History

Our story traverses 175 years of key court cases, major transactions that have shaped the fortunes of many of New Zealand’s most significant companies, and groundbreaking legal work that has changed the way business is done in this country.

  • Summary
  • 1840-1880
  • 1880-1920
  • 1920-1960
  • 1960-2000
  • 2000-2016

​​​​​​​​​​​​​Bell Gully’s place as a cornerstone of New Zealand’s business community was established in 1840, the same year the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. As one of the oldest firms in New Zealand, our fortunes were intrinsically linked with the companies working hard to build a new nation, whose success in doing so means they remain household names. The Auckland Savings Bank, now ASB, the New Zealand Herald, and the Union Bank of Australia, a forerunner of the ANZ, were all among clients of Bell Gully in the 1800’s.

Today, we continue to work for ASB, The New Zealand Herald and ANZ, as well as many others whose place in New Zealand’s business history is assured, companies like Fletcher Building, Fisher & Paykel Appliances and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare, Carter Holt Harvey, Rank Group and Air New Zealand.

Our lawyers were instrumental in setting up some of New Zealan​d’s most well-known businesses, including the BNZ and New Zealand’s first insurance company, NZI. We also played a significant part in civil society throughout the years.​ Alumni include a solicitor-general, three attorneys-general, three chief justices, numerous High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court judges, a premier, a prime minister and a governor-general.

As New Zealand has turned to face the world, so have we, with a client base that has expanded to include some of the most well-known international businesses operating in this country, such as Vodafone, Danone and Pernod Ricard.

In 2015 we celebrated our 175th anniversary.​

  • 1840-1860

    1840 Treaty of Waitangi first signed in the Bay of Islands.


     

    Frederick Whitaker (later Hon. Sir Frederick Whitaker) sets up practice in Kororareka (later Russell) in 1840. This practice will later move to Auckland (where it becomes Auckland’s oldest legal practice) and become Buddle Weir & Co, then eventually part of Bell Gully.

    1850 ​Canterbury settlement founded.


    1853
     ​Whitaker is appointed Speaker of the Legislative Council then Attorney General in 1856 by New Zealand’s first Premier, Henry Sewell. Whitaker will serve as Attorney General six times and as Premier twice.

    1858 ​Fire destroys more than 50 houses and businesses in Auckland.


    1859
    Thomas Russell
    , who will later join Whitaker in partnership, sets up the New Zealand Insurance Company (NZI – now owned by IAG).

  • 1860-1880

    1860​ Charles Izard founds the practice which would become known as Wellington's Bell Gully & Co.

    ​Russell becomes a trustee of the Auckland Savings Bank (ASB). Whitaker is the bank’s solicit​or.

    ​Izard appears before the Supreme Court in a case connected with the Union Bank of Australia (now ANZ Bank), along with William Fox, later Premier of New Zealand.

    1861 ​Gold is discovered near Lawrence in the South Island, and the Central Otago Gold Rush begins.

    ​Bank of New Zealand (BNZ) founded by Russell, Whitaker and others. Whitaker and Russell become partners.

    Thomas Buddle joins the Auckland firm as an articled clerk. He serves the firm for many years, later becoming a partner.  He is a director of NZI for nearly 40 years, as well as a director of the Auckland Gas Company and Colonial Sugar Refining Company.

    1862 ​The first gold shipment leaves Dunedin for London.


    1863 Whitaker is appointed Premier of New Zealand and Attorney General. He holds the position between October 1863 and November 1864.


    1865 
    ​Wellington becomes capital of the colony. 

    1867 The Maori Representation Act introduces four Māori electorates and the first Māori elections are held the following year.

    1864 ​Izard is appointed Crown Solicitor.



    1878
     Harry Bell
     (later Rt Hon. Sir Francis Bell) is first appointed as Crown Solicitor, a role he holds twice, between 1878 to 1890, and from 1902 to 1910. He goes on to become the first Commissioner of State Forests and serves as Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister of Immigration, Minister of External Affairs and Prime Minister.

  • 1880-1900

    1881 ​Izard becomes a founding director of the Wellington and Manawatu Railway Company, which in 1908 became part of the New Zealand Railways Department (the forerunner of KiwiRail Holdings).

    1882 ​First shipment of frozen meat leaves New Zealand for England.

    ​Whitaker is named Premier of New Zealand for the second time.

    1886 ​Mt Tarawera erupts destroying the famed Pink and White Terraces and killing 153 people.

