Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt

Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt bigraphy, stories - Viceroy, physician, athlete

Arthur Porritt, Baron Porritt : biography

10 August 1900 – 1 January 1994

Arthur Espie Porritt, Baron Porritt, 1st Baronet, Bt, GCMG, GCVO, CBE (10 August 1900 – 1 January 1994) was a New Zealand physician, military surgeon, statesman and athlete. He served as the 11th Governor-General of New Zealand between 1967 and 1972.

Early life

Porritt was born in Wanganui, New Zealand, the son of Ivy Elizabeth Porritt née McKenzie and Ernest Edward Porritt, a doctor. His mother died in 1914 during his first year at the Wanganui Collegiate School, and his father left soon after to serve in World War I. He became a keen athlete. In 1920 he began studying towards a medical degree at the University of Otago where he was a resident at Selwyn College). In 1923 Porritt was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship, and he studied medicine from 1924 to 1926 at Magdalen College, Oxford.



Lord Porritt died in London at the age of 93. His son is Jonathon Porritt, a well-known environmental activist.

Medical career

He became a house surgeon at St Mary’s Hospital, London, in 1926 and later that year was appointed surgeon to the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII.

During World War II Porritt served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, holding the rank of Brigadier, equivalent to a one-star General. He served in France until the evacuation from Dunkirk, then in Egypt, operating on seriously wounded soldiers from the North African campaign, and later landing in Normandy on D-Day.

He was King’s Surgeon to George VI from 1946 to 1952, and was Serjeant Surgeon to Queen Elizabeth II until 1967.

In 1955 he was called to Eastbourne by the suspected serial killer John Bodkin Adams, to operate on his patient Jack Hullett for colon cancer. The operation was a moderate success but the death of Hullett under Adams’ supervision a few months later followed soon after by the death of his wife Bobby, led to Adams being put on trial for Bobby’s murder in 1957. He was acquitted but is suspected in up to 163 deaths.Cullen, Pamela V., "A Stranger in Blood: The Case Files on Dr John Bodkin Adams", London, Elliott & Thompson, 2006, ISBN 1-904027-19-9

Porritt was twice president of the Hunterian Society (once in 1951) and became president in 1960 of both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of Surgeons of England, the first person to hold the two positions simultaneously, and retained the presidency of the RCS until 1963.

In 1966 he was elected president for two years of the Royal Society of Medicine but served only one year before leaving for New Zealand.

Sporting career

He represented New Zealand at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, France, winning a bronze medal in the 100 metre dash, the famed "Chariots of Fire" race; the winner was Harold Abrahams (1899–1978). The race took place at 7 pm on 7 July 1924. Abrahams and Porritt dined together at 7 pm on 7 July every year thereafter, until Abrahams’ death. The race was later immortalised in the film Chariots of Fire, but due to Porritt’s modesty his name was changed to "Tom Watson".

He also won two heats in the 200 m, but came fifth in the semi-final. Porritt was captain of the New Zealand team at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, but withdrew from the 100 m because of injury.

Porritt is only one of two people to have the rare honour of twice being the New Zealand flag bearer at Olympic Games, the other being Les Mills.

After retirement from athletics Porritt was New Zealand’s team manager at the 1934 British Empire Games in London and 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Porritt was the New Zealand member of the International Olympic Committee from 1934 to 1967. He was the first President of the IOC Medical Commission and served from 1961 to 1967.


He served as chairman of the British Empire and Commonwealth Games Federation from the 1950 Auckland games to the 1966 Kingston games.


Porritt was knighted in 1950 and became a baronet in 1963. When he was elevated to the Peerage in 1973, he chose to honour his home town and was created Baron Porritt, of Wanganui in New Zealand and of Hampstead in Greater London.


In 1967 Porritt returned to New Zealand to be appointed by the Queen on the advice of Prime Minister Keith Holyoake as the 11th Governor-General of New Zealand, and the first born in New Zealand. His term marked a turning-point in the country’s constitutional history: his successors have all been New Zealanders (although one of his predecessors, Lord Freyberg, moved to New Zealand when he was two).


Prior to the 1969 general election in September of that year, Porritt sparked a heated debate with a Labour candidate Eddie Isbey when he argued in a speech to the Southern Cross Medical Care Society that the welfare state was "uneconomic".

Later, Porritt’s wife also created controversy, when she replied to a question on equal pay for women by stating "Perhaps when New Zealand, like India and Israel, produces a woman prime minister it will be time to call a halt to the emancipation movement".

At his last Waitangi Day speech in 1972, Porritt caused more controversy by stating that: "Maori-Pakeha relationships are being dealt with adequately through the biological process of intermarriage".

At the end of his term in September 1972 Porritt returned to England.


In Christchurch, New Zealand, a park was aptly named ‘Porrit Park’ in the suburb of Avonside. The park surrounded by the river Avon became home to Canterbury Hockey, Canterbury Rowing, Canterbury Touch Rugby and also used as a venue for Cricket.


He was a freemason. During his term as Governor-General (1968-1971), he was also Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of New Zealand.