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New Zealand flag confirmed 1902

June 7, 2023

Its origins date from 1865 when the British government instructed that all ships from the colonies fly the Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony on it. (The Blue Ensign is the dark blue field with the Union Flag in the upper hoist corner.)

New Zealand didn’t have a recognised badge in 1865, so its vessels flew the Blue Ensign without any markings -unacceptable to the British government. It was then recommended that the four stars of the Southern Cross be used as New Zealand’s badge but this was rejected. Instead the words ‘New Zealand’ were added to the Blue Ensign, and later shortened to ‘NZ’ in red letters with white borders.

In 1869, the Southern Cross replaced ‘NZ’ on the Blue Ensign, signifying our place in the Pacific Ocean. This was represented by four five-pointed red stars with white borders to correspond with the colours of the Union Jack. Still officially a maritime flag, the flag was used on land, gradually becoming recognised as New Zealand’s national flag. In 1902, the flag officially became the National Flag of New Zealand.

Some New Zealanders believe there should be a new flag which better reflects the country’s independence, while others argue that the design represents New Zealand’s strong past and present ties to the United Kingdom and its history as a part of the British Empire. In 2016, for the first time, New Zealanders voted on their flag. The options were the current New Zealand flag and the Silver Fern (Black, White and Blue) design which had been selected from among five designs in a referendum in 2015. Nearly 57% of voters opted for the current flag.

A new flag or flag it? This question leads to interesting debates with education groups when we visit Waitangi's Flagstaff which flies the three flags pictured

Read more about other New Zealand flags

Watch a video from Massey University on the history of the NZ flag