Flag of New Zealand

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New Zealand
Flag of New Zealand.svg
Use National flag and state ensign Normal or de jure version of flag, or obverse side
Proportion 1:2
Adopted 24 March 1902
In use since 1869
Design Blue Ensign defaced with four stars of the Crux Australis in red, outlined in white.

The flag of New Zealand is a defaced Blue Ensign with the Union Flag in the canton, and four red stars with white borders to the right. The stars represent the constellation of Crux, the Southern Cross.[1]

The flag of New Zealand outside the Beehive in Wellington.

New Zealand's first flag, the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, was adopted in 1834, six years before New Zealand became a British colony following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. Chosen by an assembly of Māori chiefs at Waitangi in 1834, the flag was of a St George's Cross with another cross in the canton containing four stars on a blue field. After the formation of the colony in 1840, British ensigns began to be used. The current flag was designed and adopted for use on Colonial ships in 1869 following an Imperial statute and became New Zealand's national flag in 1902.

For several decades there has been debate about changing the flag. A two-stage binding referendum on a flag change is planned to take place in 2015 and 2016, with alternative flag options yet to be decided.[2]


Flag of the United Tribes[edit]

The flag pole at Waitangi, flying (left – right) the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand, the Ensign of the Royal New Zealand Navy and the Union Flag, 5 February 2006.

The need for a flag of New Zealand first became clear when the trading ship Sir George Murray, built in the Hokianga, was seized by Customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag, a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand was not a colony at the time and had no flag. Among the passengers on the ship were two high-ranking Māori chiefs, believed to be Patuone and Taonui. The ship's detainment was reported as arousing indignation among the Māori population. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.[3]

The first flag of New Zealand was adopted 9 (or 20) March 1834 by a vote made by the United Tribes of New Zealand, a meeting of Māori chiefs convened at Waitangi by British resident James Busby. The United Tribes later made the Declaration of Independence of New Zealand at Waitangi in 1835. Three flags were proposed, all 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, which was the flag used by Henry Williams on the Church Missionary Society ships.[4][5] This flag became known as the flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand [6] and was officially gazetted in New South Wales in August 1835, with a general description not mentioning fimbriation or the number of points on the stars.a 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.[4]

Flag of the United Tribes
Proposed flag of New Zealand 1834
Proposed flag not adopted by Māori; it included the Union Flag and lacked sufficient red. 
The Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand.
Initial design of the United Tribes flag. 
Initial design of the United Tribes flag.
The Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand. 

Union Flag[edit]

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 May 1840 (following his declaration of British sovereignty).[4][7]

Flags based on defaced Blue ensign[edit]

First Lieutenant Albert Hastings Markham, designer of the Flag of New Zealand.

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, or indeed a Coat of Arms of its own at this stage, and so the letters "NZ" were simply added to the blue ensign.[8]

In 1869 the First Lieutenant of the Royal Navy vessel HMS Blanche, Albert Hastings Markham, submitted a design to Sir George Bowen, the Governor of New Zealand, for a national ensign for New Zealand. His proposal, incorporating the Southern Cross, was approved.[9] 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. To end confusion between various designs of the flag, the Liberal Government passed the Ensign and Code Signals Bill, which was approved by King Edward VII on 24 March 1902,[10] declaring the flag as New Zealand's national flag. The United Tribes flag design also features on the back of the Second Boer War medals presented to soldiers who served in the war,[11] which indicates that the United Tribes flag was used widely in New Zealand until around this time.

Flags based on defaced Blue ensign
The Blue Ensign.
The flag of New Zealand, 1867–1869.
The flag of New Zealand, 1867–1869. 
Code Signals Flag, 1899.
Code Signals Flag, 1899.[12] 

Flown in battle[edit]

The first time the Flag of New Zealand was flown in battle was from the HMS Achilles during the Battle of the River Plate in 1939.[13]


The national flag is defined in legislation as "the symbol of the Realm, Government, and people of New Zealand"[14] and like most other laws, can be changed by a simple majority in Parliament.

The flag proportion is 1:2 and the colours are red (Pantone 186C), blue (Pantone 280C) and white.[1]

Entrenchment proposal[edit]

In March 1994 the Prime Minister of New Zealand Jim Bolger made statements supporting a move towards a New Zealand republic.[15] In response Christian Democrat MP Graeme Lee introduced a Flags, Anthems, Emblems, and Names Protection Amendment Bill.[16] If passed, the Bill would have entrenched the Act that governs the flag and added New Zealand's anthems, requiring a majority of 65 percent of votes in Parliament before any future legislation could change the flag. The Bill passed its first reading but was defeated at its second reading, 26 votes to 37.


The "Silver fern flag" , one of many proposals for an alternative flag

Debate on keeping or changing the New Zealand Flag started before May 1973, when a remit to change the flag was voted down by the Labour Party at their national conference.[17] In November 1979 when the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet, suggested that the design of the flag should be changed, and sought an artist to design a new flag with a silver fern on the fly. The proposal attracted little support however.[18] In 1998 Prime Minister Jenny Shipley backed Cultural Affairs Minister Marie Hasler's call for the flag to be changed. Shipley, along with the New Zealand Tourism Board, backed the quasi-national silver fern flag, using a white silver fern on a black background as a possible alternative flag, along the lines of the Canadian Maple Leaf Flag. On 5 August 2010 Labour list MP Charles Chauvel introduced a members Bill for a consultative commission followed by a referendum on the New Zealand flag.[19]

