One that came to my attention today is from New Zealand.
Sir Joseph William Allan Heenan was a senior public servant, administrator and drafter of legislation who became involved in one of the great dramas of the twentieth century – the abdication of King Edward VIII.
Heenan was born the son of a bootmaker and dressmaker in Greymouth, New Zealand in 1888. He began his government career in 1906 he joined the colonial secretary’s office (later becoming the Department of Internal Affairs) as a temporary junior clerk. He rose through the ranks to become Secretary of Internal Affairs, advising ministers and the under-secretary and drafting legislation. His remit was far reaching: local government, physical welfare, gaming, racing, the care of overseas guests and cultural patronage all came within his jurisdiction.
He was at the helm in 1936 when the constitutional crises began to unfold in Britain over the new King’s relationship with a divorcee Mrs Wallis Simpson. The Cabinet of the New Zealand, of which Heenan was a member, waited throughout the night for confirmation from London that the King intended to abdicate. The decision had significant constitutional significance for New Zealand as one of the King’s domains.
In an unpublished memoir Heenan gave a behind the scenes view of the unfolding drama. Before the new King could be proclaimed in New Zealand, a Gazette Extraordinary had to be drafted, printed and a “Proclamation of Accession” ceremony organised. Over the course of four days Heenan he navigated through the conflicting opinions of his political masters about the nature of ceremony.
On December 11 he noted when arriving for work:
“Saw Colonel Mead [from Government House]. He said His Excellency wants a big military display. The Government definitely against a big military display. The upshot of it all being that there was simply to be a Guard of Honour.
Much of his time was taken up by proofreading and correcting the Gazette Extraordinary. He kept finding errors and ommissions, even after the document had been signed by the Governor.
Three days later he notes with little fanfare:
“The proclamation ceremony duly took place.”
Although the government weathered the storm under his guidance, Heenan always considered the New Zealand centennial celebrations of 1939–40, of which he was chief executive officer, to be the highlight of his career. He ensured the celebrations had a permanent legacy by re-naming his department’s Centennial Branch as the Historical Branch and giving it a remit to collect and preserve the country’s historical records.
It gave him another opportunity to support the culture of his nation. Heenan was an avid supporter of art, music and literature.
Through his initiatives the NZ Symphony Orchestra and the State Literary Fund came into being, which providing the foundation for the Arts Council and the Historic Places Trust, and he set up a mechanism to give bursaries for young New Zealander artists to study abroad.
He used his legal talents not only for the benefit of his country’s government but for a number of sporting bodies. He re-wrote the rules of the New Zealand Racing Conference in 1931 and those of the New Zealand Trotting Conference in 1949, and twice revised the rules of the Boxing Association.
In 1949 he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire in recognition of his service as undersecretary of Internal Affairs. He died on October 11 1951, survived by his wife, three sons and daughter.
This is an extensive biography of Sir Joseph Heenan and his illustrious career in New Zealand Biographies