William Russell (New Zealand politician)

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The Honourable
Sir William Russell
William Russell, ca 1878.jpg
William Russell in ca 1878
4th Leader of the Opposition
In office
26 June 1894 – 3 July 1901
Deputy James Allen
Preceded by William Rolleston
Succeeded by William Massey
7th Minister of Defence
In office
17 October 1889 – 24 January 1891
Prime Minister Harry Atkinson
Preceded by Thomas Fergus
Succeeded by Richard Seddon
Personal details
Born William Russell Russell
12 November 1838
Sandhurst Berkshire, England
Died 24 September 1913
Napier, New Zealand
Spouse(s) Harriette Julia Hodgkinson
Relations Andrew Russell (father)
Children 7 sons & 4 daughters
Profession farmer

Sir William Russell Russell (12 November 1838 – 24 September 1913) was a New Zealand politician from 1870 to 1905. He was a cabinet minister, and was recognised as Leader of the Opposition from 1894 to 1901.

Early life[edit]

Russell was born in Sandhurst, Berkshire England and educated at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[1] His father Andrew Russell was in the 58th Regiment of Foot, and Russell came with him to New Zealand in the 1840s. He then joined the 58th Regiment, and came to New Zealand as an ensign in 1857. He transferred to the 14th Regiment of Foot and came out to Auckland in 1861, serving until 1862. In 1862 he sold his Captain’s commission and settled in Hawkes Bay as a sheepfarmer.[1]


Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
1875–1879 6th Napier Independent
1879–1881 7th Napier Independent
1884–1887 9th Hawke's Bay Independent
1887–1890 10th Hawke's Bay Independent
1890–1893 11th Hawke's Bay Independent
1893–1896 12th Hawke's Bay Independent
1896–1899 13th Hawke's Bay Independent
1899–1902 14th Hawke's Bay Independent
1902–1905 15th Hawke's Bay Independent

Russell was a member of the Hawke's Bay Provincial Council from 1870 until the abolition of the provinces in 1876.[1] He won the election for the Napier electorate in the New Zealand Parliament on 30 December 1875 in the 1875 general election, and was re-elected on 8 September 1879 in the 1879 general election. In 1881 after an electorate redistribution, he was defeated by Fred Sutton for the Hawke's Bay electorate. He won the seat on 22 July 1884 in the 1884 general election, and held it until he was defeated by Alfred Dillon in 1905.[2]

He was a Minister (Postmaster-General) in the short-lived Fourth Atkinson ministry of 1884; which lasted only six (or fourteen) days. In 1889 he joined the Fifth (and last) Atkinson ministry of 1887 as Colonial Secretary, Minister of Defence and Minister of Justice. He represented New Zealand at the Federation Conference in Melbourne in 1890, and later at the Australian National Convention in Sydney in 1892.[1]

When the Liberal government of John Ballance came to power in 1890, the Opposition had not yet coalesced into a truly formal party. Russell was recognised as Leader of the Opposition from 1894 to 1901. Noted for his courtesy, honesty and consideration, Russell was at times completely overwhelmed by Prime Minister Richard Seddon in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. Even members of his own party acknowledged his nature was ill-suited to parliamentary brawls.[1]

In June 1900, following defeat at the 1899 general election, the opposition strength fell considerably. The conservative MPs could not agree on a new leader upon holding their first caucus of the session. However, Seddon still continued to address Russell as their leader until July 1901.[3] For over two years the conservatives were virtually leaderless, although chief whip William Massey often informally filled the role and eventually succeeded Russell as leader in September 1903.[3]

Russell was later appointed to the Legislative Council on 26 June 1913. He died at Napier soon after on 24 September 1913.[1]


He married Miss Harriette Julia Hodgskin of Cawley Priory, Sussex, England in 1867. They had eleven children, four daughters and seven sons. One son, Second Lieutenant Lionel Philip Russell, of the Second Battalion, Prince of Wale's Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) was attached to the 14th Mounted Infantry in the South African War. He died aged 24 of the wounds he had received in Holland (19 December 1901). Another son, Captain Walter Russell 'Dick' Russell of the Northamptonshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion, attached to 1st Battalion, was killed in action on 23 October 1914 in France aged 33.

He lived on his estate Flaxmere near Hastings. He also owned Tunanui Station which he had bought with his brother near Napier. When the partnership expired he retained the Flaxmere and Sherenden estates. A sports lover, he was President of the New Zealand Jockey Club.

He was knighted in 1902 in recognition of his long service.[1] Though he had resigned from the Army in 1862, he seems to have used the title Captain until he was knighted. His full name according to electoral rolls and the Cyclopedia of New Zealand was Captain the Hon. William Russell Russell, then Sir William Russell Russell, i.e. Russell was his middle name and also his surname.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Grant, S. W. "Russell, William Russell". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 10 December 2011. 
  2. ^ Scholefield, Guy (1950) [1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1949 (3rd ed.). Wellington: Govt. Printer. p. 137. 
  3. ^ a b Wilson 1985, p. 282.


  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103. 
  • The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume 1 part 1 (1897); Wellington: pages 105-106 (photo page 106)
  • The Cyclopedia of New Zealand, Volume 6 (1908); Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay & Wellington Province: pages 301-302 (photo page 302)
Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Fergus
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
William Pember Reeves
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
Donald McLean
Member of Parliament for Napier
Served alongside: Donald McLean, Fred Sutton
Succeeded by
John Buchanan
Preceded by
Fred Sutton
Member of Parliament for Hawke's Bay
Succeeded by
Alfred Dillon