Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt

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The Lord Porritt

Arthur Porritt 1923.jpg
Arthur Porritt in 1923
11th Governor-General of New Zealand
In office
1 December 1967 7 September 1972
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Sir Bernard Fergusson
Succeeded by Sir Denis Blundell
2nd Chairman of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games Federation
In office
Preceded bySir James Leigh-Wood
Succeeded bySir Alexander Ross
Personal details
Born(1900-08-10)10 August 1900
Wanganui, New Zealand
Died1 January 1994(1994-01-01) (aged 93)
London, England
NationalityNew Zealand
Military service
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Branch/service British Army
Years of service1940–1956
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Officer of the Order of the British Empire
Officer of the Legion of Merit (United States)

Colonel Arthur Espie Porritt, Baron Porritt, GCMG , GCVO , CBE , FRCS [1] (10 August 1900 – 1 January 1994) was a New Zealand physician, military surgeon, statesman and athlete. He won a bronze medal at the 1924 Summer Olympics in the 100 m sprint. He served as the 11th Governor-General of New Zealand from 1967 to 1972.

Colonel (Col) is a rank of the British Army and Royal Marines, ranking below brigadier, and above lieutenant colonel. British colonels are not usually field commanders; typically they serve as staff officers between field commands at battalion and brigade level. The insignia is two diamond-shaped pips below a crown. The crown has varied in the past with different monarchs; the current Queen's reign has used St Edward's Crown. The rank is equivalent to captain in the Royal Navy and group captain in the Royal Air Force.

New Zealand Country in Oceania

New Zealand is a sovereign island country in the southwestern Pacific Ocean. The country geographically comprises two main landmasses—the North Island, and the South Island —and around 600 smaller islands. It has a total land area of 268,000 square kilometres (103,500 sq mi). New Zealand is situated some 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea and roughly 1,000 kilometres (600 mi) south of the Pacific island areas of New Caledonia, Fiji, and Tonga. Because of its remoteness, it was one of the last lands to be settled by humans. During its long period of isolation, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of animal, fungal, and plant life. The country's varied topography and its sharp mountain peaks, such as the Southern Alps, owe much to the tectonic uplift of land and volcanic eruptions. New Zealand's capital city is Wellington, while its most populous city is Auckland.

Physician professional who practices medicine

A physician, medical practitioner, medical doctor, or simply doctor, is a professional who practises medicine, which is concerned with promoting, maintaining, or restoring health through the study, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment of disease, injury, and other physical and mental impairments. Physicians may focus their practice on certain disease categories, types of patients, and methods of treatment—known as specialities—or they may assume responsibility for the provision of continuing and comprehensive medical care to individuals, families, and communities—known as general practice. Medical practice properly requires both a detailed knowledge of the academic disciplines, such as anatomy and physiology, underlying diseases and their treatment—the science of medicine—and also a decent competence in its applied practice—the art or craft of medicine.


Early life

Porritt was born in Wanganui, New Zealand, the son of Ivy Elizabeth Porritt (née McKenzie) and Ernest Edward Porritt, a doctor. His mother died in 1914 during his first year at the Wanganui Collegiate School, and his father left soon after to serve in World War I. He became a keen athlete.

Whanganui City in Manawatu-Wanganui, New Zealand

Whanganui, also spelled Wanganui, is a city on the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand. The Whanganui River, New Zealand's longest navigable waterway, runs from Mount Tongariro to the sea. Whanganui is part of the Manawatu-Wanganui region.

In 1920 he began studying towards a medical degree at the University of Otago where he was a resident at Selwyn College and President of the Selwyn College Students' Association. In 1923 Porritt was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and he studied medicine from 1924 to 1926 at Magdalen College, Oxford. [2]

University of Otago university in New Zealand

The University of Otago is a collegiate university based in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand. It scores highly for average research quality, and in 2006 was second in New Zealand only to the University of Auckland in the number of A-rated academic researchers it employs. In the past it has topped the New Zealand Performance Based Research Fund evaluation.

