William Joseph Jordan

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For other people named William Jordan, see William Jordan (disambiguation).
The Right Honourable
Sir William Joseph Jordan
William Joseph Jordan.jpg
7th High Commissioner from New Zealand to the United Kingdom
In office
1 September 1936 – 31 August 1951
Preceded by James Parr
Succeeded by Frederick Doidge
11th President of the Labour Party
In office
Leader Harry Holland
Michael Joseph Savage
Preceded by Rex Mason
Succeeded by Frank Langstone
Personal details
Born (1879-05-09)9 May 1879
Ramsgate, Kent, England
Died 8 April 1959(1959-04-08) (aged 79)
Auckland, New Zealand
Political party Labour Party
Military service
Allegiance New Zealand Army
Rank Army-GBR-OR-08a.svg Warrant Officer
Battles/wars World War I

Sir William "Bill" Joseph Jordan KCMG PC (19 May 1879 – 8 April 1959) was a New Zealand Labour Party Member of Parliament, and New Zealand's longest-serving High Commissioner to Great Britain from 1936 to 1951.

Early life[edit]

Jordan was born in Ramsgate, Kent, the son and grandson of sea captains. His father William Joseph Jordan was a member of the lifeboat crew that earned fame and exploits on the Goodwin Sands. His mother was Elizabeth Ann Catt. The decline of the local fishing industry forced the Jordan family to move to London.[1] William then attended St Lukes Parochial School, Old Street in London and wore the characteristic old-fashioned uniform which was well known. Aged 12 he left school (1892) and became an apprentice coach painter, from which he resigned on account of the scourge of lead poisoning. He then entered the postal service in 1896 and reached a responsible position at Mount Pleasant (headquarters of the Postal service). While there, he showed his preference in politics by joining the Fawcett Association. Jordan later joined the London Metropolitan Police and underwent training at Scotland Yard, afterwards being stationed at Limehouse in East End of London. He was also a member of the part-time 3rd London Rifle Volunteer Corps, rising to the rank of sergeant.[2]

Jordan emigrated to New Zealand in 1904, initially working as a labourer and bush farming. He joined the Labour Party in 1907, as the first secretary of the Wellington branch of the Party.

First World War[edit]

Unlike many other early Labour Party leaders, e.g. Harry Holland, Michael Joseph Savage and Peter Fraser, Jordan was not a conscientious objector. He enlisted in the First New Zealand Expeditionary Force in France in 1917. In March 1918, Jordan saw action for the first time, and suffered serious wounds in action two weeks later. He transferred to the Army Education Service, where he served as an instructor until the end of the war, returning to New Zealand in 1919.

Parliamentary career[edit]

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1922–1925 21st Manukau Labour
1925–1928 22nd Manukau Labour
1928–1931 23rd Manukau Labour
1931–1935 24th Manukau Labour
1935–1936 25th Manukau Labour

In 1922, Jordan was surprisingly elected as one of 17 Labour Party MPs elected that year, winning the seat of Manukau increasing his majority at each of the four subsequent elections, until he had one of the largest votes and majorities. Jordan had an earlier unsuccessful attempt to win the Raglan seat for Labour in the 1919 general election.[3]

In early 1935 the Jordan affair pitted Jordan against the Auckland Labour Representation Committee when he proposed to stand for the Auckland Electric Power Board as an independent when the LRC decided not to nominate an official Labour candidate, but he was supported by Savage (Gustafson page 160).

Jordan was a diligent local MP, and held his seat until Labour won the Government benches in 1935. Jordan had expected to be elevated to Cabinet; instead he was appointed to the post of New Zealand High Commissioner to London, which had until that point been traditionally a retirement post for former Cabinet ministers; Labour being first elected to power in 1935 had no MPs with previous cabinet experience.

New Zealand High Commissioner to London[edit]

Pilots of No. 485 Squadron RNZAF with NZ High Commissioner Bill Jordan c. 1944

Jordan served as New Zealand's High Commissioner to London from September 1936 to 1951. For much of this time, London was New Zealand's only diplomatic posting, and Jordan became prominent as New Zealand's official representative overseas. Jordan was actively involved as New Zealand's representative to the League of Nations. Jordan served as President of the League of Nations in 1938. While Europe was heading towards War, Jordan's public position was that war was inconceivable. In 1938 Jordan wrote to Prime Minister Savage, stating that "we shall not see war involving our Empire in our lifetime". Just before war broke out he spoke in similar terms in a broadcast to New Zealand. As he said six months later, right up to that date, "I could not believe that the world was so mad as to go to war." During his time on the League of Nations, he suggested in 1937 that the organization should intervene on Spain during the Spanish Civil War and then hold free and fair elections on the country, but the proposal has fallen on deaf ears within the organization.[4][5]

Jordan was highly regarded during the War for his loyalty to New Zealand servicemen and women, and his care for soldiers.

Jordan's reputation among officials and Cabinet colleagues was much less warm. He frequently refused instructions from Wellington on the basis that remote officials at home could not accurately assess New Zealand's position. Jordan was loathed by his deputies, Major General W. G. Stevens and Dick Campbell. Secretary of External Affairs Alister McIntosh had frequent difficulties with Jordan. Deputy Prime Minister Walter Nash had feuds with Jordan, stemming from Nash's position representing the Prime Minister at international gatherings that Jordan felt was his own right to represent.

Despite this, Jordan remained a popular figure among the public in New Zealand. In 1949, with the Labour Party defeated from office, the incoming National Government decided to retain Jordan in his post, until 1951. He was knighted in 1952. He was a Christian Socialist and Methodist home missionary. He died in Auckland on 8 April 1959.



  1. ^ Templeton, Malcolm. "Jordan, William Joseph". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 19 November 2011. 
  2. ^ C. Digby Planck, The Shiny Seventh: History of the 7th (City of London) Battalion London Regiment, London: Old Comrades' Association, 1946/Uckfield: Naval & Military Press, 2002, ISBN 1-84342-366-9.
  3. ^ "Heritage Images - Homepage - Auckland Libraries - AWNS-19191120-41-17 (includes 1919 Auckland Weekly News photo)". www.aucklandcity.govt.nz. Retrieved 2016-01-06. 
  4. ^ Peace and Pirates, TIME Magazine, 27 September 1937
  5. ^ David Jorge, "Bill Jordan: A distant champion for Spanish democracy", Labour History Project - Newsletter 57. Wellington: LHP, 2013, pp. 21-25.


New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Frederic Lang
Member of Parliament for Manukau
Succeeded by
Arthur Osborne
Party political offices
Preceded by
Rex Mason
President of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Frank Langstone
Preceded by
Dan Sullivan
Senior Whip of the Labour Party
Succeeded by
Robert McKeen
Diplomatic posts
Preceded by
James Parr
High Commissioner to the United Kingdom
Succeeded by
Frederick Doidge