Harry Ell

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Harry Ell
Shows a clean shaven man looking towards the camera. He wears a shirt and tie, a waistcoat, and a suit jacket.
Harry Ell in October 1914
Christchurch City councillor
In office
In office
Member of Parliament
for City of Christchurch electorate
In office
Preceded byGeorge John Smith
Succeeded byelectorate discontinued
Member of Parliament
for Christchurch South
In office
Preceded bynew electorate
Succeeded byTed Howard
Personal details
Henry George Ell

(1862-09-24)24 September 1862
Christchurch, New Zealand
Died27 June 1934(1934-06-27) (aged 71)
Christchurch, New Zealand
Political partyIndependent Liberal
Other political
New Liberal Party
Spouse(s)Adelaide Eleanor Gee

Henry George Ell (probably 24 September 1862 – 27 June 1934), commonly known as Harry Ell, was a Christchurch City councillor and a New Zealand Member of Parliament. He is famous for his conservation work around Christchurch's Port Hills, his advocacy for the Summit Road, and his construction of the Sign of the Takahe and other road houses along the Summit Road.

Early years[edit]

Ell was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, and grew up on his father's farm in Halswell. As a teenager he worked at the Canterbury Museum, then as a farm hand. Between 1881 and 1884 he was a member of the Armed Constabulary in Taranaki, where he participated in the destruction of Parihaka. This experience turned him into a stern critic of the race-relations policies of the time.

Ell was a Christchurch City councillor in 1903 and then again between 1917 and 1919. He was a member of the Knights of Labour and the Canterbury Liberal Association.

Member of Parliament[edit]

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1899–1902 14th City of Christchurch Independent Liberal
1902–1905 15th City of Christchurch Liberal
1905–1908 16th Christchurch South Liberal
1908–1911 17th Christchurch South Independent Liberal
1911–1914 18th Christchurch South Liberal
1914–1919 19th Christchurch South Liberal

Ell stood as a prohibitionist for a seat in the City of Christchurch electorate in 1896. He was unsuccessful, coming fifth in the three-member electorate,[1] but was elected as an Independent Liberal in the 1899 general election. He held the seat, and the subsequent seat of Christchurch South as an Independent, until the 1919 general election.[2] Ell stood for the Lyttelton electorate, which contained the Port Hills. He was defeated and did not win a seat in Parliament again.[3]

Ell was associated with the New Liberal Party in 1905.

From 1910 until 1912 he was the Liberal Party's junior whip.[4]

As a Member of the House of Representatives, Ell spoke against the relaxation of liquor laws, the jailing of alcoholics and against gambling. He also successfully pushed for reform of New Zealand's mental health laws. He served briefly as Postmaster General in the Cabinet of Thomas Mackenzie.

The Summit Road rest houses[edit]

Ell is most remembered for his strong interest in recreation and conservation. From 1900 onwards, Ell pushed for the creation of a network of scenic reserves along Christchurch's Port Hills, linked by the Summit Road and with a network of rest-houses to allow travellers and walkers to refresh themselves. Three of these rest-houses, designed by architect Samuel Hurst Seager, were completed during Ell's lifetime: the Sign of the Bellbird, Sign of the Kiwi, and Sign of the Packhorse. The last, and grandest, the Sign of the Takahe, was not completed until long after Ell’s death, in 1949. All four houses were built of local stone, and designed to blend in with the landscape. The Sign of the Kiwi and Sign of the Takahe still function as commercial rest stops serving refreshments while the Sign of the Bellbird survives only as a shelter, but is still a useful stopping place for a picnic and the starting point for some short walks. The Sign of the Packhorse is managed by the Department of Conservation and used as a hut by trampers.


