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New Zealand - Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand (1834)


Last modified: 2014-11-29 by ian macdonald
Keywords: maori | crosses: 2 | cross (red) | stars: 4 | waitangi | proposal | missionary | stars: 4 | star: 8 points (white) |
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[ 1834 flag (as chosen) ] image by James Dignan, 24 May 2010
See also:

The originally chosen version

Busby wrote back to Bourke suggesting three alternative designs which had all been drawn by Williams, all of which incorporated red. Bourke had all three made up in Sydney and sent them back on H.M.S. Alligator, which arrived in the Bay of Islands on 9 March 1834. Busby sent the following account of the selection of the flag to Governor Bourke in New South Wales on March 26th 1834:

I accordingly lost no time in requesting the chiefs to assemble on Thursday the 20th current, and I also sent invitations to the respectable Settlers, and to the Commander of ten British and three American Ships then in the Harbour to witness the ceremony. These with the Officers of His Majesty’s Ship Alligator and a portion of the Missionaries formed a party of from fifty to sixty persons of respectability who were present on the occasion.

The Chiefs assembled to the number of 25 with a considerable body of followers. They were received under a large awning which had been erected by Capt. Lambert’s direction near my house, and which was decorated with Flags. Capt. Lambert having agreed with me in opinion that on such an occasion the British Ensign ought to be hoisted in front of my house, he was good enough to send me one from the ship for the occasion. A Flagstaff was also erected in front of the awning where the chiefs were to assemble. These preparations having been completed the three Flags were exhibited on short poles in front of the Awning and I proceeded to deliver an Address of which a translation is herewith enclosed. [not in this post]

After the conclusion of this address I called over the names of the Chiefs and requested them as they answered to their names to proceed within the Bar which had been placed across the awning. They were then asked in regular succession upon which of the three Flags their choice fell, and their votes were taken down by a son of one of their number who has been educated by the Missionaries, and who with several others appeared on this occasion respectably dressed in European clothing. I was glad to observe that they gave their votes freely, and appeared to have a good understanding of the nature of the proceeding. The votes given for the respective Flags were 3, 10 & 12, and the greatest number having proved in favour of the Flag previously adopted by the Missionaries it was declared to be the National Flag of New Zealand, and having been immediately hoisted on the Flag staff was saluted with 21 guns by the Ship of war.

Stuart Park, 8 November 1996

This flag was the one chosen in March 1834 by the twenty-five Maori chiefs from three suggested by the Governor of New South Wales. It was originally the Cross of St. George with a canton of dark blue, which itself contained a red cross fimbriated black, each quadrant of this smaller cross featuring a white eight-pointed star.
Stuart Park, 29 January 1996

In the article [supposedly from New Zealand Encyclopaedia], the ratio seems to be 9:16, but the text itself clearly says 10ft × 16ft.
Thanh-Tâm Lê, 25 January 1999

The flag was gazetted in New South Wales on 19 August 1835 where the description omitted the black fimbriation, substituting white instead, and made the stars six point instead of eight point. This mistake, of course, could not invalidate the chief's selection, but the error has been perpetuated in a number of ways. The New Zealand Company flew a flag over its Petone settlement, which was correct according to the New South Wales' Gazette notice. (...) As late as 1844 the flag of the independent tribes was flown by Tuhawaiki ar Ruapuke Island to show that he did not subscribe to the Treaty of Waitangi.
Thanh-Tâm Lê, 25 January 1999, supposedly quoting from New Zealand Encyclopaedia

It persisted in use, mostly in Maori contexts, though also in some official ones (e.g. contingents to the Boer War ca. 1900), and today is one of the many flags used by Maori sovereignty demonstrators.
Stuart Park, 29 March 1997

The following information from a touring exhibition a couple of years ago is relevant:

On 20 March 1834 the commanders of ten British and three American ships anchored in the harbour, missionaries, settlers, and 25 chiefs, gathered at Waitangi to witness the selection of the country's first flag by the chiefs. Votes on the three designs were recorded and the flag of the Church missionary Society was chosen. The Society had flown the distinctive flag at its mission stations in New Zealand over the preceding years. The flag was hoisted to the top of the flagpole and given a 21-gun salute by HMS Alligator. This was the first national flag and was known as the Flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand.

