3]

As Minister of Agriculture for eight years Holyoake enhanced his reputation as a level-headed good administrator. Farm mechanisation was encouraged, the "extermination policy" achieved nearly eliminated the rabbit pest. Dismantling of marketing producer controls was completed.[3]

Holyoake twice went to London to re-negotiate price levels on meat and wool products,[3] and in 1955 attended the Food and Agricultural Organisation conference in Rome. On his return to New Zealand he visited India and the Soviet Union to seek alternative markets for New Zealand, although his trip bore little fruit.[3] In 1957 he led a delegation seeking to protect New Zealand's access to the British market without notable success.[3]

As Deputy leader of the National Party, Holyoake was acting prime minister whenever Holland was overseas. In recognition of this was made a member of the Privy Council in 1954, only after the 1954 election Holland made him the first person to be formally appointed Deputy Prime Minister.[3]

First period as prime minister

Holyoake became Prime Minister two months before the 1957 election, when outgoing Prime Minister Sidney Holland retired due to ill-health, and also became Minister of Māori Affairs on the retirement of Ernest Corbett. The election was won by the Walter Nash-led Labour Party by a margin of one seat. Holyoake became Leader of the Opposition for the next three years.

Second National Government: 1960–1972

In the 1960 election, the National Party returned to power and formed the Second National Government. Historians attribute the victory to Holyoake's skilful campaigning, particularly his attacks on Minister of Finance Arnold Nordmeyer's so-called "Black Budget" of 1958, which had increased taxes on petrol, cigarettes and liquor.[2]

Second period as prime minister

The Holyoake government implemented numerous reforms of the public services and government institutions: for example, it created the Office of the Ombudsman and numerous quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations, and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny of the executive.[3] Public broadcasting was removed from direct government oversight and placed under corporation control.[10] Holyoake's government rewrote the criminal legal code, passing the Crimes Act 1961; the Act abolished capital punishment, though only ten National MPs voted for its abolition.[11] In 1969, the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) was formally acknowledged to exist, and its minister, the prime minister, publicly acknowledged. That same year the New Zealand Parliament passed an Act covering the agency's functions and responsibilities: the New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act.[12]

In 1960, the Holyoake government published the "Hunn Report", a wide-ranging summary of Māori assets, and the state of Māori in New Zealand at the time.[13] The report was a damning indictment of past governments' neglect of Māori within society, and Holyoake endeavoured to act on its findings. By embracing the No Maoris – No Tour cause, Holyoake ended the practice of an apartheid sporting body dictating the racial composition of New Zealand rugby teams touring in South Africa.[14] In a 1966 speech directed at the South African authorities, Holyoake delicately defended the principle of racial equality, stating "in this country we are one people; as such we cannot as a nation be truly represented in any sphere by a group chosen on racial lines".[15][14]

Holyoake accepted the post-war consensus. He believed in the necessity of a mixed economy, championing a Keynesian strategy of public investment to maintain demand and pursuing corporatist policies. However, as an anti-socialist,[11] Holyoake sought to reduce the role of trade unions in industrial relations. The National government introduced a form of voluntary unionism,[16] though the majority of industrial workplaces remained unionised; the policy was hotly debated within caucus, with Holyoake's deputy, Jack Marshall, and Tom Shand, favouring the retention of compulsory unionism.[17] His government's industrial policy brought Holyoake into conflict with union leaders, such as Fintan Patrick Walsh.[18]

Holyoake's government was comfortably re-elected for a second consecutive term in 1963. Holyoake's second term featured by a long period of prosperity and economic expansion. However, moves by the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community challenged his government.[2] Holyoake deliberately played down the issue, and chose not to vocally oppose British membership of the EEC. A significant step towards diversification was a limited free trade agreement with Australia, negotiated in 1965 by Holyoake's minister of overseas trade, Jack Marshall, who later also negotiated the terms of the arrangements for New Zealand under which Britain joined the EEC.[3]

