Harry Atmore

The Honourable
Harry Atmore
19th Minister of Education
In office
10 December 1928  22 September 1931
Prime Minister Joseph Ward
Preceded by Robert Alexander Wright
Succeeded by Robert Masters
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Nelson
In office
19 December 1911  11 December 1914
Preceded by John Graham
Succeeded by Thomas Field
In office
17 December 1919  20 August 1946
Preceded by Thomas Field
Succeeded by Edgar Neale
Personal details
Born (1870-12-14)14 December 1870
Nelson, New Zealand
Died 20 August 1946(1946-08-20) (aged 75)
Nelson, New Zealand
Political party Independent
Spouse(s) Dorothy Annie Corrigan (m. 1936)
Profession Signwriter

Harry Atmore (14 December 1870 20 August 1946) was a New Zealand Independent Member of Parliament for Nelson in the South Island.

Harry Atmore held the Nelson seat as an Independent for a total of thirty years from 1911 to 1914 and then from 1919 to his death in 1946. He was Minister of Education and Minister in charge of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) in Sir Joseph Ward's United Government of 1928 to 1931, and the acting Prime Minister of New Zealand for approximately five months between 25 August 1930 and 21 January 1931.

Early years

Born in Nelson, in 1870, Atmore attended the Nelson Public School and represented the province in rugby.[1] He later moved to Wellington and spent eight years there as an apprentice signwriter and decorator. After his apprenticeship, Atmore returned to Nelson and established his own signwriting and decorating business.

Atmore was prominent in local affairs. He was a member of the Nelson Licensing Committee, Education Board and Hospital Board. In 1905, he was elected to the Nelson City Council.[1] Later, he served on the Nelson College Council of Governors and Cawthron Institute Trust Board.

Member of Parliament

Parliament of New Zealand
Years Term Electorate Party
191114 18th Nelson Independent
191922 20th Nelson Independent
192225 21st Nelson Independent
192528 22nd Nelson Independent
192831 23rd Nelson Independent
193135 24th Nelson Independent
193538 25th Nelson Independent
193843 26th Nelson Independent
194346 27th Nelson Independent

Atmore unsuccessfully contested the Nelson seat in 1902, 1905 and 1908 against the Liberal John Graham. In 1911 he became Nelson's Member of Parliament. Atmore gave his support in Joseph Ward's Liberal government by voting for it on a no-confidence motion, which was saved by just one vote. Whilst remaining an independent, he normally supported the Liberals from then on. Regardless, Atmore's political independence was always discernible. He believed that politicians should be, first and foremost, representatives of the people. That when elected they should put principle before party.[1]

Atmore lost his seat in the 1914 election, but returned to parliament in 1919 after unsuccessfully contesting the Wellington Central 1918 by-election which was won by Peter Fraser, the Labour Party candidate.[2]

Initially, Atmore was opposed to the rising Labour Party and was doubtful of its socialist agenda. He was also an admirer of Benito Mussolini due to his opposition to socialist radicals in Italy. As a result Labour put considerable effort in to defeat him in 1925. Gradually Atmore's animosity towards Labour lessened and Labour did not stand a candidate against him after that.[1]

Following the 1928 election he supported Ward's new United Party form a majority and was rewarded with a position in cabinet, as Minister of Education. As a largely self-educated man, he had passionate concern for education and took to his new responsibilities with vigor. Atmore's first goal as education minister was to ensure every child in New Zealand could have the opportunity to gain a proper education to realise their own potential. He formed a committee to examine the existing public education system. The outcome was the "Atmore Report" which recommended several radical reforms including raising the age to leave school to 15, establishing intermediate schools, abolishing scholarship entry to secondary school, and widening the secondary school curriculum to also cover non University approved subjects.[1]

Atmore (seated first on left) in the United cabinet, 1928.

Atmore resigned as education minister in 1931 when cuts were proposed for his portfolio due to the worsening depression and formation of the coalition government which he was opposed to.[3] However, many of his ideas were later implemented under the First Labour Government where Peter Fraser (who was a member of Atmore's Committee) was minister of education. Fraser's Education Amendment Act 1938 was to endorse and implement most of Atmore's recommendations.[1]

Atmore read and thought widely. He was one New Zealander who was looking for solutions to problems within the altered economic, social and political context of inter-war New Zealand. He believed it was important to be informed on the issues of the day including monetary reform, international rearmament and the pivotal role of the USSR in any crisis. Curiously, he was a social credit monetary reform sponsor and campaigned for it vigorously, blaming many of New Zealand's debt problems in the early 1930's on obligations to pay interest on its debts in London.[1]

On 8 August 1946 Atmore announced his intention not to stand again at the next election. However, only two weeks later, on 20 August, he was found dead at his home. He was buried at Wakapuaka Cemetery.[4]

Personal life

Atmore was a well known man in Nelson, refusing to drive a car, instead preferring to ride a bicycle everywhere locally which made him a visible addition to the community. He personally answered all messages and requests in his own handwriting as an indication of his dedication to his work.[1]

Atmore married Dorothy Annie Corrigan on 24 June 1936, at the age of 65, at Hawera. There were no children from the marriage. Dorothy was both wealthy and well-educated. The two built a new home named Te Maunga and made it a local centre of hospitality. Throughout World War II the two were both actively involved in patriotic work, which was to earn Dorothy an MBE. Dorothy lived a further thirty years as a widow, dying in 1976.[1]

Atmore's grip on the Nelson seat was due primarily to his commitment and availability to his constituents. He organised a call to repair a country school, the completion of the Nelson railway, an exemption for an only son of an elderly farming couple from military service and helped issue jobs in the public service to the unemployed. For an entire generation Atmore worked for all Nelson residents with such a commitment that his constituents regarded him to be a personal friend.[1]


Atmore, late 1920's.

In 1935, he was awarded the King George V Silver Jubilee Medal.[5]

Robert Chapman comments on Harry Atmore:[6]

Nelson even shares with Hobson a record of preferring political idiosyncrancy. Nine times out of ten between 1911 and 1946 Nelson voted for Harry Atmore, who confounded cynics by moving to the Left politically as he got older. Having begun as an Independent Liberal, he thereafter passed through many shades of independence to finish as his own variety of consistently pro-Labour MP.

Historians have regarded Atmore as the last example of an earlier, simpler political age, before the rise of the party system. He embodied the aspirations of small town residents and their desires for a fairer and more egalitarian society.[1]



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Tunnicliff, Shirley. "Atmore, Harry". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 3 July 2011.
  2. "A victory for Labour". The Evening Post. XCVI (83). 4 October 1918. p. 3. Retrieved 15 March 2014.
  3. Courtney, S D (n.d.). Harry Atmore: Independent in Politics (Report). University of Canterbury. p. 21.
  4. "Cemeteries database". Nelson City Council. Retrieved 29 September 2014.
  5. "Official jubilee medals". The Evening Post. CXIX (105). 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 2 July 2013.
  6. New Zealand Politics in Action: The 1960 General Election by R M Chapman, W K Jackson and A V Mitchell p213 (1962, Oxford University Press, London)

See also

New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
John Graham
Member of Parliament for Nelson
Succeeded by
Thomas Field
Preceded by
Thomas Field
Succeeded by
Edgar Neale
Political offices
Preceded by
Robert Wright
Minister of Education
Succeeded by
Robert Masters
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