Story: City history and people

Civic coats of arms

Cities adopted coats of arms to give themselves a unique sense of identity. Each comprised traditional heraldic elements: arms (inside the shield), crest (above the shield), supporters (beside the shield), and motto. In New Zealand, the imagery often combined British and local elements.

Auckland’s coat of arms (1) was adopted in 1911. Its arms consist of a cornucopia (‘horn of plenty’), reflecting the wealth of the land; a pick and shovel, symbols of mining in the region; and a sailing ship, showing the city’s close relationship with the sea. The closed visor in the crest represents Auckland City’s status as a corporation and the flowering plant is native flax. The supporters are kiwi (the national bird), and the motto is ‘Advance’.

Wellington’s coat of arms (2) was adopted in 1878. The shield combines the arms of the Duke of Wellington (the gold cross and five silver discs) and local elements: the fleece and sheaf representing regional agriculture, and the lymphad (ship) symbolising the first colonising ships. The dolphin in the crest symbolises Wellington’s status as a maritime city. The supporters are a British lion and a native moa. The motto – ‘Suprema a situ’ – means supreme by position.

Christchurch’s coat of arms (3) was adopted in 1949. The arms are made up of four lymphads, representing the first four colonising ships; fleece and garb, symbolising regional agriculture; a mitre, a link to Christian faith; and wavy bars representing the Avon and Heathcote rivers. The supporters are native pūkeko birds. The motto, ‘Fide condita, fructu beata, spe fortis’, can be translated as ‘Founded in faith, rich in the fulfilment thereof, strong in hope for the future’. It refers to the city’s church origins, the fruits of the earth, and hope in the future.

Dunedin’s coat of arms (4) was adopted in 1947. The castle comes from the arms of Edinburgh; the green stripe across the shield symbolises the rugged Otago landscape; the sheaves and ram’s head represent regional agriculture; and the lymphad commemorates the first colonising ships. The supporters are a Scotsman and a Māori chief. The motto – ‘Maiorum institutis utendo’ – means ‘By following in the steps of our forefathers’.

Coats of arms courtesy of Auckland City; Wellington City Council; Christchurch City Council; Dunedin City Council.

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How to cite this page:

David Thorns and Ben Schrader, 'City history and people - Towns to cities', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 22 June 2024)

Story by David Thorns and Ben Schrader, published 11 Mar 2010