He was born in Rotorua and was educated at Maketu Primary School and Rotorua High and Grammar School where he was Dux, head prefect and holder of the general excellence prize. He was awarded a Ngarimu University Scholarship with which he studied medicine at the University of Otago from 1949-1954, graduating M.B, Ch.B (NZ) in 1954. Following his graduation, he was a house surgeon at Waikato Hospital, Hamilton, a Demonstrator in Anatomy at the School of Medicine in Dunedin, and Resident Surgical Officer at the Dunedin Public Hospital. In 1958 he was awarded a Ngarimu Post-Graduate Scholarship and trained at the Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh, graduating in 1959 with F.R.C.S. (Edinburgh). He was a resident surgeon at Oswestry’s Orthopaedic Hospital and graduated with F.R.C.S. (Eng) in 1961. Returning to New Zealand, Tapsell was appointed Orthopaedic Surgeon to the Rotorua group of hospitals. In 1964 he travelled overseas and at the invitation of the Japanese Rheumatism Association visited Japan and the Far East. In 1966 he visited the United States on a Foreign Leader Grant. He was elected as one of New Zealand’s three outstanding young men in 1967 and was awarded the M.B.E. in 1968 for services to medicine. In 1981 Tapsell entered Parliament as M.P. for Eastern Māori, a seat he held until 1996. In 1984 he was appointed to Cabinet and served as Minister of Internal Affairs, Civil Defence, Minister for the Arts, Associate Minister for Local Government and Tourism from In 1986 he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Architects of New Zealand F.I.A.N.Z. (Hon) for his work in promoting the Museum of New Zealand. From 1987-1989 he was Minister of Police and from 1987-1990 was Minister of Forestry and Recreation and Sport. He was Minister of Lands, Minister of Survey and Land Information, and Minister in Charge of the Valuation Department from In 1989, Tapsell was appointed as Minister of Science and D.S.I.R., and in 1990 was Minister of Defence. In 1994 he was appointed Speaker of the House of Representatives. He was Deputy Mayor of Rotorua City from 1979-1983 and chaired the New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute from Tapsell was a member of the University of Waikato Council in 1985 and of the Waikato Teachers’ Training College Council in 1976. He was a member of the Physical Environment Conference, Tourist Development Council, and Māori Advisory Council of Health. He was Deputy Chairman of the Council for Recreation & Sport. Tapsell was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal in 1977 and the New Zealand 1990 Commemoration Medal. In 1996 he was made an Honorary Doctor of Law (L.L.D) by the University of Otago and in 1997 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Waikato. He played rugby for Otago and New Zealand Universities, and was Vice Captain of the Māori All Blacks in 1954. He wrote non-fiction articles and had a number of papers published in Japanese and American journals. He lived in Rotorua, was married to Diane who died in 2008 and had four children.
- Correspondence with Sir Peter Tapsell 23 Nov. 1992, 14 Feb. 1998, and 2 Oct. 2004.
- The Hon. Peter Tapsell’s Curriculum Vitae (Oct. 1997).
- Te Ao Hou 23 (1958): 49.
- Te Ao Hou 38 (1962): 22.
- Te Ao Hou 57 (1966): 26.
- O’Regan, Stephen. "Māori Health and Education." PPTA Journal Term 2 (1983): 22-27. Rpt. in Tu Tangata 14 (Oct./Nov. 1983): 22-25.
- In this interview, Tapsell discusses various options that might remedy the high failure rate of Māori young people at school in terms of changes to syllabus. He discusses various ideas for modern marae - making them ‘a modern day learning centre’ with computers, videos and a recreational sports centre and talks briefly about gender roles and equality.
- "Environmental Pollution." Health in the 1970’s: a collection of informed opinions by the following contributors Peter W. Tapsell et al. Ed. D. P. Kennedy. Christchurch, N.Z.: N. M. Peryer, 1970. 9-14.
- Tapsell defines environmental pollution as ‘the unfavourable alteration of our surroundings, wholly, or largely as the result of man’s activities.’ He cites examples of pollution emerging from the disposal of waste - human and industrial, chemicals used in agriculture, erosion due to intensive farming, plus water, air and noise pollution. Tapsell argues for regional control, the introduction of incentives to encourage efforts to counter pollution, the pursuit of high standards of conservation by national and local bodies and more research.
- "Te Wairua Māori." Future Times: Journal of the New Zealand Futures Autumn (1989): 5.
- Tapsell notes the huge number of changes Māori have had ‘to grapple with’ over the last 150 years and outlines the structure and subsistence of traditional Māori society.
- "Rogernomics and Māori Development Speech to Māori Businessmen’s Association, Gisborne, 1930." Te Iwi o Aotearoa 18 (Feb 1989): 22.
- In this speech given on 16 January 1989 to the Māori Businessmen’s Association in Gisborne, Tapsell examines the impact of Rogernomics on Māori and comments on the absence of a Māori representative body in government negotiations. He notes that while the New Zealand Māori Council tends to be ‘the most representative body’ it does not have a clear mandate from the Māori people and argues for a secret ballot to be conducted amongst all Māori to elect representatives for regional councils. Tapsell looks at the difficulties faced in the process of ‘phasing out’ the Department of Māori Affairs and instituting ‘Iwi Authorities’, and examines "Rogernomics and unemployment’.
- "Peter Tapsell." Māori Sovereignty: The Māori Perspective. Hineani Melbourne. Auckland, N.Z.: Hodder Moa Beckett, 1995. 63-70.
- In this discussion on Māori sovereignty with Hineani Melbourne, Tapsell discusses what he sees as a need for a democratically elected national Māori organisation to represent Māori, as opposed to iwi representations. He also speaks of the need to retain the culture, language and discipline of traditional Māoridom. He maintains that tino rangātiratanga has to be earned by each successive generation working the land.
- "Ngarimu Awards For this Year." Te Ao Hou 23 (1958): 49.
- A brief biography of Tapsell who was awarded a Ngarimu Post-Graduate Scholarship in 1958.
- "Brief Notices." Te Ao Hou 38 (1962): 22.
- A brief note on Tapsell on his return from three year’s study in Britain on a Ngarimu scholarship.
- "People and Places." Te Ao Hou 57 (1966): 26.
- Reports on Tapsell’s proposed State Department tour of arthritis clinics in USA in 1966.
- "Peter Tapsell Has Wide-Ranging Portfolio." Tu Tangata 20 (1984): 11.
- An outline of Tapsell’s aims as the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Arts, and Civil Defence, and Associate Minister of Tourism and Local Government.
- Sallee, Nikitin. "Newest MP Expects Ruffled Feathers." Tu Tangata 6 (1982): 34.
- Tapsell articulates his opinion on various Māori issues including the Bastion Point protests, the ratification of the Treaty of Waitangi, protests on Waitangi Day, the Mana Motuhake party and the retention of the Māori seats.
- Shuttleworth,Kate. "Sir Peter Tapsell Dies." http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10797095
- "Former House Speaker Sir Peeter Tapsell Passes Away." http://tvnz.co.nz/national-news/former-house-speaker-sir-peter-tapsell-passes-away-4820053
- "Tributes to Sir Peter Tapsell (update)." http://www.rotoruadailypost.co.nz/news/rotoruas-sir-peter-tapsell-dies/1332168/