Sunday, July 10, 2011



by his daughters
Wendy Cutfield & Phyllis Potter

George and Stella Peterson
George Conrad Petersen was born in Mauriceville West, Wairarapa, a pioneer settlement of predominately Danish immigrants.  The sixth child in a family of six sons and two daughters, his parents were both Danish by birth.  His father was Jens Peter Petersen, carpenter and farmer, who had emigrated from North Jutland as a young man of 18 in 1875, while his mother, Anna Katrine, nee Nielsen also from Jutland, had been brought to New Zealand by her parents as a child in 1872. 

He was educated at the Mauriceville West Primary School and at the Masterton District High School.  In 1916 he moved with his parents to Palmerston North where he worked as a law clerk and began studies in law.  In 1923 he was admitted to the bar as a Barrister and Solicitor and for 48 years continued as a highly respected member of his profession. 

In 1926 he married Miss Stella Cairns of Masterton, their family comprising of one son and two daughters.  In 1966 three years after the death of his first wife, he married Mrs. Coyla Foote who also predeceased him. 

Jens P., Anna, George P., Alice P., Katherine C., Colin C., Colin P.
Patricia P., Wendy PC, Phillis PP, Jean P. 
G.C. Petersen took a keen and practical interest in the history and development of the city of Palmerston North and its surrounding country district, many of whose early settlers were of Danish origin.  A member of the City Council from 1947 to 1950 he later became historian to the city, writing "Pioneering Days of Palmerston North" and, commissioned by the City Council, "Palmerston North:  A Centennial History". 

The author of several historical works, two in particular have earned him the description of historian of Scandinavian settlement in New Zealand.  "Forest Holmes", published in 1952, tells the story of the Scandinavian immigrants who came to New Zealand as part of Vogel's Public Works and Immigration Scheme.  In this book he vividly describes the struggles of his own people of the Wairarapa in their efforts to build homes and a new life for themselves and their families and the substantial contribution they made in developing the country. 

Wendy, George, Pat
George's children and grand children
"D.G. Monrad", published in 1966, gives an account of the famed Danish Bishop and Prime Minister who, falling into public disfavor after the loss of the Danish provinces of Schlesvig and Holstein in 1964, found it politic to come and live in New Zealand for some years.  With his wife and family Monrad established a home at Karere, a few miles from Palmerston North, clearing the bush for farmland, introducing cattle and sheep, experimenting in the growing of tobacco, and encouraging many other Danes to New Zealand. 

In 1964, in recognition of his contribution to New Zealand history, Massey University awarded G.C. Petersen the honorary degree of Doctor of Literature.

Early in World War Two he played an active part in founding the Anglo-Danish Society of Palmerston North.  Folk of Danish descent met regularly with the aim of raising money to send food and clothing to Denmark, invaded by the Nazis, and of encouraging the Danish people in this time by assuring them they were not forgotten by Danes living overseas. 

Though the purpose was serious, the members enjoyed the social interaction, singing Danish songs and eating food made from Danish recipes, while those who still had relatives in Denmark felt comforted and supported by joining with people of similar background. 

During this time also he was appointed Hon. Vice-Consul, later Consul for Denmark.  The Royal Danish Consulate in Wellington was closed during the war years, and he traveled to Wellington regularly to attend to essential diplomatic business. 

The war over, professional diplomats were sent out for three year terms, and Mr. Petersen acted as a liaison to maintain continuity in periods of sometimes months between one holder of the office leaving and the new appointee arriving.  Later, the Consulate having been elevated to Embassy status, he was frequently called upon for advice on local matters. 
Danish funeral pyre 

From his own office in Palmerston North he did much to assist new immigrants from Denmark, to advise on legal problems, and to entertain Danes visiting this county.  He himself visited Denmark on four separate occasions.  His kindness, imagination and understanding for the problems of others, and his long memory for the people he met and the conversation they had together, caused many to know him as their friend. 

For the long years of honorary service given to Denmark G.C. Petersen was in 1958 made Ridder af Dannebrog, and in 1968 this Order was raised to First Grade.  Other Danish awards were the King Christian X Freedom Medal, the Medal of Liberation and the Galatea Medal. 

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