Sir Bernard Fergusson - Obituaries
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Obituary for Lord Ballantrae which appeared in the London Times November 29th, 1980.    Contributed by Ronald Stirling who served under his command in the 1st Battalion of the Black Watch.

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BARON BALLANTRAE OF AUCHAIRNE AND OF THE BAY OF ISLANDS, KT, GCMG, GCVO, DSO, OBE (1911-1980) Geographical Journal (London) v. 147, Part 2, July 1981 p.274

Bernard Fergusson, the name by which most of his legion of friends will remember him was born in 1911. His active life covered the middle years of this century and reads like the history of Britain itself during those years. It is not possible to catalogue more than the most outstanding of his achievements. He was of great value to the ROS, although he was a pioneer rather than an explorer. He was elected a Life Fellow in October 1945, and served as a Member of Council from 1954—57. His travels and his knowledge provided most useful guidance to a number of our Member Expeditions He was involved in a great many different activities He was one of those people whose most routine activities were never prosaic, and he could talk to any and every man as a friend and an equal.

His father, a First World War General, had refused to allow Bernard to go to Sandhurst wearing spectacles which he needed as one of his eyes was weak, and insisted that he joined that august Academy wearing a monocle. That monocle probably ranks as the most famous of its kind and, when he was serving with the Chindits in Burma, it was necessary to have an air drop of monocles to make good his supply. The tall Scottish officer with the monocle became familiar to many men of many races. He joined the Black Watch from Sandhurst and later commanded them. He served in Palestine before the War, where, in time, he was to become Assistant Inspector General of Police. He was ADC to that great Black Watch Officer, Wavell, and wrote an excellent life of him as well as a number of other highly readable books. When the Second World War came, he commanded an Infantry Brigade in Palestine, served on the Planning Staff in India, and then with Wingate’s Expedition in Burma.

After filling many other positions, he was in the Suez Operation and then became Governor General of New Zealand which his father and grandfather had been before him. He loved that country deeply. At his Memorial Service in London, one of the two Lessons was read in the Maori language, of which Bernard made himself a master. He kept in close touch with New Zealand as Chairman of the London Board of the Bank of New Zealand, and, when he was created a peer, chose to blend Scotland and New Zealand in his title. In the Biafra War in West Africa, he was a member of the International Observer Team. He was able to indulge to the full his love of the world of literature as Chairman of the British Council in 1974, and his strong feeling for religion as Lord High Commissioner for the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In 1974, the Queen conferred upon him the highest of all Scotland’s Honours, the Knight of the Thistle. As a deeply patriotic Scot he found much happiness in his service as Chancellor of St Andrew’s University.

He enjoyed a wonderfully happy marriage, tragically terminated by his wife’s death in an accident not very many months before his own. Many of his achievements were a collision between the man and the occasion, and there were many occasions highly relevant to his talents in those fifty years of a tormented century. History will not often see his like.


Bernard Edward Fergusson, Baron Ballantrae of Auchairne and the Bay of Islands, was the last of the British-born governors-general. And if he is the governor-general most kindly remembered over many years, it may be for three reasons. The first and simplest was that he and Lady Ballantrae seemed always to be dazzlingly in love with New Zealand.

They also worked like furies at their job and showed how a governor-general and his wife can usefully extend the functions of their post. Certainly they played the plumes - and - diamonds role when it was required, and he signed state papers and occasionally cautioned the Prime Minister on actions the Government proposed. They gave receptions; they attended them; they cut ribbons.

It was when they left behind these basics of the job, when they called on factories and offices that could not remember being visited by a governor-general, when they visited maraes with obvious pleasure and respect, when they popped into tiny schools, when they made a point of’ calling ‘on the kitchen ‘workers at meeting houses — it was then that they earned and won the, hearts of New Zealanders and became a unifying force.

That was their great achievement. It was also a surprising achievement because, though far from rich, both belonged to families of the sort that can ‘make Britain seem a small, unapproachable and unchangeable village’ controlled by a web of invisible relationships and unstated, assumptions.

‘They were part of that mould but they also belonged ‘to a special stratum that is inhabited by a race of unselfconscious enthusiasts who walk the ways that their own hearts choose. Eccentric is, a description that comes too easily ‘to mind to be exact. With Lord Ballantrae it was simply honesty to self, lack of care’ for what ‘was owed to, his own person as governor-general and an unfashionably vigorous sense of duty

That was what won him his special place. The feeling that whenever he spoke he was unshakably true to himself.

And it was a likable self, which gained, special affection in summertime in the Bay of Islands. From the main street of Paihia anyone could see ‘for weeks on end draped over the veranda rail of his holiday house ‘the same parade. of togs and towels that decorated every other bach for miles around. The sight gained him a thousand "good-old-Fergie" grins and won him an honour richer than ermine and higher than coronets: "He’s one of us."