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Origins of the New Zealand Flag (1840-1898)

(1840-1902)

Last modified: 2014-06-29 by ian macdonald
Keywords: union jack | nz | blue ensign | stars: southern cross | stars: 4 | star: 5 points (fimbriated) | markham (albert hastings) |
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Chronological Outline

  • 1840. Treaty of Waitangi. Union Jack becomes national flag.*
  • 1867. First New Zealand Blue Ensign with red letters NZ.
  • 1869. Second New Zealand Blue Ensign with red stars. Also Union Jack with white stars, and Blue Pennant with red stars.
  • 1874. Standard pattern governor's flag replaces Jack.
  • 1898. New Zealand Government requests Red and Blue Ensigns with red stars on a white circle.
  • 1900. January. Ensigns with a white circle introduced.
              July. New Zealand Ensign Bill to make former Blue Ensign the national flag.
              September. New Zealand Parliament passes Bill.
              October. Act is sent to London for Royal Assent.
  • 1901. March. Admiralty object to the Act
              June. Proposed amendment is sent to London.
              September. Admiralty agree to amendment.
              October. The 'New Zealand Ensign Bill 1901' introduced.
              November. New Zealand Parliament passes Bill.
  • 1902. March. Act receives Royal Assent.
              June. Blue Ensign is proclaimed in New Zealand Gazette.
  • 1903. White stars replace disc on Red Ensign.
David Prothero, 1 January 2005
* added by editor


Union Jack (1840-1902)

[ Union Jack ] image by António Martins

The Flag of the United Tribes was made redundant by the enactment of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, which made the Union Jack the (second) national flag.
Stuart Park, 29 March 1997

As far as I know, the Union Jack remained the land flag of New Zealand until 1902, though it seems possible that the plain Red Ensign had some unofficial use.
David Prothero, 16 December 1998


"NZ" blue ensign (1867-1869)

[ "NZ" blue ensign ] image by Martin Grieve, 1 Jan 2005

New Zealand was the first colony to implement the Admiralty instruction that any vessel provided and used under the 3rd section of the 1865 Colonial Defence Act should wear the Blue Ensign with the seal or badge of the colony in the fly. A warrant signed by the Governor, Sir George Grey, and published in the New Zealand Gazette on 10th January 1867, directed that all vessels in the service of the colony should wear the Blue Ensign with letters NZ in red in the fly.

On an ensign of ten feet, each letter was to extend over an area not less than eight inches by eight inches, and was to be surrounded by a margin of white not less than one inch wide. [3m. 20cm. 25mm] Dimensions to vary proportionally in larger or smaller flags. The image by Martin Grieve, is based on the sketch enclosed with a despatch from Grey to the Colonial Secretary in London.
David Prothero, 1 January 2005


Introduction of current blue ensign (1869- )

[ National Flag of New Zealand ] image by Sam Lockton, 31 August 2002

New flags were announced in the New Zealand Gazette, Saturday 23rd October 1869. [see the announcement]
A Blue Ensign with "four five-pointed red stars in the fly, with white borders to correspond to the colouring of the Jack"; a Jack with "four five pointed white stars on the red ground of the St George's Cross"; and a Pennant with "four stars near the staff similar to those in the ensign":

[1869 pennant]
image by Martin Grieve, 2 January 2005

The jack is a misinterpretation of the Order in Council of 7th August 1869; “... Governors ...administering the Governments of British Colonies and Dependencies be authorised to fly the Union Jack, with the Arms or Badge of the Colony emblazoned in the centre thereof.” It seems to have been assumed that since the four stars of the Southern Cross on the Blue Ensign were spread across the whole fly and not confined to a small circle, the stars on the Union Jack should be similarly spread.

The Blue Ensign, similar to the present New Zealand flag, was designed by A.H.Markham when he was First Lieutenant of the sloop H.M.S.Blanche, between March 1868 and October 1871. The following extract is from page 42 of The Life of Sir Albert Hastings Markham, by M.E. and F.A.Markham, published by Cambridge University Press in 1927:

During his term of service on the Australian Station an incident occurred which had an interesting development and is not generally known. It was the time of the beginning of the New Zealand Marine, which then consisted of a single ship. In quite an informal way Markham was asked if he could suggest a distinctive flag. 'You have already the right', he replied, «to fly the Blue Ensign, why not add to it the stars of the Southern Cross?» The suggestion was received with delight. A drawing was made on board the Blanche, and duly despatched. After a short interval it was returned with an appreciative note, asking that the design might be enlarged, as the stars would hardly shew sufficiently, and accompanied by a parody on Lewis Carroll's lines: 'Will you walk a little faster?' with the refrain — 'Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, magnify the star?' The star was accordingly “magnified”, and the flag now floats over the shipping of New Zealand.

