God Defend New Zealand

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God Defend New Zealand
God Defend New Zealand manuscript cropped.jpg

National anthem of New Zealand
Lyrics Thomas Bracken, 1870s
Music John Joseph Woods, 1876
Adopted 1940 (as national hymn)
1977 (as national anthem)
Music sample

"God Defend New Zealand" is one of two national anthems of New Zealand, the other being "God Save the Queen". Legally they have equal status, but "God Defend New Zealand" is more commonly used and is widely (albeit incorrectly) referred to as "the national anthem". Originally written as a poem, it was set to music as part of a competition in 1876. Over the years its popularity increased, and it was eventually named the second national anthem in 1977. The anthem has English and Māori lyrics, with slightly different meanings. When performed in public, the usual practice is to sing the first verse in both Māori and English.


New Zealand Historic Places Trust circular blue plaque at the site of the first performance of God Defend New Zealand
Heritage New Zealand blue plaque at the site of the first performance in Dunedin

"God Defend New Zealand" was written as a poem in the 1870s by Irish-born, Victorian-raised immigrant Thomas Bracken of Dunedin.[1] A competition to compose music for the poem was held in 1876 by The Saturday Advertiser and judged by three prominent Melbourne musicians, with a prize of ten guineas.[2] The winner of the competition was the Tasmanian-born John Joseph Woods of Lawrence, New Zealand who composed the melody in a single sitting the evening after finding out about the competition.[3] The song was first performed at the Queen's Theatre, Princes Street, Dunedin, on Christmas Day, 1876.[2]

The song became increasingly popular during the 19th century and early 20th century, and in 1940 the New Zealand government bought the copyright and made it New Zealand's national hymn in time for that year's centennial celebrations. It was used at the British Empire Games from 1950 onward, and first used at the Olympics during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. Following the performance at the Munich games, a campaign began to have the song adopted as the national anthem.[4]

In May 1973 a remit to change the New Zealand flag, declare a New Zealand republic and change the national anthem from 'God Save The Queen' was voted down by the Labour Party at their national conference.[5]

In 1976 Garth Henry Latta from Dunedin presented a petition to Parliament asking 'God Defend New Zealand' to be made the national anthem. With the permission of Queen Elizabeth II, it was gazetted as the country's second national anthem on 21 November 1977, on equal standing with "God Save The Queen".[6] Up until then "God Save The Queen" was New Zealand's national anthem.[4]

An alternative official arrangement for massed singing by Maxwell Fernie was announced by the Minister of Internal Affairs, Allan Highet on 1 June 1978. Woods' original score was written in the key of A-flat major (concert pitch) and was better suited for solo and choral singing; Fernie's arrangement changed the key down a minor second to G major.

It is interesting to observe that Woods' autograph manuscript (illustrated, Auckland Library) has an error in bar 3 of the tune itself. The second note is clearly written as a C but it is always sung as D-flat as indeed the accompaniment is a D-flat triad.


The Ministry for Culture and Heritage has responsibility for the national anthems. The guidelines in the 1977 Gazette notice for choosing which anthem should be used on any occasion advise that "God Save The Queen" would be appropriate at any occasion where The Queen, a member of the Royal Family, or the Governor-General, when within New Zealand, is officially present or when loyalty to the crown is to be stressed; while "God Defend New Zealand" would be appropriate whenever the national identity of New Zealand is to be stressed even in association with a toast to Elizabeth II as Queen of New Zealand.[6][7]


"God Defend New Zealand" has five verses, each in English and Māori. The Māori version is not a direct translation of the English version. The Māori language version was produced in 1878 by Thomas Henry Smith of Auckland, a judge in the Native Land Court, on request of Governor George Edward Grey,[2] and in 1979 this was back-translated[why?] into English by former Māori Language Commissioner, Professor Timoti Karetu.

From as early as the late 1880s, some versions of the Māori translation of the National Anthem have been incorrect. A typescript of the translation by Thomas Smith uses ‘Whakarangona’ as one word. ‘Whaka’ is a prefix and can’t stand alone, and ‘rangona’ and ‘rongona’ mean the same thing but Smith used the former. ‘Ihowā’ is the standard version of God (Jehovah) and was the one used by Smith. The incorrect form, ‘Ihoa’, has been used for so long as to seem correct but ‘Ihowa’ is the correct version.[citation needed]

Copyright on the English lyrics for "God Defend New Zealand" expired from the end of the year that was 50 years after the death of the author (Bracken), i.e., from 1 January 1949. Kāretu's back-translation is under New Zealand Crown copyright until 2079.[citation needed]

Until the 1990s, only the first verse of the English version was commonly sung. A public debate emerged after only the first Māori verse was sung at the 1999 Rugby World Cup match against England, and it then became common to sing both the Māori and English first verses one after the other.[8]

First verses[edit]

National Anthem of New Zealand (God Defend New Zealand)

Māori verse: "Aotearoa"

E Ihowā Atua,
O ngā iwi mātou rā
Āta whakarangona;
Me aroha noa
Kia hua ko te pai;
Kia tau tō atawhai;
Manaakitia mai

English translation (Karetu)

Lord, God over yonder,
Of all our nations
Listen to us gently,
With the infinite love
May the goodness bear fruit;
May your kindness come;
Please give protection to

English verse: "God Defend New Zealand"

God of Nations at Thy feet,
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices, we entreat,
God defend our free land.
Guard Pacific's triple star
From the shafts of strife and war,
Make her praises heard afar,
God defend New Zealand.

Full English version[edit]

Meaning of "Pacific's triple star"

There is some discussion, with no official explanation, of the meaning of "Pacific's triple star". Unofficial explanations range from New Zealand's three biggest islands (North, South, and Stewart Island),[2] to the three stars on the flag of Te Kooti (a Māori political and religious leader of the 19th century).[9]

Full Māori version[edit]

Note on "whakarangona"

The original 1878 Māori version uses "whakarangona" (to be heard), the passive form of the verb "whakarongo" (to hear). An alternate passive form of the verb, "whakarongona", first appeared as one of several errors in the Māori version when "God Defend New Zealand" was published as the national hymn in 1940. The latter form of the verb has appeared in many versions of the anthem since this time, although the Ministry of Culture and Heritage continues to use "whakarangona".[10]


  1. ^ Broughton, W.S (22 June 2007). "Bracken, Thomas 1843 – 1898". Dictionary of New Zealand Biography. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c d "National anthems: History of God Defend New Zealand". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 23 March 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  3. ^ "National anthems: John Joseph Woods - composer". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 27 February 2012. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Max Cryer. "Hear Our Voices, We Entreat: The Extraordinary Story of New Zealand's National Anthems". Exisle Publishing. Archived from the original on 17 May 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  5. ^ John Moody. "Past Attempts to Change New Zealand's Flag" (PDF). New Zealand Flag Association. 
  6. ^ a b "Announcement of the adoption of national anthems for New Zealand" (PDF). Supplement to the New Zealand Gazette of Thursday, 17 November 1977. 21 November 1977. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
  7. ^ "National anthems: Protocols". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 12 April 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2011. 
  8. ^ "New Zealand's national anthems". NZHistory. Ministry of Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  9. ^ Folksong.org.nz. "E Ihowa atua: "Triple Star"". 
  10. ^ "National anthems: God Defend New Zealand/Aotearoa". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 25 March 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 

External links[edit]