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Origins of the New Zealand Flag (1840-1902)


Last modified: 2002-10-26 by sam lockton
Keywords: union jack | nz | blue ensign | stars: southern cross | stars: 4 | star: 5 points (fimbriated) | markham (albert hastings) |
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Union Jack (1840-1902)

[ Union Jack ]
by Antonio 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 ]
by Antonio Martins, 18 March 2000

At sea New Zealand ships used British ensigns until 10th January 1867, when the ensign for New Zealand government vessels was proclaimed to be, a Blue Ensign with red letters "NZ", fimbriated white, in the fly. This flag was officially in use from 10.01.1867 to 23.10.1869.
David Prothero, 16 December 1998 and 3 July 1997

In 1867, the British Secretary of State for Colonies instructed all colonies that colonial ships in Government service should fly the Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony in the fly. The NZ Governor (not Governor General) Sir George Grey’s regulation provided for the letters NZ in red to be that badge. However, this was not a popular choice.
Stuart Park, 8 July 1997

If I have correct information the blue ensign was used prior 1867 with a white circle within four red stars (near 1840-1867). Then was adopted the NZ letters (blue ensign with "NZ" red fimbriated white, 1867-1869) and the current design or very similar one (1869-1900). The suposed old design (white circle with red stars) was restored (1900.02.03) but 1903 readopted the 1869 pattern.
Jaume Ollé, 27 June 1997

In the second half of the 19th century there appear to have been various flags with "NZ" or "4 stars" in red or in white, in discs or applied direct to the field of the fly but not much solid information.
David Prothero, 3 July 1997

New Zealand Signalling flag (1899)

[ Signalling Flag 1899 ]
by Sam Lockton, 30 August 2002

To celebrate the centenary of the New Zealand Flag (12 June 2002) The Ministry for Culture and Heritage made a special website ( ) documenting the history of our flag. There is an article that identifies the blue ensign with a white disc containing the Southern Cross, as a signalling flag introduced in 1899.
Quoting from the article:

Officially the flag with the Southern Cross was for maritime purposes only but it gradually came to be used on land, even though the Union Jack remained the legal flag of New Zealand. Further confusion was caused by the introduction of a new International Code of Signals, which instituted a new signalling flag in 1899. The signalling flag was identical to the Southern Cross flag, except for the addition of a white disc surrounding the red stars.

Sam Lockton, 30 August 2002

Blue or Red?

[The above flag] is an error. The badge was authorised by an Admiralty Warrant of 7th.February 1899 for use on Red Ensigns by New Zealand registered merchant ships. It was not for use on the Blue Ensign, which continued as described in the New Zealand Gazette of 23 Oct 1869. The New Zealand Gazette of 27 June 1902 specified the size and position of the stars on the New Zealand Blue Ensign without any significant changes to the 1869 design. The New Zealand Red Ensign was changed to its present form by the Shipping and Seamen's Act of 1903.
David Prothero, 18 September 2000

In a message of 30 August, Sam Lockton sent part of an article and illustration taken from the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage website. In my opinion the Ministry for Culture and Heritage have made a mistake and used the wrong illustration. The flag illustrated, a Blue Ensign with four red stars on a white disc, is not the flag that is referred to in the text. I don't think that this ensign ever existed, and if it did it was an error. Four red stars on a white disc was the badge for the New Zealand Red Ensign, warranted 7 February 1899. The New Zealand Blue Ensign was not changed, but remained four red stars fimbriated white, as it had been since 1869. In 1903, under the Shipping and Seamen's Act, the New Zealand Red Ensign was changed to four white stars on a red field. The references on the website to the International Code of Signals are not particularly clear. Although the details were published in 1899, the new code did not come into effect until 1901. The code did not "institute a new signalling flag". It continued the existing practice that, "A ship wishing to make a signal hoists her ensign with the code flag under." Ensigns in use were illustrated in the code. The 1899 code showed only the Red Ensign and Blue Ensign for British ships, but the 1901 code added a Red Ensign with a plain white disc for "British Colonies".
David Prothero, 6 September 2002

