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History series – NZ Flag





In 1833 James Busby arrived in New Zealand. He was a relatively junior consular representative with little power.

Soon after arriving he set about finding a flag that would represent New Zealand. He was motivated by an unfortunate incident that had occurred three years earlier.

In 1830 the Hokianga-built trading ship ‘Sir George Murray’ was seized by Customs officials in the port of Sydney. The ship had been sailing without a flag, a violation of British navigation laws. New Zealand was not a colony at the time and therefore, had no flag. Unless a flag was selected, ships would continue to be seized.

So on March 20th 1834, Maori chiefs and followers gathered at James Busby’s house to choose a flag.  Each chief selected a flag from three possibilities. The chosen flag known as the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand was hoisted on a flagpole to a 21-gun salute. It was replaced a few years later by the Union Jack following the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840.

Our current New Zealand flag which features a blue background, the union jack symbol, and the stars of the southern cross, was given statutory recognition in 1902.

In 2016 a two-stage binding referendum on a flag change took place. The country voted to keep the existing flag by 57 to 43 percent.