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George Warren Russell (24 February 1854 – 28 June 1937) was a New Zealand politician from Christchurch. He served as Minister of Internal Affairs and Minister of Public Health in the wartime National government, and was responsible for the New Zealand government's response to the 1918 influenza epidemic.

George Warren Russell
George Warren Russell.jpg
4th Minister of Public Health
In office
28 March 1912 – 10 July 1912
Prime MinisterThomas Mackenzie
Preceded byDavid Buddo
Succeeded byHeaton Rhodes
In office
12 August 1915 – 25 August 1919
Prime MinisterWilliam Massey
Preceded byHeaton Rhodes
Succeeded byFrancis Bell
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Riccarton
In office
1893 – 1896
Succeeded byWilliam Rolleston
In office
1899 – 1902
Preceded byWilliam Rolleston
Succeeded byGeorge Witty
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Avon
In office
1908 – 1919
Preceded byWilliam Tanner
Succeeded byDan Sullivan
Personal details
Born(1854-02-24)24 February 1854
London, England
Died28 June 1937(1937-06-28) (aged 83)
Eastbourne, New Zealand
Political partyLiberal
Other political
Radical Party

Private lifeEdit

Russell was born in London, England, in 1854. His father was a bricklayer and builder. The family emigrated to Tasmania when he was still a child, and then moved again to New Zealand in 1864. Russell worked as an apprentice journalist, before trying to become a Wesleyan Methodist minister. When that was unsuccessful, he returned to journalism, working on the Evening Chronicle in Wellington and founding the Manawatu Herald in Foxton. He moved to Christchurch in 1889. In 1898, he took over the Spectator, a magazine he would edit until 1928.[1]

Political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1893–1896 12th Riccarton Liberal
1899–1902 14th Riccarton Liberal
1908–1911 16th Avon Liberal
1911–1914 17th Avon Liberal
1914–1919 18th Avon Liberal

Russell contested the 1881 election in the Foxton electorate, where he was third of six candidates, beaten by James Wilson.[2] He unsuccessfully contested the Waikato electorate in the 1887 election; he was beaten by John Blair Whyte.[3]

He first entered Parliament as MHR for Riccarton in 1893. A member of the Liberal Party's "left" (radical) wing, he was a strong critic of Premier Richard Seddon, and at the 1896 election attempted to form a Radical Party to push for stronger reforms. He maintained only a tenuous hold on his electorate, losing it in 1896 to William Rolleston, but regaining it in 1899 with a majority of one vote over Rolleston, which brought an end to that political career.[4] Russell lost the Riccarton electorate again in 1902. In 1908, he won the Avon electorate, and held it for the next 11 years.

Russell was considered a possible Liberal leader in 1912 when Joseph Ward resigned, and served in the cabinet of Thomas Mackenzie. He later served in the wartime National cabinet, holding the portfolios of Internal Affairs, Public Health and Hospitals, as well as a number of lesser responsibilities. As Minister of Public Health, he was responsible for the decision to allow the Niagara to dock in Auckland in 1918, and was blamed for the resulting Spanish Flu epidemic which killed at least 8000 New Zealanders. As a result, he lost his electorate in the 1919 election. He unsuccessfully contested the 1921 by-election for Auckland East, and Avon again in the 1922 general election, but was never again elected to Parliament.

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


Russell died on 28 June 1937 in Eastbourne, Wellington.[1] He was buried at Holy Trinity Avonside in Christchurch.[4]


  1. ^ a b Rice, Geoffrey W. "Russell, George Warren". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
  2. ^ "Foxton". Thames Star. XII (4043). 13 December 1881. p. 2. Retrieved 31 January 2013.
  3. ^ "The General Election, 1887". National Library. 1887. p. 1. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  4. ^ a b Greenaway, Richard L. N. (June 2007). "Avonside Anglican Parish Cemetery Tour" (PDF). Christchurch City Libraries. p. 19. Retrieved 13 August 2011.
  5. ^ "Official jubilee medals". Evening Post. CXIX (105). 6 May 1935. p. 4. Retrieved 11 January 2016.
New Zealand Parliament
New constituency Member of Parliament for Riccarton
Succeeded by
William Rolleston
Preceded by
William Rolleston
Succeeded by
George Witty
Preceded by
William Tanner
Member of Parliament for Avon
Succeeded by
Dan Sullivan
Political offices
Preceded by
David Buddo
Minister of Public Health
Succeeded by
Heaton Rhodes
Preceded by
Heaton Rhodes
Succeeded by
Francis Bell
Academic offices
Preceded by
Charles Lewis
Chairman of the Board of Governors of Canterbury College
Succeeded by
Jonathan Charles Adams