I was wrong about the New Zealand badge consisting of four red stars on a white disc. It was the official badge for the Blue Ensign, from 1 January 1900, until 9 June 1902. When the British Board of Trade suggested that it should be the badge for the proposed New Zealand Red Ensign, the Nautical Adviser to the New Zealand Marine Department recommended that the same badge should also be used for the New Zealand Blue Ensign. However it was not popular and was replaced by a pattern of four red stars fimbriated white spread over the whole fly. This was similar to the ensign that came into use in 1869, but the size and arrangement of the stars was now precisely defined. From The New Zealand Ensign by W.A.Glue.

To summarise:
Blue Ensign.
1867 - 1869. Letters N Z in red fimbriated white.
1869 - 1899. Similar to present New Zealand Flag
1900 - 1902. Four red stars on white disc.
1902 - Current New Zealand Flag.

Red Ensign.
1840 - 1899. British Red Ensign.
1900 - 1903. Four red stars on white disc.
1903 - Four white stars in the same arrangement as the stars on the Blue Ensign.

It was considered important that one point of each star should be uppermost. "If the flag maker knows his job the single point is elevated and represents all that is good; if two points are elevated in our five point star that represents all that is evil."
David Prothero, 20 September 2002

Current blue ensign (1869- ) and current national flag (1902- )

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

On 23rd October 1869 [the "NZ" blue ensign] was changed to what became effectively the current New Zealand Blue Ensign with four, five pointed red stars outlined in white. Some accounts say that there was a version with four red stars on a white disc, but I think that these are mistaken references to a badge which was intended only for the Governor's defaced Union Flag.
David Prothero, 16 December 1998

In 1869 Grey’s successor Bowen withdrew [the "NZ" blue ensign], and instructed that all New Zealand Colonial Government ships should fly the blue ensign with the Southern Cross in the fly, the Cross being represented by four five pointed red stars with white borders. This of course did not apply to naval ships, since there was no New Zealand Navy, but Government vessels like lighthouse tenders, pilot launches, immigration and quarantine vessels all flew this flag after 1869. Informally, it came to be recognised as New Zealand’s flag, though its use on land was not permitted officially.
Stuart Park, 8 July 1997

The flag was proclaimed the New Zealand Ensign by Governor Bowen on 23rd.October 1869, and is usually credited to him. However it seems that it was probably designed by a Royal Navy officer named Markham. In his first design the stars were quite small and he increased their size at the request of an un-named person, possibly the Governor. Albert Hastings Markham was First Lieutenant of H.M.S.Blanche, a sloop of the Imperial Squadron on the Australian Station, 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.
Markham, who was born in France in 1841, attained the rank of full Admiral in 1903, despite a disaster during fleet manoeuvres in 1893, when, as a Rear-Admiral in the Mediterranean Fleet, he managed to ram and sink the flagship of the Commander-in-Chief.
David Prothero, 16 December 1998 and 17 January 1999

In the 1880s onwards, New Zealanders began seeking a more distinctive flag than the Union Jack. New Zealand troops that went to the South African War used the maritime flag unofficially, and in the jingoistic fervour of that time pressure mounted for a distinctive New Zealand flag. In 1900, Premier Seddon said «As the flag with the Southern Cross upon it has generally been recognised as the New Zealand flag, I think we should formally adopt it by statute». This duly happened in 1901, and since then this flag has been the flag of New Zealand, for general use on land in New Zealand and at sea on vessels belonging to the government of New Zealand.
Stuart Park, 8 July 1997

The red stars outlined in white, applied directly to the fly, became a government flag 23.10.1869, and on 12.06.1902 it was promulgated as being the national flag «for general use ashore and government vessels» (afloat).
David Prothero, 3 July 1997

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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