Skip to main content
Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
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.



National Hymn

New Zealand's national hymn “God Defend New Zealand” was written in the early 1870s by Thomas Bracken.


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.
Men of every creed and race
Gather here before Thy face,
Asking Thee to bless this place,
God defend our Free Land.
From dissension, envy, hate
And corruption guard our State.
Make our country good and great,
God defend New Zealand.
May our mountains ever be
Freedom's ramparts on the sea,
Make us faithful unto Thee,
God defend our Free Land.
Guide her in the nation's van,
Preaching love and truth to man,
Working out Thy glorious plan,
God defend New Zealand.

Bracken was editor of the Saturday Advertiser, Dunedin, in which he published the words in 1875, offering a prize of 10 guineas for the best music setting. The adjudicators, Messrs Zelman, Siede, and Zepplin, three leading Victorian musicians, each judging independently, had no hesitation in awarding the prize to John Joseph Woods, a school teacher at Lawrence, Otago.

The song was published under the title “National Anthem, God Defend New Zealand” and was dedicated to the Governor, the Right Hon. the Marquis of Normanby, G.C.M.G.. Later, Bracken assigned to Woods all his rights to the publication which were subsequently acquired by Charles Begg and Co., Dunedin.

The words, with the addition of two extra verses, appear in two early collections of Bracken's poetry, under the title “National Hymn” in Flowers of the Free Lands (1877) and with the title “New Zealand Hymn” in Musings in Maoriland (1890).

The man to whom most credit must be given for having “God Defend New Zealand” adopted as New Zealand's national hymn is James McDermott (1882–1955), Chief Engineer in the Post Office from 1935 to 1939. In the 1930s he became a Bracken enthusiast, and in furthering his campaign for the general adoption of the national hymn he bought recordings of it. These were distributed to broadcasting stations.

The New Zealand Centennial Council in 1939 recommended to the Government that “God Defend New Zealand” be made the national hymn. Finally, on 1 May 1940, McDermott's efforts were crowned with success when the then Minister of Internal Affairs, the Hon. W. E. Parry, announced that the Government had purchased from Charles Begg and Co. the copyright, performing, reproduction, and similar rights and words of the hymn.

by John Sidney Gully, M.A., DIP.N.Z.L.S., Assistant Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.

  • Evening Post, 27 Jul 1955, 5 Mar 1959
  • New Zealand Railways Magazine, Jun 1939.