Merwyn Norrish

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Merwyn Norrish (Merv) (born Ashburton, 28 October 1926), is a distinguished New Zealand diplomat who served as New Zealand’s Ambassador to the European Community, Acting High Commissioner to London, Ambassador to the United States, and Secretary of Foreign Affairs.

Early life[edit]

Norrish was educated at Ashburton High School and Christchurch Boys High School, before graduating from the University of Canterbury with a Master of Arts in history.

Professional career[edit]

Norrish joined the Department of External Affairs as a recruit in 1949, as one of the fledgling intake in Alister McIntosh’s new department. Norrish spent his early diplomatic career in Wellington and Paris, with a posting to Paris from 1955 to 1958.

In 1961, Norrish was posted to New York as New Zealand’s deputy permanent representative to the United Nations.

Norrish was appointed New Zealand’s Ambassador to the European Community, in Brussels, in 1967. In 1972, he became Acting High Commissioner to London, before returning to Wellington as Deputy Secretary of Foreign Affairs in 1973. During his time as Deputy Secretary, he was considered to be more closely aligned to the United States' foreign policy position than his Secretary, Frank Corner.

In 1978, Norrish became New Zealand’s Ambassador to the United States in Washington, D.C., and Mexico.

In 1980, Norrish was appointed New Zealand Secretary of Foreign Affairs, a post he held until his retirement in 1989. During that period, Norrish was the key foreign policy official during New Zealand’s withdrawal from ANZUS and the nuclear ship controversy. Norrish is understood to have warned Prime Minister David Lange not to antagonise British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher by participating in the Oxford Union debate, and was responsible for implementing New Zealand's nuclear-free policy against his personal instincts.

Norrish was Secretary of Foreign Affairs when French secret agents bombed the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior in 1985.

In retirement, Norrish served as Chairman of New Zealand On Air, and the France-New Zealand Friendship Fund.


  • An eye, an ear and a voice: 50 years in New Zealand’s external relations edited by Malcolm Templeton (1993, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wellington NZ) ISBN 0-477-03725-9
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
Lloyd White
Ambassador to the United States
Succeeded by
Frank Gill