    1886 Oil is discovered in Taranaki.

    Hugh Gully joins the Wellington practice which is renamed Bell, Gully and Izard, and takes over the role of Crown Solicitor from Bell in 1890.

    1887 ​Te Heuheu Tukino IV presents the Tongariro National Park to New Zealand. It is the country’s first national park.

    1890-91 ​Serious outbreaks of typhoid fever occur in Wellington.

    Russell launches the Waihi Goldmining Company​.


    1892 Bell becomes Mayor of Wellington, and establishes the city’s first proper rubbish disposal service and drainage scheme.

    1893 ​Suffrage brings wider opportunities for women, and New Zealand becomes the first country to give women the vote.

    ​Bell Gully and Izard employ​s a female typist, Miss Barnicoat, the first in a Wellington legal office.

  • 1900-1920

    1905 ​Bell Gully and Izard lawyer, Ernest Upham, plays for New Zealand twice against Australia, 25 years before New Zealand gains test status.  He is a founder of the Wellington Cricket Association.

    1907 ​Bell is appointed King’s Counsel; one of the first ten named in New Zealand.

    1913 Waterfront strikes in Auckland and Wellington.

    1914 World War I breaks out and New Zealand forces join in support of Britain.

    ​The Auckland practice loses its youngest partner, Harold Buddle, to the army and the firm is left with two working partners and fifteen staff, six of whom were women on wages.

    1917 William Henry Dillon Bell, son of Sir Francis Bell and a partner in the Wellington firm, is killed in action in France.

    1918 Spanish influenza rages through New Zealand, killing more than 8500 people.

    Creation of power boards for electricity distribution.

    ​A law clerk in the Auckland’s practice recalled work in this year consisted mostly of winding up deceased estates, leading him to assume this was the major role of a solicitor.

    1919 Humphrey O’Leary (later the Rt Hon. Sir Humphrey Francis O’Leary), joins the partnership, bringing a reputation for winning jury cases (at one time he has a nine-year record of unbeaten wins). The son of a blacksmith, he represented strikers in the 1913 waterfront strike. 

  • 1920-1940

    1920 New Zealand gets mandate to govern Western Samoa at the League of Nations.​

    1922 New Zealand Meat Producers Board established and given control of New Zealand meat exports.

    Sir Francis Bell represents New Zealand at the League of Nations.

    1923 New Zealand Dairy Board created and given control of New Zealand dairy exports.Carl Buddle joins as a partner in Auckland having returned from war severely wounded.

    1925 ​Sir Francis Bell, serving as Acting Prime Minister as William Massey’s health fails, is named as Prime Minister after the death of Massey. He is Prime Minister for just 16 days, declining to take up the role permanently. It is the shortest tenure in that office in New Zealand’s history.

    1926 ​National public broadcasting begins in New Zealand.

    ​Fletchers Construction begins building a four-story building for the Wellington firm, at that time described as the most modern in the city.

    1929 The Great Depression begins.


     

    1931 Hawkes Bay earthquake kills 256 people.

    ​When the Depression is at its deepest, there are no dismissals in the Wellington office, but no new staff are taken on and those remaining have salary cuts.

    1932 ​A series of riots by the unemployed rock Auckland, Dunedin and Christchurch​

    ​Several staff members are enrolled as special constables during the riots, although not called for duty.

    1935 Air services begin across the Cook Straight.

    Legendary cricketer ‘Ernie’ Upham dies, having spent his entire working life of 45 years with Bell Gully. Although never qualified, he had a great knowledge of Māori law, a practice present since the beginnings of the Wellington firm. He was known as the ‘White Rangatira’ among Māori people.  

    1939 ​World War II begins.

    ​Auckland partner Peter Buddle is the first Auckland partner to join the army in the war years, while another partner, Clifford ‘Kip’ Richmond (later Rt Hon. Sir Clifford Parris Richmond), joined General Bernard Freyberg’s staff after three years as an officer with the 4th Field Regiment in the Middle East and Italy.

  • 1940-1960


     1942 Food rationing introduced during World War II.​

    1940 ​Joe Hore, the acknowledged New Zealand authority advising ins​urance firms on workers compensation joined the partnership in Auckland.

    1945 New Zealand signs United Nations charter.

    ​Herbert Evans retires from the Wellington partnership to take up appointment as Solicitor General. 

    Rt Hon. Sir Michael Myers retires after 16 years as Chief Justice and is succeeded by another Bell Gully partner, Humphrey O’Leary (1945).

    1946 ​Bank of New Zealand nationalised.

