The beginnings of Rotary in New Zealand

The beginnings of Rotary in
New Zealand
 2007/ Board, Secretary 07/13, New Zealand History
Norman R. Winterbottom "1905 Society" 2010
As with the growth of Rotary in Australia, the main catalysts for Rotary’s beginnings in New Zealand lie with the two Canadian commissioners Jim Davidson and Layton Ralston.

Yet, the first seeds of growth were sown by the Hon. (later, Sir) George Fowlds. George, a Scot by birth, was a prosperous draper and visited both Canada and the USA between August and November 1920. Fowlds often appeared at Rotary and Kiwanis meetings as guest speaker but did not actively consider Rotary for himself until he appeared at the Rotary Club of Victoria, BC, Canada. Fowlds was a former Minister of Education for New Zealand which would have made him an obvious choice for Rotary club speaker. Among Fowlds other achievements; he was President of the University of Auckland and President of the Board of Trustees of the University of New Zealand. From the Victoria club, Fowlds received information from the club secretary and this inspired him to call in at Rotary headquarters in Chicago.

(Forward by New Zealand Prime Minister, S. G. Holland, 14 January 1955)

In March 1921, a gentleman from Victoria (named Jones) arrived in Auckland with a letter of introduction from the secretary of the Victoria club. As Fowlds himself remembered: “I utilised his presence in Auckland to issue invitations to about fifty of our citizens to a luncheon in the Pacific Club, to meet Mr Jones and listen to a talk about Rotary. I got a splendid response, and at the close of the luncheon a small committee was appointed to consider the question of forming a Rotary Club in Auckland.”

This meeting took place on April 4th 1921 and was the first step taken to establish Rotary in New Zealand.

The Wellington Club was the first club established in New Zealand in June 7th 1921 with the Auckland Club formed a week later with Fowlds the first club President. Davidson recalled the day he reached Auckland on May 30th. He had already been cabled by Ches Perry with Fowlds name. Davidson found Fowlds “very public spirited and highly respected”.

Davidson had also been informed that the two club Charters had already been signed in Chicago and he was ‘instructed’ to make sure the capital city was club number one. Therefore, Ralston was given a weeks start to charter the Wellington club. Davidson’s main problem at this time was the fact that the eager Aucklanders were determined to charter their club in three days –35 charter members were needed but Auckland already had forty!

"The root idea of the clubs is human service...The aim of Rotarians is to do things, to do them willingly and unselfishly and to fit themselves to render better service to their town, their province and their nation"

Jim Davidson addressing the inaugural meeting of the Auckland club on June 13th 1921.

It was Fowlds and Charles Rhodes (future RI Director 1923-24) who would continue expanding Rotary throughout New Zealand as special commissioners. Rhodes, managing director of the Waihi Gold Mining Company, would travel to the St. Louis Convention in 1923 where he was introduced by Past President Arch Klumph. He addressed delegates with a noted speech in which he praised the work of Davidson and Ralston. At the end of the Convention Rhodes was the ninth RI Director.

Fowlds would follow Rhodes the coming year as he travelled back to Canada -to the Toronto Convention-and greeted delegates with a speech entitled “We are happy to be in Toronto.” Both men were absolutely convinced that Rotarians did not know anything about New Zealand!

One of Fowlds ambitions was to capture the 1928 Convention for Auckland which did not succeed.

Fowlds and Rhodes rapidly expanded Rotary in New Zealand. The first success was the Christchurch club established in April 1922 after an initial meeting on November 17th 1921. The Dunedin, Hamilton, Invercargill, Wanganui, Napier, Hastings, Palmerston North, Hawera, New Plymouth, Oamaru and Whangarei clubs followed soon after. At the end of Fowlds’ three year term, the Emeritus President of Rotary International wrote to Fowlds “I am sure I do not know how it would be possible for any country to accomplish more than new Zealand has accomplished during the few years of Rotary existence there.”

The first Australasian Conference took place in September 1924 in Sydney with many New Zealanders present. At the time, New Zealand had TWICE as many clubs as Australia.

It was now time for a Rotary District in New Zealand with its own Governor.

Calum Thomson

New Zealand History
The First Two Clubs of New Zealand
History of District 9910
History of District 9930
Rotary Club of Norfolk Island, the First Club of Norfolk Island
The History of Group Study Exchanges

Go to All RGHF Menus

RGHF members, who have been invited to this page, may register

RGHF members, who have been invited to this page, may register
If a DGE/N/D joins prior to their year, they will have more exposure to Rotary's Global History by their service year.
This will be beneficial to all concerned.
*Based on paid members, subscribers, Facebook friends, Twitter followers, mobile app users, History Library users, web pages, and articles about Rotary's Global History

RGHF Home | Disclaimer | Privacy | Usage Agreement | RGHF on Facebook | Subscribe | Join RGHF |