Later Markham became well known as an Arctic explorer [see this page], and attained the rank of full Admiral in 1903, despite a disaster during fleet manoeuvres in 1893, when, as Rear-Admiral Mediterranean Fleet, he rammed and sank the flagship of his Commander-in-Chief.

The mistake in the Jack was not corrected until 29th October 1874 when it was announced, “... that the seal or badge to be worn in the Union Jack used by the Governor of New Zealand when embarked in any boat or other vessel shall be the Southern Cross as represented by four five-pointed red stars emblazoned on the white shield aforesaid, and the monogram NZ in red letters in the centre of the Southern Cross.”
David Prothero, 2 January 2005

A CD by local (Dunedin) musician Robert Scott called Songs of Otago's Past features a rather intriguing photograph on its back cover.

Unfortunately, there is no date on the photograph. My initial reaction, due to the obvious large Italian flag, was that it was connected with WW 1 victory commemorations (Italians and New Zealanders fought alongside each other in parts of the WW1 campaigns, IIRC). But the feel is distinctly older, circa 1900. This is possible - Port Chalmers (which the photograph appears to be of) is - as the name implies - a port town, and any local festivals are often accompanied by the flying of any flags and ensigns left by local visiting ships (the last street festival I went to there featured, among others, a Ghanaian merchant ensign, for instance).

The flags shown in the photo are an intriguing mix, however, including one large one of particular note. among the Union Jacks, "White dusters", New Zealand flags (current design) and Italian flag is what looks like a Boy Scout flag and also - intriguingly - a large flag which seems to me to be a design I'd heard about but never seen, and which I can't find on our website: A New Zealand flag where the stars are placed over the Union Jack canton, a la Niue. Is this what I see in this picture, or is there another possibility for what this flag might be?
James Dignan, 6 October 2005

The canton and the rest of the flag do not look a good match. The canton appears to have faded more than the other material. This suggests that it is not a real flag, but a piece of street decoration which includes a real flag as a canton. The canton seems to be a New Zealand Jack, as described in the New Zealand Gazette of Saturday 23rd October 1869.
David Prothero, 8 October 2005


Extracts from The New Zealand Gazette

Here are two extracts from the New Zealand Gazette. There were no illustrations in the Gazettes, but the relevant page from each copy has been included in the Colonial Office file of General Despatches for 1875 (CO 323/321) with a painting of the governor's flag, as described, and a New Zealand Blue Ensign which is the same as the modern flag except that the upper star and the two middle stars are grouped together while the lower star is on its own. My interpretation is that the 1869 proclamation was referring to the UJ as a separate flag, (not to the UJ in the canton of the Blue Ensign) with the stars grouped in the centre of the cross, not spread along the arms, and that the 1874 proclamation corrects this.

New Zealand Gazette: Saturday October 23 1869.
Whereas by a Proclamation bearing date the 10th day of January One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty Seven the letters NZ were temporarily appointed as the badge of New Zealand; And whereas it is expedient to adopt a permanent device; Now therefore I Sir George Ferguson Bowen, the Governor of the colony of New Zealand, do hereby appoint that the seal and badge in future to be worn, in accordance with the Queen's Regulations, as the distinctive badge of the colony, by all vessels belonging to or permanently employed in the service of the Colonial Government of New Zealand, shall be the Southern Cross, as represented in the Blue Ensign by four five-pointed red stars in the fly, with white borders to correspond to the colouring of the Jack; in the Jack by four five-pointed white stars on the red ground of the St George's Cross; and in the pendant by four stars near the staff similar to those in the Ensign. And I do further order that the temporary badge consisting of letters NZ at present in use in colonial vessels shall from and after this date be discontinued.
Wellington. 23rd October 1869. W.Gisborne.

New Zealand Gazette. Thursday October 29th 1874.
Whereas by a Proclamation bearing date the 23rd day of October One Thousand Eight Hundred and Sixty Nine it was among other things appointed that the seal and badge to be worn in accordance with Queen's Regulations on the distinctive badge of colony should be the Southern Cross as represented in the flag known as the Union Jack by four five-pointed white stars on the red ground of the St George's Cross; And whereas by order of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty it has been directed that the flag to be used by Governors of Her Majesty's dominions in foreign parts, and by Governors of all ranks and denominations administering the Governments of British Colonies or Dependencies when embarked in boats or other vessels is
the Union Jack with the arms or badge of the Colony emblazoned in the centre thereof on a white shield surrounded by a green garland. Now therefore I the Right Honourable Sir James Fergusson, Baronet, Governor of the Colony of New Zealand, do hereby appoint that the seal or badge to be worn in the Union Jack used by the Governor of New Zealand when embarked in any boat or other vessel shall be the Southern Cross as represented by four five-pointed red stars emblazoned on the white shield aforesaid, and the monogram NZ in red letters in the centre of the Southern Cross.
Wellington 28th October 1874. Daniel Pollen.

David Prothero, 6 April 2000


 
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