    1947 ​A catastrophic fire at Christchurch department store Ballantynes resulted in the loss of 41 lives.

    Denis Blundell (later Sir Edward Denis Blundell) appears before the Royal Commission to inquire into the Ballantynes fire, as counsel for the insurance underwriters.

    1950 New Zealand sends naval and ground forces to the Korean War.

    Christchurch (Harewood) Airport becomes New Zealand's first international airport, having opened a decade earlier.

    Lyndsay Papps, who goes on to invent the ‘open-ended debenture’ and become a well-known company director, joins the firm.

    1951 ANZUS treaty signed between New Zealand, Australia and the US.

    ​Wellington-based partner Bill Buxton advises on the first big bank merger: the amalgamation of the Union Bank of Australia with the Bank of Australasia to create the ANZ.


     

    1952 Howard Richmond becomes Kings Counsel, one of three practioners admitted together, a first for the Auckland legal profession.

    1953 ​Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay become the first to climb Mt Everest.

    Railway disaster at Tangiwai, 151 people die.

    1955 ​Pulp and paper mill opens at Kawerau.


    1957 Wellington partner Dick Wild (later Rt Hon. Sir Herbert Richard Churton Wild) takes over from Herbert Evans as Solicitor General.

  • 1960-1980


    1960 Clifford Richmond is sworn in as a Judge of the Supreme Court.

    1961 ​​Capital punishment abolished in New Zealand.

    1964 Whangarei gets an oil refinery, with the opening of Marsden Point.


    1965 New Zealand combat forces sent to Vietnam.Bell Gully partners represent the publishers of James Baldwin’s Another Country in the first application heard by the Indecent Publications Tribunal in 1965.

    1966 ​An international airport opens in Auckland.

    Dick Wild (later Rt Hol. Sir Herbert Richard Churton Wild) becomes Chief Justice of New Zealand.


    ​​1967 Decimal currency is introduced .

    Wellington partner Edward Denis Blundell is knighted. Sir Denis is appointed High Commissioner for New Zealand in Great Britain in 1968.

    1968 The inter-island ferry Wahine sinks in Wellington Harbour with the loss of 51 lives.

    ​Wellington’s Bell Gully & Co. employs its first female law clerk, Geraldine Conway.

    1971 ​An aluminium smelter begins operating at Tiwai Point.

    1972 Equal Pay Act passed.

    Des Dalgety is appointed to the board of Air New Zealand. He is involved in the merger of Air New Zealand and NAC and a member of the board at the time of the Erebus disaster. During the 1970’s he acts for Sir Robert Muldoon in some highly publicised libel cases.

    Sir Denis Blundell is appointed the first New Zealand-born Governer General of New Zealand.

    ​​

    1974 Auckland partner Maurice Casey (later Rt Hon. Maurice Eugene Casey) accepts an invitation to become a Judge of the New Zealand Supreme Court in Christchurch.

    1976 Metric system introduced in New Zealand.


    1979 ​Laurence Grieg (later Hon. Laurence Murray Grieg) retires from the partnership to ​become a Supreme Cou​​rt judge.​

  • 1980-2000

    1981 South African rugby team's tour causes widespread protest.


    1982 Wage, price and rent freeze imposed.​Bell Gully partners frequently visit Auckland to deal with counterparts at Buddle Weir: both firms are involved in the 1982 merger of Fletcher Holdings, Challenge Corporation and Tasman Pulp and Paper.

    1984 Finance Minister Roger Douglas begins deregulation of New Zealand economy.

    ​Wellington’s Bell Gully and Auckland’s Buddle Weir merge to form Bell Gully Buddle Weir. The merger was first raised in talks as early as 1969.

    1985 ​​Waitangi Tribunal given power to hear grievances arising since 1840.

    New Zealand declines visit of USS Buchanan under anti-nuclear policy.

    1986 ​Goods and Services Tax is introduced.

    Mary Matson is the first woman to join the partnership​.​Wellington partners act for Goodman Fielder in Goodman Fielder Ltd v Commerce Commission [1987] 2 NZLR 10, having previously been involved in a series of acquisitions which culminated in the Goodman Fielder Wattie merger.

    1987 A major earthquake strikes Edgecumbe in March.

    New Zealand sharemarket crashes in October, which will have far-reaching effects on the New Zealand economy.