Selwyn College, Otago

Selwyn College is a residential college affiliated to the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand. It was founded by Bishop Samuel Tarratt Nevill as a theological college training clergy for the Anglican Church and as a hall of residence for students attending the university. It is named after George Augustus Selwyn, the first Bishop of New Zealand and is owned by the Anglican Diocese of Dunedin. It was opened on 15 January 1893. It was Otago's first residential college and on the model of an English university college it included students of all subjects. Women were admitted in 1983. The main building is listed as a Category II Historic Place. Selwyn is one of the most popular colleges in Dunedin, its 188 available places oversubscribed every year.

Rhodes Scholarship an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford

The Rhodes Scholarship is an international postgraduate award for students to study at the University of Oxford. It was established in 1902, making it the first large-scale programme of international scholarship. The Rhodes Scholarship was founded by English businessman and politician Cecil John Rhodes, to promote unity between English-speaking nations and instill a sense of civic-minded leadership and moral fortitude in future leaders irrespective of their chosen career paths. Although initially restricted to male applicants from countries which are today within the British Commonwealth, as well as Germany and the United States, today the scholarship is open to applicants from all backgrounds and from across the globe. Since its creation, controversy has surrounded both its former exclusion of women, and Rhodes' white supremacist beliefs and legacy of colonialism.

Sporting career

Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt
Personal information
Height187 cm (6 ft 2 in)
Weight74 kg (163 lb)
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s)100 yd – 9.8 (1923)
200 m – 21.5 (1925) [3] [4]

Porritt represented New Zealand at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, where he won a bronze medal in the 100 metre dash; [3] the winner was Harold Abrahams (1899–1978). The race took place at 7 pm on 7 July 1924. Abrahams and Porritt dined together at 7 pm on 7 July every year thereafter, until Abrahams' death. The race was later immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire , but due to Porritt’s modesty his name was changed to "Tom Watson". [5] He also won two qualifying races in the 200 m, but did not advance in the semi-final. Porritt was captain of the New Zealand team at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, but withdrew from the 100 m because of an injury. [3]

1924 Summer Olympics games of the VIII Olympiad, celebrated in Paris, France in 1924

The 1924 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the VIII Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in 1924 in Paris, France.

The men's 100 metres event was part of the track and field athletics programme at the 1924 Summer Olympics. This race was depicted in the film Chariots of Fire. The first two rounds were held on 6 July, with the semifinals and final on 7 July. Eighty-six sprinters from 34 countries competed.

Harold Abrahams British sprinter

Harold Maurice Abrahams, CBE was an English track and field athlete. He was Olympic champion in 1924 in the 100 metres sprint, a feat depicted in the 1981 movie Chariots of Fire.

Porritt is only one of two people to have the rare honour of twice being the New Zealand flag bearer at Olympic Games, the other being Les Mills. [6]

Les Mills New Zealand athlete and politician

Leslie Roy Mills is a retired New Zealand track and field athlete and politician. He represented New Zealand at the Olympic Games and Commonwealth Games over two decades, competing in the shot put and discus throw. At the 1966 British Empire and Commonwealth Games he achieved his best result, a gold medal in the discus.

After retirement from athletics, Porritt was New Zealand's team manager at the 1934 British Empire Games in London and 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. [3] Porritt was the New Zealand member of the International Olympic Committee from 1934 to 1967. He was the first President of the IOC Medical Commission and served from 1961 to 1967.

1934 British Empire Games 2nd edition of the British Empire Games

The 1934 British Empire Games were the second of what is now known as the Commonwealth Games, held in England, from 4–11 August 1934. The host city was London, with the main venue at Wembley Park, although the track cycling events were in Manchester. Seventeen national teams took part, including the Irish Free State.

1936 Summer Olympics games of the XI Olympiad, celebrated in Berlin in 1936

The 1936 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the XI Olympiad, was an international multi-sport event held in 1936 in Berlin, Nazi Germany. Berlin won the bid to host the Games over Barcelona, Spain, on 26 April 1931, at the 29th IOC Session in Barcelona. It marked the second and final time the International Olympic Committee gathered to vote in a city that was bidding to host those Games.