More controversial were the Holyoake government's relations with the United States at the start of the Vietnam War. The National government's initial response was carefully considered and characterised by Holyoake's cautiousness towards the entire Vietnam question. The fundamental issues, Holyoake said, were simple: "Whose will is to prevail in South Vietnam the imposed will of the North Vietnamese communists and their agents, or the freely expressed will of the people of South Vietnam?"[19] His government preferred minimal involvement, with other South East Asian deployments already having a strain on the New Zealand Defence Force. New Zealand's alliance with the United States was an issue in the 1966 election, which the National Party won on the back of.[2]

Beginning in mid-1960s, the New Zealand government protested against French nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific region.[20] In 1963, Holyoake announced the policy of banning the storage or testing of nuclear weapons within New Zealand territory.[3]

Holyoake led his party to a narrow and unexpected victory in the 1969 election. Holyoake appointed a rising backbencher, Robert Muldoon as Minister of Finance in 1967, although ranked him lowly in his Cabinet. In response to falling wool prices and balance of payment problems, Muldoon introduced mini-budgets with Holyoake's approval.[2]

The National government was humiliated in early 1970 in a disastrous by-election.[3] Having already received the customary Companion of Honour, Holyoake was knighted as a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George on 13 June 1970.[21] Political commentators speculated about when Holyoake would retire, and by the early 1970s his closest allies, including Jack Marshall, were privately encouraging him to step down. The government was perceived as careworn—two of its strongest ministers had died, and the party caucus was increasingly divided. After more than a decade in power, Holyoake's dogged conservatism appeared out of touch with an increasingly liberal society.[11] However, it was not until 1972 that he resigned to ease the succession for Marshall. By then he had become the senior statesman of the Commonwealth. Holyoake remained in Cabinet as Minister of Foreign Affairs until National lost office at the end of the year.[3]


When National under Marshall was defeated, Holyoake remained prominent in opposition. He played an active part in the campaign for the 1975 election, which saw National regain power again under Robert Muldoon. Muldoon appointed Holyoake to the specially-created sinecure of Minister of State.[3]


In 1977, Holyoake was unexpectedly and controversially appointed Governor-General of New Zealand by Queen Elizabeth II on the advice of the then Prime Minister Robert Muldoon. The announcement was made by the Queen at the end of her tour of New Zealand on 7 March 1977, from the Royal Yacht HMY Britannia in Lyttelton Harbour.[22]

This choice was deemed controversial by some, as Holyoake was a sitting Cabinet minister and a former prime minister. Many opponents of Muldoon's government claimed that it was a political appointment. The Leader of the Opposition, Bill Rowling (himself a former prime minister) stated that he would remove Holyoake as governor-general if the Labour Party won the 1978 election,[23] and openly suggested that he would have appointed Sir Edmund Hillary as governor-general.[24] That suggestion was, in turn, criticised by the government, as Hillary had backed Labour in 1975 as part of the "Citizens for Rowling" campaign.[25]

As a result of the appointment, Holyoake resigned from Parliament, leading to the Pahiatua by-election of 1977. He was succeeded from his seat by John Falloon.

Holyoake's conduct while in office, however, was acknowledged to be fair and balanced. In particular, Holyoake refused to comment on the 1978 general election, which gave Labour a narrow plurality of votes but a majority of seats in parliament to National.[26] Social Credit leader Bruce Beetham said Holyoake as governor-general had "...a scrupulous impartiality that confounded the critics of his appointment".[2] His term as governor-general was only for three years, on account of his age. Usually, governors-general serve for five years, but Holyoake was the oldest governor-general to date (at 73 years old). His term ended in 1980.[27]


Holyoake died on 8 December 1983, aged 79, in Wellington. His state funeral took place on 13 December 1983 in Wellington Cathedral of St Paul.[28]

Personal life

Holyoake twice married Norma Janet Ingram: first in a civil ceremony on 24 September 1934, and again on 11 January 1935 at their Presbyterian church in Motueka. The couple had five children: two sons and three daughters.[29] His daughter Diane married National MP Ken Comber.[30]

Decorations, awards and memberships


Coat of arms of Keith Holyoake
The arms of Keith Holyoake consist of:
Per pale Or and Gules, on a Mount in base Counterchanged a Holly Tree Gules fructed Or dimidiating an Oak Tree Or fructed Gules, two apples slipped in chief and a like apple in base all Counterchanged



  1. Sir George Grey served as both Governor of New Zealand and Premier of New Zealand in the 19th century, but Holyoake is the only person to have served in both capacities since the viceregal post was renamed governor-general upon New Zealand becoming a dominion in 1907.