    ​The firm acts in one of New Zealand’s most famous cases – Spycatcher. Bell Gully acts for the Attorney General of the United Kingdom, and given only hours to seek an interim injunction, stops Wellington Newspapers from publishing extracts from Peter Wright’s book Spycatcher in the Dominion newspaper (1987-1988).

    1989 Bell Gully partners advise on a NZ$160 million damages claim that goes to the High Court in April, as a result of the Edgecumbe earthquake.
    1990 Commonweath Games held in Auckland.
    Telecom sold for NZ$4.25 billion.

    1992 Sealord Fisheries deal between the Crown and Māori interests (1992).


     

    ​​1995 Resumption of French nuclear tests in the Pacific lead to launch of protest flotilla from New Zealand.

    1996 ​Bell Gully acts for Fletcher Challenge in acquiring Forestry Corporation of New Zealand from the New Zealand Government, during the privatisation of its state-owned forests.

    The firm advises on all aspects of the Fletcher Challenge separation, which includes a number of significant transactions including Fletcher Challenge Limited’s split into letter stocks, the sale of Fletcher Paper to Norske Skog, the sale of Fletcher Energy to Shell/Apache, and the IPOs of Fletcher Building and Rubicon.

    1997 Auckland’s Sky Tower is opened.

    Bell Gully advises Ngāi Tahu in relation to Ngāi Tahu’s 1997 Settlement with the Crown. 

  • 2000-2016

    2001-2002 ​​The New Zealand Government bails out Air New Zealand, purchases a 76.5% share in the airline.

    2001 The firm advises on Fisher & Paykel’s separation into two entities, Fisher & Paykel Appliances and Fisher & Paykel Healthecare. 

    2004 ​Foreshore and Seabed Act is passed.

    2003 Bell Gully advises ANZ on its acquisition of National Bank of New Zealand from Lloyds TSB – the largest deal in New Zealand in 2003.


    2005 The firm is New Zealand legal adviser to Goodman Fielder on its IPO of shares and ASX/NZX listing, the largest IPO in Australasia.


     

    2007 ​The Kiwisaver retirement savings scheme is introduced.

    2006-2008 ​Bell Gully acts for Nga Kaihautu o Te Arawa Executive Council on its agreement in principle to settle a large number of Te Arawa's Treaty of Waitangi historical claims. The settlement package covers approximately 54 Treaty claims of the Te Arawa iwi (tribe) and hapu (sub-tribes), which collectively comprise over 20,000 people. 

    2008 ​Bell Gully creates a world first in carbon trading, by purchasing the first Certified Emission Reduction units to be transferred between countries. The Gold Standard units, originating from a biomass project in India, and additional units purchased, are used to offset Bell Gully's own emissions.

    2010 A magnitude 7.1 earthquake strikes the Canterbury Region, followed by a magnitude 6.3 earthquake in 2011 which causes the loss of 184 lives.

    ​Bell Gully advises Crown Fibre Holdings, a Government owned investment vehicle, on the New Zealand Government's ultra-fast broadband initiative, which includes a number of transactions in 2010-2011.



     


    2014 New Zealand wins a seat on the United Nations Security Council, starting from 2015​.






    2015
     The country holds a binding referendum on options for an alternative design for New Zealand's national flag, with a second referendum to be held in 2016 to decide between the chosen option and existing flag.​



    2016 More commonly known as Brexit, following a referendum held in June 2016, the United Kingdom withd​rew from the European Union​​. 

    Republican nominee, businessman and reality television star, Donald Trump, was elected as the 45th President of the United States.

    2013 ​The firm advises the Crown on the design and implementation of the Mixed Ownership Model, and subsequently on the initial public offerings of Mighty River Power and of Meridian in 2013.​

    Bell Gully acts for the NZ Transport Agency on the procurement of a new Road of National Significance, the Transmission Gully Motorway. It is the first PPP project in New Zealand that relates to roading infrastructure. It is the third PPP to reach financial close since 2012 - a further two complete in 2015. Bell Gully advises the New Zealand Government on each of these.

    Bell Gully advises long-term client Contact Energy on the sale of Origin's 53% stake in Contact Energy in a block trade worth approximately NZ$1.81 billion. This is the first time a ‘cleansing notice’ has been issued for a block trade in New Zealand, and a first for a block trade to retail investors.​ 

    Bell Gully advises​ Nuplex Industries on its acquisition by Allnex by way of scheme of arrangement. The billion-dollar transaction is the largest completed takeover involving a New Zealand target company in a decade and was the first large takeover to be implemented by way of scheme of arrangement under the new regime for schemes, which came into force in 2014.​​​