  • Ell's political philosophy was simple: "Our aim in life is to effect such social and economic reforms as will improve the lot of our fellow men and women".[5]
  • As a parliamentarian, Ell was proud of his independent status. During his 1899 election campaign he maintained the view that: "a member might pledge himself to his constituents but never to a party".[6]


  1. ^ "Other Electorates". XXXI (284). Marlborough Express. 5 December 1896. p. 3. Retrieved 25 March 2010.
  2. ^ Scholefield 1950, p. 104.
  3. ^ Ogilvie 2009, pp. 312–313.
  4. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 279.
  5. ^ From a letter to George Fowlds dated 20 February 1900.
  6. ^ Christchurch Press, 2 November 1899 Missing or empty |title= (help): p.3.


  • Ogilvie, Gordon (2009) [First ed. published 1978]. The Port Hills of Christchurch (2nd ed.). Christchurch: Phillips&King Publishers. ISBN 978-0-9583315-6-2.
  • Scholefield, Guy (1950) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First published in 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
  • Harry Ell and His Summit Road : a Biography of Henry George Ell by Lenore Oakley, published by Caxton Press 1960

Further reading[edit]

Works by Harry Ell[edit]

  • Ell, Henry George (1902), Mr. H. G. Ell’s views on some of the political questions of the day, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: H. G. Ell ; Willis & Aiken
  • Ell, Henry George (1902), The will of the people through the initiative and referendum: the great need for legislative reform and how it can be met, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Willis & Aiken
  • Ell, Henry George (1905), A state bank for New Zealand with sole right of note issue, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Willis & Aiken
  • Ell, Henry George (1906), A state bank for New Zealand with sole right of note issue (2nd ed.), Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Willis & Aiken
  • Ell, Henry George (1903), "Direct legislation in New Zealand", The Arena, Boston, [MA.]: 268–272
  • Ell, Henry George (27 April 1912), "Old Porirua taniwhas and whales", Evening Post (Wellington, [N.Z.]) n.p.
  • Ell, Henry George (1923), The Summit Road (the Port Hills-Akaroa Summit Road): progress report, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: H. G. Ell
  • Ell, Henry George (1924), Port Hills-Akaroa Summit Road Trust, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: H. G. Ell
  • Ell, Henry George (1925), [Letters and newspaper items critical of the New Zealand Labour Party and Russia], Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Lyttelton Times
  • Ell, Henry George (1929), The Port Hills - Akaroa Summit Road: and history of the Summit Road Trust, how and why it was formed, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: New Zealand Newspapers, Printers
  • Ell, Henry George; et al. (1934), Port Hills-Akaroa Summit Road: some early history and guide, Christchurch, [N.Z.]: Port Hills-Akaroa Summit Road Public Trust

Works about Harry Ell[edit]

  • Brown, Rob (2002), "A heart for the hills", New Zealand Geographic (60): 76–95
  • Dingwall, P. R. (1981), "Harry Ell's vision in nature conservation", Landscape, 10: 23–27
  • Johns, Geraldine (2006), "'Ell of a job", Heritage New Zealand (100): 8–12
  • Pawson, Eric, Ell, Henry George 1862-1934, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, updated 22 June 2007, retrieved 10 May 2008
  • Roche, M. M. (1981), "Securing representative areas of New Zealand's environment: some historical and design perspectives", New Zealand Geographer, 37 (2): 73–77, doi:10.1111/j.1745-7939.1981.tb00955.x
  • Whitcher, G. F. (1966), The New Liberal Party 1905 [M.A.(Hons.) - University of Canterbury]
  • Wood, G. Antony (ed.) (1996), Ministers and Members in the New Zealand Parliament, Dunedin, [N.Z.]: Otago University Press, ISBN 1-877133-00-0CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  • Harry Ell and His Summit Road : a Biography of Henry George Ell by Lenore Oakley, published by Caxton Press 1960

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Joseph Ward
and Minister of Telegraphs

Succeeded by
Heaton Rhodes
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
George John Smith, Charles Lewis, Tommy Taylor
Member of Parliament for Christchurch
Served alongside: Charles Lewis (1899–1901), William Whitehouse Collins (1899–1902),
George John Smith (1901–1902), Thomas Davey and Tommy Taylor (1902–1905)
Constituency abolished
In abeyance
Title last held by
Westby Perceval
Member of Parliament for Christchurch South
Succeeded by
Ted Howard