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New Zealand - Early proposals for a flag ( -1834)

Last modified: 2014-07-05 by ian macdonald
Keywords: maori | stripes: 9 | new south wales | proposal | canton: union jack |
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The need for a flag and the first New Zealand colours

Ian Church of the Port Chalmers Museum has found an article from the Sydney Herald dated 22 August 1831 which talks of a flag being hoisted for the first time:
Capt. McDonnell of the Sir George Murray hoists the New Zealand colours at the mast-head; they are the English St George Ensign the ground of one quarter being blue and having a half moon in it's centre. This we believe is the first time these colours have ever been exhibited.
4 March 2009

James Busby, appointed in England to be British Resident in New Zealand, sailed from Sydney to the Bay of Islands, arriving on H.M.S. Imogene on the 9th May 1833. For several days he was extensively briefed by the missionary Rev. Henry Williams. It must have been on the basis of these conversations that Busby wrote to Sydney on May 13 that «From all I have been able to learn it appears that there are in the Northern part of this Island from twenty five to thirty Tribes of Natives who are in every respect independent of each other and who exercise separately ... all the functions of sovereignty.» Williams is also the likely source of Busby’s knowledge of Maori indignation over the seizure of the ship Sir George Murray in Sydney Harbour for sailing without a national flag. That, together with the representations made to him in Sydney by Grose, owner and builder of the ships Sir George Murray and The New Zealander, appear to have stimulated Busby to consider the long-term desirability of persuading the Chiefs to act collectively, and the shorter term goal of having them select a national flag, which would solve for Pakeha (white New Zealanders) what was in essence a Pakeha problem.
Stuart Park, 8 November 1996

The Sir George Murray, so far as I am aware, was never arrested by Customs; that vessel was the New Zealander. (The story is told by Cliff Hawkins in New Zealand's Maritime Heritage.) The Sir George Murray was bought by Captain Thomas McDonnell, R.N. from the bankrupt firm of Raine, Ramsay & Co in Sydney. He had served with the East India Company and became a strong proponent of British colonisation of New Zealand. In 1834 he went back to Britain and had himself appointed additional British Resident at the Hokianga, much to Busby's annoyance. I suspect the 1831 flag was his own idea and the design came naturally from his Royal Navy background, service in India and the design of the flag of New South Wales. Although it had no official standing, outside Hokianga, it is the first flag to be described as the “New Zealand colours”, probably by McDonnell himself, ever the booster.
Ian Church, 23 March 2009

Rejected proposal (1834)

[ 1834 flag proposal ] image by António Martins, September 1998

Busby put the suggestion to Governor Bourke in Sydney, to whom he reported. New Zealand was not a British possession, but the Governor of New South Wales had jurisdiction over British activities in New Zealand. Bourke sent a suggested design for a flag, which arrived in the Bay of Islands in January 1834. The flag brought by Sadler was «four blue horizontal bars on a white field, with a Union Jack in the upper hoist». Because this design had no red in it, Henry Williams and Busby felt that the Maori would reject it, and even be insulted by the suggestion, since red was such an important colour for them.
Stuart Park, 8 November 1996