Establishment of Rotary in New Zealand


One of the great success stories of Rotary’s second decade is the establishment of Rotary in New Zealand

On 7 June 1921, New Zealand’s first Rotary Club was formed at the YMCA Rooms, Willis Street, Wellington.
The charter was received from Special Commissioners Jim Davidson of Rotary Club of Calgary and Colonel Layton Ralston of Rotary Club of Halifax, Nova Scotia.
36 of Wellington’s great and good (6 of the 36 were to become Knights) signed on as charter members.  Viscount Jellicoe set the tradition of all Governors-General becoming honorary members.

New Zealand’s first Rotary Club President was Alex Roberts, later Sir Alex. Charles Odlin, his Vice President, had been the New Zealand contact for Rotary in North America.

The first Board of Directors was a typical Rotary mix of businessmen and professionals, already busy men.The club quickly attracted major speakers, from Prime Ministers to Chief Justices, to visiting dignitaries. Paul Harris and his wife came in 1935, seen here on the left with Club President Sir John Ilott and Lady Ilott. He commented: “As Wellington was the capital city, the club roster contained an unusually impressive aggregation of names.”

Sir Charles Norwood, a Charter Member and later President, was the first to attend an international Rotary Assembly, at St Louis.

Rotary International established District 53, with Wellington medico Dr Will Herbert as the first District Governor. The first conference was September 1925.

Charter member and District Governor Sir John Ilott, became New Zealand’s first Director of Rotary International.

What did these early grandees do? Well, they raised money of course. But an early tradition was established of giving advice and rendering individual service in public and community affairs.

Two early projects showed the vision and ambition of Rotary – the establishment of Wellington’s Karitane Hospital with a 25,000 pounds mortgage paid off over 14 years; and the Hutt Valley Housing and Settlement Scheme, building fifty cottages in a model housing settlement.

All of this was on top of other activity.

A regular feature was boys’ weekends, of mass singalongs and instructive readings at the Town Hall, special services and a monster athletic gathering at Newtown Park.
Within its first month, the Club was learning about Rotary organisation in USA, and sharing with Auckland.

So a decade which began mired in war and disease ended with a growing sense of optimism, tremendous organisation and practical humanitarian action.
Importantly, New Zealand was now very much part of the Rotary story.

+ Text Size -