New Zealand Olympic Committee

The New Zealand Olympic Committee is the body in New Zealand responsible for selecting athletes to represent New Zealand in the Summer and Winter Olympic Games and the Commonwealth Games.

Porritt served as chairman of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games Federation from the 1950 Auckland games to the 1966 Kingston games. [7]

Medical and military career

Porritt became a house surgeon at St Mary's Hospital, London, in 1926 and later that year was appointed surgeon to the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII.

On 8 March 1940, Porritt was commissioned a lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps with the service number 125494. [1] He served in France until the evacuation from Dunkirk, then in Egypt, operating on seriously wounded soldiers from the North African campaign, and later landing in Normandy on D-Day. A war-substantive major by February 1943, he was granted the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel and the acting rank of colonel later that year; on 18 December 1943, he was appointed a consultant surgeon with the local rank of brigadier. [8] [9] He relinquished this position and his brigadier's rank on 1 September 1945, by which time he was a war-substantive lieutenant colonel. [10] He ended his military career in September 1956, with the honorary rank of colonel in the Territorial Army. [11]

Porritt was King's Surgeon to George VI from 1946 to 1952, and was Serjeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth II until 1967. [5]

In 1955 Porritt was called to Eastbourne by the suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams, to operate on his patient Jack Hullett for colon cancer. The operation was a moderate success but the death of Hullett under Adams' supervision a few months later followed soon after by the death of his wife Bobby, led to Adams being put on trial for Bobby's murder in 1957. He was acquitted but is suspected in up to 163 deaths. [12]

Porritt was twice president of the Hunterian Society (once in 1951) and became president in 1960 of both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the first person to hold the two positions simultaneously, and retained the presidency of the RCS until 1963. [5]

In 1966 Porritt was elected president for two years of the Royal Society of Medicine but served only one year before leaving for New Zealand.


Porritt was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1943, [8] and promoted to Commander (CBE) in 1945. [13] He was decorated as an Officer of the US Legion of Merit on 14 November 1947. [14] He was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (KCMG) in 1950, [15] and was promoted to Knight Grand Cross (GCMG) in 1967. In 1957 he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO), [16] being promoted to Knight Grand Cross (GCVO) in 1970. [17] He was also made a Knight of the Order of St John of Jerusalem (KStJ) in 1957. [18]

Porritt was created a Baronet of Hampstead on 25 January 1963. [5] [19] When he was elevated to be a Life Peer on 5 February 1973, he chose to honour his home town and was created Baron Porritt, of Wanganui in New Zealand and of Hampstead in Greater London. [20]


Sir Arthur Porritt visits Levin War Veterans Home on 23 July 1969. Arthur Porritt Levin War Vets.jpg
Sir Arthur Porritt visits Levin War Veterans Home on 23 July 1969.

In 1967 Porritt returned to New Zealand to be appointed by the Queen on the advice of Prime Minister Keith Holyoake as the 11th Governor-General of New Zealand, and the first born in New Zealand. [5] His term marked a turning-point in the country's constitutional history: his successors have all been New Zealanders (although one of his predecessors, Lord Freyberg, moved to New Zealand when he was two).


Prior to the 1969 general election in September of that year, Porritt sparked a heated debate with a Labour candidate Eddie Isbey when he argued in a speech to the Southern Cross Medical Care Society that the welfare state was "uneconomic". [21]

Later, Porritt's wife also created controversy, when she replied to a question on equal pay for women by stating: "Perhaps when New Zealand, like India and Israel, produces a woman prime minister it will be time to call a halt to the emancipation movement". [21]

At his last Waitangi Day speech in 1972, Porritt caused more controversy by stating that: "Maori-Pakeha relationships are being dealt with adequately through the biological process of intermarriage." [21]

At the end of his term in September 1972 Porritt returned to England.


In Christchurch, New Zealand, a park was named Porritt Park in the suburb of Wainoni. The park surrounded by the Avon River became home to Canterbury Hockey, Canterbury Rowing, Canterbury Touch Rugby and also used as a venue for Cricket. Porritt Primary School in Napier opened in 1975, named in honour of his service to New Zealand. He has also a dedication of a running track in Hamilton, New Zealand named Porritt Stadium.


