Ernest Davis (brewer)

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Sir Ernest Davis
Ernest Davis.jpg
27th Mayor of Auckland City
In office
DeputyBernard Martin (1935-38)
George Richardson (1938)
John Allum (1938-41)
Preceded byGeorge Hutchison
Succeeded byJohn Allum
Personal details
Born(1872-02-17)17 February 1872
Nelson, New Zealand
Died16 September 1962(1962-09-16) (aged 90)
Auckland, New Zealand
Political partyLabour (national)
Citizens (local)
Marion Mitchell
(m. 1899; died 1955)

Sir Ernest Hyam Davis (17 February 1872 – 16 September 1962) was a New Zealand businessman, and was Mayor of Auckland City from 1935 to 1941. He was also on other Auckland local bodies (Fire Board, Hospital Board, Drainage Board) and on various philanthropic and sporting organisations. He was Mayor of Newmarket (a small inner-Auckland borough) 1909–1910.

Early life[edit]

Davis was born in Nelson, son of brewer Moss Davis, and attended Bishop's School, Nelson, and Auckland Grammar.[1][2] On 2 August 1899, he married Marion Mitchell, who had made a career as an opera singer with her debut at age 14.[3]

Later life[edit]

He was in the brewing industry; W Macarthur & Co, and later became managing director of Hancock & Co. In 1923 New Zealand Breweries was formed. He was a brewery baron for half a century and a master tactician against the Prohibition movement. His brother Eliot Davis was also in the brewing company.

During the 1912 Waihi miners' strike the strike leaders were imprisoned, but were released in November for securities of £1600; the bond was later found to have been put up by Davis. He was a major source of funds for the Labour Party for half a century.[4] He was the employer of Michael Joseph Savage for most of the period 1908–1919.[5] He also employed John A. Lee to manage the Palace Hotel in Rotorua from 1929 to 1931 after the latter lost his seat in Parliament.

A millionaire who from 1912 until his death was a very generous financial supporter of the Labour Party ... A ruthless businessman, benefactor of worthy causes, and with an eye for the opposite sex.[5]

Davis told Warren Freer, then the Labour candidate for Mount Albert in the 1947 by-election that he was not opposed to state control of liquor outlets, but was opposed to state control of breweries and supported Labour (sending a substantial cheque for party campaign funds) because the Labour Party policy allows a worker to have a few shillings in his pocket and without that he cannot buy my beer. Conservatives tend to look after the more affluent in the country and do not care if the worker has sixpence for a beer or not.[6]

Davis was the owner of the Grand Hotel Auckland from the death of his father Moss Davis in 1910 until 1962 when he died himself. He had collected a large amount of Victorian paintings, which hung in the hotel until its closure in 1966 when leased by Hancock & Co. Ltd from the Ara Masonic Lodge. He was also a racehorse owner and yachtsman, and was knighted as a Knight Bachelor in 1937.

In 1935 Davis was elected Mayor of Auckland with Citizens' Committee endorsement, narrowly defeating Labour's candidate Joe Sayegh by only 400 votes.[7] He greatly increased his majority when re-elected in 1938.[8]

Davis was appointed a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur by the Republic of France on 2 April 1938 for his services to the French Navy during their visits to Auckland.[9][10] His award was announced by the French Foreign Minister and recognised the never-failing courtesy and entertainment of French Naval crews during visits to Auckland, most notably the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc, which had visited only two months previous.[11]

He was a brother of Eliot Davis, MLC.[12]



  1. ^ Lash, Max D. (1992). Smith, Dawn (ed.). Nelson Notables 1840–1940. Nelson: Nelson Historical Society. ISBN 0473016818.
  2. ^ Scholefield 1951, p. 60.
  3. ^ Downes, Peter. "Marion Mitchell". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 1 December 2011.
  4. ^ Gustafson 1980, p. 62.
  5. ^ a b Gustafson 1986, p. 279.
  6. ^ Freer, Warren W (2004). A Lifetime in Politics: the memoirs of Warren Freer. Wellington: Victoria University Press. p. 26. ISBN 0-86473-478-6.
  7. ^ "City Mayoralty". New Zealand Herald. LXXII (22104). 9 May 1935. p. 11.
  8. ^ "Election of Mayor". New Zealand Herald. LXXV (23040). 18 May 1938. p. 5.
  9. ^ "Honoured by France: Auckland Citizens". Evening Post. CXXVI (4). 5 July 1938. p. 17.
  10. ^ Grande Chancellerie de la Legion d’Honneur Letter, CK/G2 743 F42011, dated 21 December 2011.
  11. ^ Brewer, Mark, 'New Zealand and the Legion d'honneur: The Mid-War period', The Volunteers: The Journal of the New Zealand Military Historical Society, awaiting publication.
  12. ^ Bush, W. A. "Davis, Ernest Hyam". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 27 October 2013.


Political offices
Preceded by
George Hutchison
Mayor of Auckland City
Succeeded by
John Allum