Monday, 21 January 2008

The Flag of New Zealand

The New Zealand Flag as it is today was brought into being on 12 June 1902 and is the symbol of the realm government and people of New Zealand. Its royal blue background is reminiscent of the blue sea and clear sky surrounding us. The stars of the Southern Cross emphasise this country's location in the South Pacific Ocean. The Union Flag gives recognition to the Country's historical foundations and the fact that New Zealand was once a British colony and dominion.

The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear when a New Zealand built and owned trading ship Sir George Murray was seized by Customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag which was a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand-built ships could not fly under a British flag because of New Zealand's colonial status. Among the passengers on the ship were two high-ranking Māori chiefs. The ship's detainment was reported as arousing indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.

The first flag of New Zealand was adopted on 9 March 1834 by a vote made by the United Tribes of New Zealand, a meeting of Māori chiefs, who later made the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand, at Waitangi in 1835. Three flags were proposed, all purportedly designed by the missionary Henry Williams, who was to play a major role in the translation of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. The Chiefs rejected two other proposals which included the Union Flag, in favour of a modified St George's Cross or the White Ensign. This flag became known as the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand. The need for a flag was pressing, not only because New Zealand-built ships were being impounded in Sydney for not flying a national flag, but also as a symbol of the independence declared by the Māori chiefs.

The flag is still flown on the flag pole at Waitangi, and can be seen on Waitangi Day.

After the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, the British Union Flag was used, although the former United Tribes flag was still used by a number of ships from New Zealand and in many cases on land. The New Zealand Company settlement at Wellington, for example, continued to use the United Tribes flag until ordered to replace it by Governor William Hobson in 1841.

The first flag of New Zealand to be based on the British blue ensign was introduced in 1867 following the Colonial Navy Defence Act 1865, which required all ships owned by colonial governments fly the defaced Royal Navy blue ensign with a Colonial badge. New Zealand did not have a Colonial badge, nor indeed a Coat of Arms of its own at this stage, and so the letters "NZ" were simply added to the blue ensign.

The current flag was introduced in 1869. It was initially used only on government ships, but was adopted as the de facto national flag in a surge of patriotism arising from the Second Boer War in 1902.

There is some debate today as to whether New Zealand should have a new flag. A subject to which I will, doubtless, return.

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