Sir Stanley Whitehead


Sir Stanley Austin Whitehead (1907-1976),  Knight Bachelor of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire and Speaker of the NZ House of Representatives from 1972-1976,  is best known locally for his 19 years as Nelson's Labour Member of Parliament, from 1957-1976, and his impressive contribution to his home town.

Stanley Whitehead in 1969. From Nelson Photo News
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Stan Whitehead was a Union Secretary who served on the Nelson City Council, Nelson Harbour Board, Nelson Progress League, Cawthron Institute Trust Board and the Nelson Trades and Labour Council. In the field of education, following the progress of his seven children, Stan was a committee member of primary schools before serving on the Nelson College Council of Governors and helping to establish the Nelson Polytechnic Management Committee. In addition to being the patron of many sporting bodies, Stan enthusiastically participated. He played rugby, cricket and bowls and was a skilled axeman. To balance the list of talent with some light-hearted fun, he sang and was a member of the Nelson Savage Club.

Stanley Whitehead in Nelson. Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C Wood Collection, L7248 . Click image to enlarge

Born in Reefton and raised in the goldmining town of Waiuta, Westland, and later at Slateys Creek, Stan Whitehead's early experiences of community isolation and hardships established his socialist principles and a down-to-earth wisdom. He began his working life as a sawmill worker, then railway construction, before running his own sawmill. He later became a transport worker and, on moving to Nelson, a trade union secretary and deputy Mayor before entering Parliament as the MP for Nelson in 1957. He held the seat until 1976, becoming Speaker in 1972. 

During his time as MP for Nelson, Stan was actively engaged in local politics, including the protests over the closure of the Nelson railway line.

He was knighted in 1976 in recognition of his long public service. Less than a week later, on January 9th at the age of 67 years, he died of a heart attack while welcoming a British ship, HMS Berwick, to Nelson. At his funeral tributes were received from many parts of the world. From Japan came a recollection of Sir Stanley's service in bringing nations together in mutual friendship. 

Sir Stanley Whitehead Park

View of Stanley Whitehead Park. Nelson City Council.
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The land comprising Sir Stanley Whitehead Park was purchased by the Nelson City Council in the 1990s, to secure a rural and recreational backdrop to the city. It was named in memory of Nelson's first Labour Member of Parliament. Today, part of the land is used for grazing, while the remainder contains a variety of vegetation from native shrubs to ornamental and fruiting trees. In the past, the land was covered in native species such as akeake, kanuka, ngaio, kawakawa and puka. Beech, rimu and matai formed the canopy with small areas of mahoe, tree fuchsia and pigeonwood growing in shady gullies. Small remnants of this type of hill forest can be found on the Grampians, accessed along the Fuchsia, Matai and Kahikatea Walks, although they are highly modified compared to their original condition.

At the time of European settlement, in the 1840s, the area now covered by the Park appears to have been free of forest. The grassy slopes were quickly utilised for grazing. Since that time, the hill top has been a popular vantage point for artists and photographers who have captured a record of urban and industrial change.

Updated May 5, 2020

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  • I came here looking for more info on my great-grandfather whom I had never met and was amazed to see comments from my Great Aunt and Late Grandfather and other distant relatives. Thankyou for preserving this history "the prow"

    Posted by William Stanlee Whitehead, 16/01/2024 4:48pm (6 months ago)

  • Thank you for this article on Sir Stanley (Stan) Whitehead. There could probably be a lot more written on his time (12 years from 1960 to 1972) as an Opposition MP. For instance, Stan Whitehead fought for the preservation of local jobs (Watties cannery) and put forward alternative uses and proposals for industrial sites (Nelson Cotton Mill). He encouraged economic development in the region and was a strong advocate for land reclamation at the port.
    I particularly like the tribute paid to Sir Stanley Whitehead by his successor in the Nelson seat (June 1976).
    "Stan was our man. He was a man of the people for the people and everyone's problem was his problem. He died in service, and he served Nelson well."

    Posted by Sir Stanley Whitehead, 22/10/2023 9:00am (9 months ago)

  • My name is Lynne (born Lynette Gail) Woodcock, born in Foxton New Zealand.
    Sir Stanley Austin Whitehead was my Grand Uncle being a brother of my Grandmother, Olive Beatrice Whitehead. Olive was married to William Woodcock, who was my father.

    Posted by Lynne Woodcock, 19/04/2023 5:12am (1 year ago)

  • Today being the fortieth anniversary of the passing of my father Sir Stanley Whitehead, former city councillor, MP for Nelson and Speaker of the House as well as a much loved father, and grandfather, I have been thinking of him and looking at what has been recorded on "the prow" and appreciate the research which has been done and included.

    Posted by Carol Stewart, 26/01/2016 4:35pm (8 years ago)

  • 68 descendants of Sir Stanley and Lady Whitehead attended a reunion in Nelsonon weekend of 17/18 January, 2014 with a get-together at Speights Ale House, a Dinner at the Suburbsn Club (he opened), a visit o family graves, a walk to Centre of New Zealand from Botanics, which went through Whitehead Park to Memorial Plaque near Whitehead Place. On the Sunday a picnic with the cutting of cake by the "elders", and races and cricket for the kids at Branford Park, near Matai River. Barbecues were held at night and all were full of praise to Jill, and her helpers for a wonderful reunion.

    Posted by William Albert Whitehead QSM, 28/02/2014 11:00am (10 years ago)

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Further sources - Sir Stanley Whitehead


  • Sir Stanley dies suddenly (1976, January 9) Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Civic funeral for Sir Stanley (1976, January 10) Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Nation mourns passing of Speaker  (1976, January 10) Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Sir Stanley Whithead Civic  (1976, January 10) Nelson Mail, p.2
  • Colleagues to farewell Sir Stanley  (1976, January 12) Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Nelson honours its MP (1976, January 13) Nelson Mail, p.1
  • Mayor pays tribute to Lady Whitehead (1997, July 2) Nelson Mail, p.12 

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