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Josiah Ralph Hanan (13 June 1909 – 24 July 1969), known as Ralph Hanan, was a New Zealand politician of the National Party. He was Mayor of Invercargill and then represented the Invercargill electorate in Parliament, following in his uncle Josiah Hanan's footsteps. He served in World War II and his injuries ultimately caused his death at age 60. He is best remembered for the abolition of the death penalty, which had been suspended by the Labour Party, but which National was to reintroduce. As Minister of Justice, it was Hanan's role to introduce the legislation to Parliament, but he convinced enough of his party colleagues to vote with the opposition and thus abolished the death penalty in New Zealand.

Ralph Hanan
Josiah Ralph Hanan, ca 1946.jpg
Ralph Hanan, circa 1946
17th Minister of Health
In office
26 November 1954 – 12 December 1957
Prime MinisterHolland, Holyoake
Preceded byJack Marshall
Succeeded byRex Mason
20th Attorney-General
In office
12 December 1960 – 24 July 1969
Prime MinisterHolyoake
Preceded byRex Mason
Succeeded byJack Marshall
33rd Minister of Justice
In office
12 December 1960 – 24 July 1969
Prime MinisterHolyoake
Preceded byRex Mason
Succeeded byDan Riddiford
31st Minister of Maori Affairs
In office
12 December 1960 – 24 July 1969
Prime MinisterHolyoake
Preceded byWalter Nash
Succeeded byDuncan MacIntyre
Member of the New Zealand Parliament
for Invercargill
In office
Preceded byWilliam Denham
Succeeded byJohn Chewings
33rd Mayor of Invercargill
In office
Preceded byJohn Miller
Succeeded byJohn Robert Martin
Personal details
Born13 June 1909
Invercargill, New Zealand
Died24 July 1969(1969-07-24) (aged 60)
Resting placeSaint Johns Cemetery, Invercargill
NationalityNew Zealand
Political partyNational
Military service
Allegiance New Zealand
Branch/serviceNew Zealand Army
Years of service1941–1944
Unit20th Battalion
Battles/warsWorld War II
 • Italian Campaign
 • First Battle of El Alamein

Early lifeEdit

Hanan was born in 1909 in Invercargill.[1] He was the son of the draper James Albert Hanan and his wife, Johanna Mary McGill. His uncle and aunt were Josiah and Susanna Hanan.[2] He received his education from Southland Boys' High School, Waitaki Boys' High School, and the University of Otago, from where he obtained an LLB.[1] He returned to Invercargill and practised law from 1935.[1] In 1939, he went into partnership with Ian Arthur, practising as Hanan Arthur and Company. In 1940, he enlisted for war service.[2]

On 3 March 1939, he married Ruby Eirene Anderson, known as Eirene, at Invercargill's St Paul’s Presbyterian Church.[2]

Early political careerEdit

New Zealand Parliament
Years Term Electorate Party
1946–1949 28th Invercargill National
1949–1951 29th Invercargill National
1951–1954 30th Invercargill National
1954–1957 31st Invercargill National
1957–1960 32nd Invercargill National
1960–1963 33rd Invercargill National
1963–1966 34th Invercargill National
1966–1969 35th Invercargill National

Hanan was elected to Invercargill City Council in 1935. Three years later, he was elected Mayor of Invercargill. He relinquished the position in 1941 so that he could participate in the war.[2][3] His uncle had previously been Mayor of Invercargill (1896–1897).[4]

War serviceEdit

He served with the 20th Canterbury-Otago Battalion in the Middle East and in Italy. He was wounded at the outbreak of Minquar Qaim. He would have died had it not been for a truck driver who found him unconscious, put him onto the back of the lorry and took him away.[5] The injuries resulted in a serious lung condition that saw him sent home in 1944 as an invalid.[1] He had attained the rank of captain during the war.[2]

