Names such as Grey, Jervois, Ranfurly and Fergusson dot the New Zealand landscape – on buildings, streets and even entire towns. Many people will not know that the names come from New Zealand's 'First Citizens' – the governors or governors-general who represent the sovereign, currently Elizabeth II.

New Zealand has had a governor or (from 1917) a governor-general since 1840. The first, Sir George Gipps, was also governor of New South Wales and never visited New Zealand. The work of these men and women has reflected the constitutional and political history of New Zealand in many ways.

The word 'governor' derives from the Latin 'gubernator' (one who rules); in turn, this comes from the Greek 'kybernetes' (a helmsman). Both terms describe the broad range of duties that New Zealand's governors and governors-general have performed. These are the 'three Cs': constitutional, ceremonial and community duties. The nature of the duties and the balance between them have changed over the last century and a half.

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How to cite this page: 'History of the Governor-General', URL: http://www.nzhistory.net.nz/politics/history-of-the-governor-general/introduction, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 14-Jul-2014