Porritt was initiated in Oxford University's Apollo University Lodge No. 357 on 13 June 1925, and later joined other English Constitution lodges, including Sancta Maria Lodge No. 2682 (a medical practitioners' lodge), Prince of Wales's Lodge No. 259 (a so-called 'red apron' lodge as it nominates one of the 19 Grand Stewards each year, who wear red aprons), and Royal Alpha Lodge No. 16 (membership of which is at the personal invitation of the Grand Master).

During his term as Governor-General (1968–1971), Porritt served as Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand. [22]


Lord Porritt died in London at the age of 93 on 1 January 1994. [3] His wife died in 1998. His son is Jonathon Porritt, a well-known environmental activist.


Coat of arms of Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt
Arthur Porritt Arms.svg
The arms of Arthur Porritt consist of:
On a wreath Or and Gules, a dent Heraldic Antelope Gules armed Azure collared Or, holding a Torch of the last enflamed proper between two Fern Fronds Vert
Or, a serpent in bend vert between two lions' heads erased gules, on a chief of the last two swords points upwards in saltire of the first, between as many roses argent both surmounted by another gules barbed and seeded proper
On the dexter side an Eagle and on the sinister side a Tui Bird both proper
Sapienter et fortiter ferre

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  1. 1 2 "No. 34830". The London Gazette (Supplement). 12 April 1940. p. 2229.
  2. Beaglehole, Diana. "Porritt, Arthur Espie". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography . Ministry for Culture and Heritage . Retrieved 17 June 2017.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 "Arthur Porritt". Retrieved 15 October 2012.
  4. Arthur Porritt.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 Brett & Kate McKay (6 July 2010). "The Whole Man: 25 Men Who Cultivated Both Mind and Body". The Art of Manliness. Archived from the original on 9 July 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2010.
  6. "Mark Todd best bet to carry NZ's flag again". Retrieved 22 April 2012.
  7. "The Story of The Commonwealth Games". Commonwealth Games Federation. Archived from the original on 16 April 2017. Retrieved 26 June 2012.
  8. 1 2 "No. 35908". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 February 1943. p. 859.
  9. "No. 36343". The London Gazette (Supplement). 18 February 1943. p. 461.
  10. "No. 37660". The London Gazette (Supplement). 19 July 1946. p. 3789.
  11. "No. 40888". The London Gazette (Supplement). 25 September 1956. p. 5483.
  12. Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN   1-904027-19-9
  13. "No. 36917". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 February 1945. p. 670.
  14. "No. 38122". The London Gazette (Supplement). 11 November 1947. p. 5352.
  15. "No. 38929". The London Gazette (Supplement). 8 June 1950. p. 2778.
  16. "No. 40960". The London Gazette (Supplement). 1 January 1957. p. 5.
  17. "No. 45110". The London Gazette . 29 May 1970. p. 6039.
  18. "No. 40972". The London Gazette . 8 January 1957. p. 229.
  19. "No. 42907". The London Gazette . 29 January 1963. p. 909.
  20. "No. 45901". The London Gazette . 8 February 1973. p. 1797.
  21. 1 2 3 Gavin Mclean (October 2006), The Governors, New Zealand Governors and Governors-General, Otago University Press, p. 281
  22. "Sir Arthur PORRITT, Bt, Grand Master". Grand Lodge of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Bernard Fergusson
Governor-General of New Zealand
Succeeded by
Sir Denis Blundell
Professional and academic associations
Preceded by
President of the British Medical Association
Succeeded by
Sir George Douglas Robb
Preceded by
Sir James Ross
President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England
Succeeded by
Sir Russell Brock
Preceded by
Lord Cohen of Birkenhead
President of the Royal Society of Medicine
Succeeded by
Sir Hector MacLennan
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baronet
(of Hampstead)
Succeeded by
Sir Jonathon Espie Porritt, 2nd Bt