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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.




The New Zealand Cross, a decoration peculiar to New Zealand and the Second Maori War of 1860–72, ranked in New Zealand next to the Victoria Cross. It is one of the rarest decorations in the world, only 23 having been awarded. Instituted by the Governor of New Zealand by an Order in Council, dated 10 March 1869, it met an urgent need for some decoration equivalent to the Victoria Cross, for which the locally raised forces had been considered ineligible. The Governor, Sir George Bowen, conferred five of the crosses before notifying the Secretary of State for the Colonies of the unprecedented action he had taken. In his dispatch, the Governor pleaded the low morale of the local troops and the need for some tangible form of recognition for bravery in action, which could be awarded immediately and without the inevitable delays should each case be referred to the Home Government for royal approval. The Governor was officially rebuked by the Secretary of State for the Colonies for overstepping the limits of the authority confided to him by the Queen, who was the fountain of all honour. As a number of crosses had already been conferred, Queen Victoria had little option under the circumstances but to ratify the Order in Council, which merely referred to the new award as a “Decorative Distinction” without giving it a name. The title, “New Zealand Cross”, was not adopted for some considerable time. In the intervening period it was vicariously referred to as the New Zealand Cross of Valour, Order of Valour, Order of Merit, Colonial Order of Merit, Order of the Southern Cross, Cross of New Zealand, Colonial Cross, Southern Cross, and Silver Cross. Even after its title had been settled, it was sometimes referred to as the New Zealand Cross or Order of Valour, the latter part of the name no doubt being added to justify the letter “V” used to form a link between the ribbon suspender clasp and the cross.

The institution of the cross can be attributed to the efforts of Colonel G. S. Whitmore who, on 19 November 1868, requested that a sum of money be made available from the Armed Constabulary Reward Fund for the purchase of 20 rosettes and special chevrons to be awarded to members of the Armed Constabulary who distinguished themselves in action and to whom a monetary grant of £5 should be made from the same fund. From this modest request, on behalf of the Armed Constabulary, the idea gradually developed into the New Zealand Cross as instituted. In his letter of 19 November 1868 Whitmore recommended Constable Henare Kepa Te Ahururu for a monetary reward for bravery and, in a further letter dated 14 January 1869, also nominated Constables Benjaman Biddle and Solomon Black for similar awards which they all duly received. These men became the first three upon whom the New Zealand Cross was bestowed.

The decoration could be conferred upon members of the Militia, Volunteers, and Armed Constabulary who, “when serving in the presence of the enemy, shall have performed some signal act of valour or devotion to duty, or who have performed any very intrepid action in the public service, and neither rank, nor long service, nor wounds, nor any other circumstances or condition whatsoever, save merit of conspicuous bravery, shall be held to establish a sufficient claim to the honour”. It was laid down that the decoration should consist of a silver cross with the name of the colony and the name of the recipient engraved thereon, and be suspended from the left breast by a crimson riband. The ribbon, which is 1½ in. wide, is deep crimson, and identical with that of the Victoria Cross. The order also provided for a silver bar to be attached to the riband in the event of a second award, but no such award was ever made.

The order required a Roll of Recipients to be kept with brief descriptions of the acts of valour, and that every inscription on the roll be published in the Government Gazette. The name of any recipient who was convicted of treason, felony, cowardice, or an infamous or disgraceful act, was to be erased forthwith from the roll. Although the first recipient of the cross, a Maori, later deserted, his name was not erased from the roll which was deposited with the Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, by the Army Department in 1945.

The New Zealand Cross Endowment Act of 1869 provided for the setting aside of 5,000 acres of land, the revenue from which was to be used to provide pensions for recipients who had become too old or infirm to earn their own livelihood. No action was taken to set aside the land until 1875, when surveys were made of an area of land for this purpose, but it was never proclaimed a reserve. After lengthy discussions, extending over a period of two years, Cabinet decided that the Endowment Act should be repealed and in 1877 the Defence Department was instructed to provide in its annual estimates for a yearly pension of £10 for each recipient as from 1 January 1878.


Capt. Geoffrey Troughear Stagg, F.R.N.S.N.Z., R.N.Z.A. (retired), formerly President of the Royal Numismatic Society of New Zealand, Wellington.