  1. "Keith Holyoake". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 5 September 2017.
  2. Richard Wolfe (2005). Battlers, Bluffers and Bully-boys. Random House New Zealand.
  3. Wood, G. A. "Holyoake, Keith Jacka". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 30 October 2012.
  4. Gustafson 2007, pp. 2.
  5. Geering, Lloyd. "In praise of the secular, part 3 of 4: The value of being secular" (PDF). Retrieved 21 April 2015.
  6. "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. CXIX (105). 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 13 August 2013.
  7. Gustafson 1986, p. 32.
  8. Gustafson 1986, pp. 32f.
  9. Riches, Christopher; Kavanagh, Dennis (2013). A Dictionary of Political Biography. Oxford University Press. p. 406. ISBN 9780192518439.
  10. Parliamentary Debates; Volume 349. House of Representatives: New Zealand Parliament. 1966. p. 29. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  11. Gustafson 2007.
  12. "New Zealand Security Intelligence Service Act 1969 No 24 (as at 13 July 2011), Public Act – New Zealand Legislation". 2011. Retrieved 16 September 2011. The New Zealand Security Intelligence Service to which this Act applies is hereby declared to be the same Service as the Service known as the New Zealand Security Service which was established on 28 November 1956.
  13. "The Hunn Report | NZETC". Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  14. "'Politics and sport don't mix'". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  15. Richards, Trevor Lawson (1999). Dancing on Our Bones: New Zealand, South Africa, Rugby and Racism. Bridget Williams Books. p. 34. ISBN 9781877242007. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  16. Parliamentary Debates, Volume 329. New Zealand Parliament. p. 3683. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  17. Gustafson 2007, p. 152.
  18. Gustafson 2007, p. 97.
  19. Larsen, Lieutenant General Stanley Robert (2014). Vietnam Studies – Allied Participation in Vietnam [Illustrated Edition]. Pickle Partners Publishing. ISBN 9781782893714. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  20. "Nuclear testing in the Pacific". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 3 July 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  21. "No. 45119". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 June 1970. p. 6405.
  22. McLean 2006, p. 297.
  23. McLean 2006, p. 299.
  24. Rowling: The man and the myth by John Henderson, Australia New Zealand Press, 1980.
  25. Ross Doughty (1977). The Holyoake years. Feilding.
  26. McLean 2006, p. 301.
  27. McLean 2006, p. 303.
  28. "The state funeral of the Right Honourable Sir Keith Holyoake, Tuesday, 13 December 1983, 11 a.m., Wellington Cathedral". 1983. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  29. Wood, G. A. (2000). "Holyoake, Keith Jacka". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Retrieved 23 February 2018.
  30. Gustafson, Barry (1986). The First 50 Years: A History of the New Zealand National Party. Reed Methuen. p. 304. ISBN 9780474001772.


  • Gustafson, Barry (1986). The First 50 Years: A History of the New Zealand National Party. Auckland: Reed Methuen. ISBN 0-474-00177-6.
  • Gustafson, Barry (2007). Kiwi Keith: a biography of Keith Holyoake. Auckland: Auckland University Press. ISBN 978-1-86940-400-0.
  • McLean, Gavin (November 2006). The Governors: New Zealand's Governors and Governors-General. Dunedin: Otago University Press. ISBN 1-877372-25-0.
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
George Black
Member of Parliament for Motueka
Succeeded by
Jerry Skinner
New constituency Member of Parliament for Pahiatua
Succeeded by
John Falloon
Government offices
Preceded by
Sidney Holland
Prime Minister of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Walter Nash
Preceded by
Walter Nash
Succeeded by
Jack Marshall
New title Deputy Prime Minister of New Zealand
Preceded by
Sir Denis Blundell
Governor-General of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Sir David Beattie
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