Post-war political careerEdit

He represented the Invercargill electorate in Parliament from 1946 to 1969, as had his uncle before him (1899–1925).[6] He held positions as Minister of Health (1954–1957), Minister of Immigration (1954–1957),[7] Attorney-General (1960–1969), Minister of Justice (1960–1969), Minister of Māori Affairs (1960–1969), and Minister of Island Territories (1963–1969).[8][9]

In 1961, Hanan and nine other National MPs (Ernest Aderman, Gordon Grieve, Duncan MacIntyre, Robert Muldoon, Herbert Pickering, Logan Sloane, Brian Talboys, Mrs Esme Tombleson and Bert Walker) crossed the floor and voted with Labour to abolish the death penalty for murder in New Zealand. As Minister of Justice, it was his responsibility to introduce the law to Parliament, but he did so by saying that he disagreed with it.[2] He convinced enough of his party colleagues to vote with the opposition and thus abolished the death penalty in New Zealand, which is what he is best remembered for.[5]

In much of his political work, Hanan was able to read the mood of the public well and he was guided by this. On many occasions, he developed policy that was initially not accepted by his party colleagues, but he managed to talk them round to it.[2] One controversial piece of legislation that he introduced was the Maori Affairs Amendment Act 1967, which was bitterly opposed by many Māori, as they feared that it would lead to further loss of land.[10] Hanan belonged to the powerful inner circle of the Holyoake cabinet. When two of the inner circle, Hanan and Tom Shand (Minister of Labour), died within months of one another, Holyoake's strong position was weakened.[11]


Hanan died on 24 July 1969, aged 60, after attending the annual conference of state attorneys general in Brisbane. He died in Cairns, Australia.[2] His relatively early death is linked to his war injuries.[5] He was buried at Invercargill's Saint Johns Cemetery.[12] An act was passed to avoid the need for a by-election before the general election on 29 November, the 'By-election Postponement Act 1969'.[13] His wife survived him by almost four decades and died on 26 July 2007; she is buried next to him.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d Gustafson 1986, p. 318.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Barton, G. P. "Hanan, Josiah Ralph - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  3. ^ "Mayors down the years". Invercargill City Council. Archived from the original on 3 June 2010. Retrieved 31 July 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  4. ^ Lee, Gregory. "Hanan, Josiah Alfred - Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 31 July 2012.
  5. ^ a b c Bassett, Michael (17 September 2009). "Being a Liberal in New Zealand Politics". Archived from the original on 16 September 2014. Retrieved 1 August 2012. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  6. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 202.
  7. ^ Wilson 1985, pp. 87–88.
  8. ^ Wilson 1985, p. 89.
  9. ^ New Zealand Parliamentary Debates, Vols. 341-361 (1964-1969).
  10. ^ "Ralph Hanan". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 28 April 2009. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  11. ^ "National Party - Consensus and division". Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. 21 May 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  12. ^ "Cemetery search". Invercargill City Council. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  13. ^ "By-elections Postponement Act 1969 (1969 No 35)". New Zealand Legal Information Institute. Retrieved 1 August 2012.
  14. ^ "Cemetery search". Invercargill City Council. Retrieved 1 August 2012.


  • Gustafson, Barry (1986). The First 50 Years : A History of the New Zealand National Party. Auckland: Reed Methuen. ISBN 0-474-00177-6.
  • Wilson, James Oakley (1985) [First ed. published 1913]. New Zealand Parliamentary Record, 1840–1984 (4th ed.). Wellington: V.R. Ward, Govt. Printer. OCLC 154283103.
Political offices
Preceded by
John Miller
Mayor of Invercargill
Succeeded by
John Robert Martin
Preceded by
Jack Marshall
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Rex Mason
Preceded by
Rex Mason
Succeeded by
Jack Marshall
Preceded by
Rex Mason
Minister of Justice
Succeeded by
Dan Riddiford
New Zealand Parliament
Preceded by
William Denham
Member of Parliament for Invercargill
Succeeded by
John Chewings