On 11 March 2014, Prime Minister John Key announced in a speech his intention to hold a referendum, during the next parliamentary term, on adopting a new flag.[20][21] Following National's re-election the details of the referendum were announced.[2]

Similar flags[edit]

The New Zealand flag was the first national flag to incorporate the stars of the Southern Cross constellation, and remains distinctive as the only national flag that includes only those stars from the constellation that actually form the cross itself. The Australian flag adopted in 1901 also has the Union Flag in the canton and the Southern Cross on the fly. The cross on the New Zealand flag is composed of the four prime stars of the Southern Cross constellation, each being a red five pointed star with a white outline. The Australian flag has six white stars, five of which have seven points (the Commonwealth Star) and a five pointed star, Epsilon Crucis, the smaller star of the Southern Cross constellation which does not form part of the actual cross itself is also included. Australia's flag features a large Commonwealth Star below the Union Flag as it is a symbol of Australia.

Many other flags also contain the Southern Cross, some as far back as the 1823/24 National Colonial Flag for Australia.

Other flags of New Zealand[edit]

This gallery presents other flags of New Zealand.

Other flags of New Zealand
Royal Standard of New Zealand
Flag of the Governor-General of New Zealand
Naval Ensign of New Zealand
Naval Ensign 
Civil Ensign of New Zealand
Government Ensign of New Zealand for use on New Zealand Government-owned ships; note: identical to New Zealand Flag
Air Force Ensign of New Zealand
Air Force Ensign 
Maori sovereignty movement flag
Flag of New Zealand Police
Ensign of yacht clubs registered in New Zealand
Yacht Club Ensign 
Civil Air Ensign of New Zealand
Civil Air Ensign 

See also[edit]


^a "His Excellency the Governor is pleased to direct it to be notified, for general information, that a Despatch has recently been received from the Right Honorable the Secretary of State for the Colonies, conveying His Majesty's approbation of an arrangement made by this Government for complying with the wishes of the Chiefs of New Zealand to adopt a National Flag in their collective capacity, and also, of the Registrar of Vessels, built in that country, granted by the Chiefs and certified by the British Resident, being considered as valid instruments, and respected as such in the intercourse which those Vessels may hold with the British Possessions. The following is a description of the Flag which has been adopted: A Red St. George's Cross on a White ground. In the first quarter, a Red St. George's Cross on a Blue ground, pierced with four white stars." [23]

^a As a vehicle flag, the flag of New Zealand is authorized to be used by the Prime Minister, Government Ministers, Ambassadors, High Commissioners, and Consuls-General. No defacement of the flag is done in any of these cases.


  1. ^ a b "Flags". Ministry for Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). 23 July 2010. Retrieved 2011-09-06. 
  2. ^ a b New Zealand Government (29 October 2014). "First steps taken towards flag referendum". beehive.govt.nz. New Zealand Government. Retrieved 31 October 2014. 
  3. ^ "Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (1834–1840)". History of the New Zealand Flag. New Zealand: Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2007-02-16. Without a flag to represent the new nation, trading ships and their valuable cargoes would continue to be seized 
  4. ^ a b c "'United Tribes flag'". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. 19 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-26. 
  5. ^ Caroline Fitzgerald (2011). Te Wiremu – Henry Williams: Early Years in the North. Huia Press. ISBN 978-1-86969-439-5.  231
  6. ^ "New Zealand History – 'United Tribes flag'". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 20 March 2010. Retrieved 2010-12-28. 
  7. ^ Simpson, K. A. "Hobson, William – Biography". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 2011-04-03. 
  8. ^ Volker Preuß. "Flagge Neuseeland" (in German). Retrieved 2003-09-07. 
  9. ^ "Rear-Admiral Sir Albert Hastings Markham, Norfolk Museums and Archeology Service". Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2008-11-18. 
  10. ^ "New Zealand Signalling Ensign" (in Italian). http://www.rbvex.it. Retrieved 2004-08-20. 
  11. ^ "South African War medal". Ministry for Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). 18 August 2014. Retrieved 15 February 2015. 
  12. ^ "New Zealand Signalling Flag". NZ History.net.nz. Retrieved 2012-01-20. 
  13. ^ "The "Diggers' " flag, the New Zealand Ensign, flying at the masthead of Achills during the naval battle" LXXI (46). Auckland Star. 23 February 1940. p. Page 9. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981, s 5(2).
  15. ^ "History of Republicanism in New Zealand – 1994". New Zealand Republic. November 2007. Retrieved 2007-11-27. 
  16. ^ "Maori Law Review – New Zealand". Maori Law Review. September 1994. 
  17. ^ Moody, John. "Past Attempts to Change New Zealand's Flag" (pdf). New Zealand Flag Association. Retrieved 2012-04-29. 
  18. ^ "New Zealand – Proposals for a new flag". Flags of the World. 29 September 2006. Retrieved 2007-09-01. 
  19. ^ "Bill advocates consultative debate on new flag". Scoop.co.nz. 5 August 2010. Retrieved 2012-04-29. 
  20. ^ "New Zealand to hold referendum on new, ‘post-colonial’ flag". The Guardian. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  21. ^ "New Zealand to hold referendum on national flag". BBC News. 11 March 2014. Retrieved 11 March 2014. 
  22. ^ "The National Maori Flag". Ministry for Culture and Heritage (New Zealand). 11 November 2011. Retrieved 2011-12-19. 
  23. ^ "Government Notice, Colonial Secretary's Office. Sept. 9, 1835, New Zealand". The Cornwall Chronicle (Launceston, Tasmania). 1835-09-09. Retrieved 2014-06-15. 

External links[edit]