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Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.




Abel Tasman, the first European to visit New Zealand, flew the flag of the Dutch East India Company. This was a horizontal tricolor, orange, white, and pale blue (the old national flag of the Netherlands), with a black monogram consisting of the letters “V.O.C.” (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) on the white strip (A1).

When Captain Cook visited New Zealand, he flew the old Union Jack (dating from 12 April 1606) which combined the cross of St George with that of St. Andrew (A2). The present day Union Jack, with the cross of St. Patrick added, was not instituted until 1801.

The Church Missionary Society flew a distinctive flag over its missions before 1840, and this, or a very close variant, was adopted by the independent tribes in 1834. Baron De Thierry used a large “blue and crimson” silken flag, but this was destroyed during the Hone Heke troubles in 1845, and no description appears to have survived.

Flag of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand (1834): Prior to the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, New Zealand had no status in international law. In 1830 the Sir George Murray, a vessel built in New Zealand and sailing under no flag, was seized by Sydney customs authorities on the grounds that her register was not legal. Busby, the British Resident at the Bay of Islands, therefore suggested that the Maori chiefs should select a flag to be recognised by British authorities as the national flag of the New Zealand tribes. The first design, submitted by naval authorities in Sydney, was rejected on the grounds that it had no red in it – as red was regarded as a sign of rank by the Maoris. In 1834 a choice was made at a meeting of Maori chiefs at Waitangi presided over by the British Resident. The flag was hoisted and HMS Alligator, which was standing off shore, honoured it with a 21-gun salute. The design was later approved by King William IV, and the Vice-Admiral, East Indies Station, was instructed to recognise it as the flag of a sovereign State.

The flag, measuring 16 ft × 10 ft, consisted of a red St. George's cross on a white ground. In the upper canton next the staff, a red St. George's cross with black fimbriation was surrounded by a blue ground pierced with four eight-point stars (B). Known as the “Flag of the Independent Tribes of New Zealand”, it remained the national ensign until 1840, when the Union Jack superseded it. The flag was gazetted in New South Wales on 19 August 1835 where the description omitted the black fimbriation, substituting white instead, and made the stars six point instead of eight point. This mistake, of course, could not invalidate the chiefs' selection, but the error has been perpetuated in a number of ways. The New Zealand Company flew a flag over its Petone settlement, which was correct according to the New South Wales' Gazette notice. In 1858 the Shaw Savill and Albion Shipping Co. adopted a house flag similar to the design gazetted in New South Wales, but omitted the white fimbriation. While this is a legitimate example of “differencing”, the Shaw Savill flag (A23) is a variation, not of the flag of the independent tribes, but of the erroneous New South Wales version. As late as 1844 the flag of the independent tribes was flown by Tuhawaiki at Ruapuke Island to show that he did not subscribe to the Treaty of Waitangi.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a series of maritime flags were proposed for the constituent states of an Imperial Confederation. Their basis was the Union Jack suitably quartered to indicate ships of the several States. New Zealand's distinguishing badge was to be Triangulum Australis, consisting of three five-point red stars on a white field in the lower left-hand quarter of the Union Jack (A4).