"The flag was gazetted in New South Wales on 19 August 1835 - however the description omitted the fine black border on the smaller cross, substituting white and making the stars six-pointed rather than eight. These mistakes were prepetuated in the Flag of the New Zealand Company and that of the Shaw Savill and Albion Shipping Company's 1858 flag.

"The United Tribes flag acted in part as a unifying symbol for many of the Maori chiefs who a year later in 1835 signed the Declaration of independence. Britain, in recognising the flag, had also acknowledged the mana* of the chiefs. The flag has remained important to ongoing
generations of northern Maori who still use it today at special events and protest gatherings.
(*mana =prestige, spiritual and inherited power)

Credit for the above is to Bob Maysmor, curator of the Pataka Museum of Arts and Culture's "History Unfurled" exhibition.

The only "modern variation" in the design is that the flag is now normally seen in 1:2 dimensions, the same as the national flag; originally its dimensions would have been squarer, possibly as short as 3:4.
James Dignan, 24 May 2010

On your website there is an image by James Dignan showing a flag with black fimbriations and eight-pointed stars. While I accept that is a rendition from what was gazetted in Sydney, that gazetted drawing is the only recorded version anywhere of a flag with black fimbriations – they are heraldically incorrect and add nothing to the design as the black merges with the blue at any distance.

There are two important contemporary versions of the flag. One is a drawing by Lieutenant Phillips of HMS Alligator and another by Rev William Yate. I attach copies of those published drawings and you will see the flag has white fimbriations and eight-pointed stars according to Phillips and six-pointed stars according to Yate. There are other drawings such as by Markham but without the veracity of the above. Later versions such as Shaw Savill’s house flag are irrelevant.

[ United Tribes flag ] Phillips' image located by Fred Wilson, 28 August 2014

[ United Tribes flag ] Yate's image located by Fred Wilson, 28 August 2014

I recently looked at the records at Caird Library Greenwich and they have a Flag Book dated 1848 which also shows the flag as recorded by Phillips and Yate with white fimbriations, not the musings of a Sydney draughtsman who was not present at the selection. I have also attached that image:

[ United Tribes flag ] image located by Fred Wilson, 28 August 2014

Can you confirm the existence of an “Admiralty Flag Book of 1845” which is referred to by several authors but no-one has referenced its existence. I could not find such an item at Greenwich or Kew. Urban myth it seems has the flag  in that version with white fimbriations and eight-pointed stars but I have not seen the evidence.
Fred Wilson, 28 August 2014

Admiralty flag books were not produced until the 1870s. MSS 269 in the Library of the Royal Naval Museum, Portsmouth, is dated 1845. It is the book A33, in the Bibliography of ‘Flags at Sea’ by Timothy Wilson. It was then in the Admiralty Library, London, with the Pressmark De 04. I saw the book ten or eleven years ago but have no visualisation of it, only notes I made at the time. Coloured drawings on pages which appear to have been cut from their original binding and re-bound with an index at the back. Only right-hand pages numbered and used, but some page numbers missing. Some apparently adjacent pages are on only odd numbers, but there are some pages with an even number.
145. New Zealand.

I have contacted the Library and will let you know if I hear from them. It is not an authoritative book since its origin is unknown, but it will be interesting to know how the stars were drawn.
David Prothero, 29 August 2014

The “Admiralty Flag Book of 1845”

There is no Admiralty Flag Book of 1845, but there is a flag book, dated 1845, in the Library of the National Museum Royal Navy Portsmouth.  I asked that Library to describe details of the flag in this book. The Portsmouth Library checked with the Admiralty Librarian in case there might have been a relevant earlier flag book, and provide here a scan of the flag.
David Prothero, 20 October 2014

There is considerable confusion about this flag, caused by the several different versions, the fact that it was created and in use in New Zealand but gazetted in Sydney, and the fact that it was being used primarily by a people who were not at that time fully au fait with the British system of regulations surrounding flag use, and had their own codes and uses. The original design, as agreed to by New Zealand Maori tribes, seems to have been agreed to on the proviso that the fimbriation became black. This is, perhaps, due to the strong use of red and black alongside each other in Maori art. When the flag design was sent to Australia to be gazetted, this was changed by the Australian authorities back to a heraldically acceptable white fimbriation. To quote from Bob Maysmer, curator of the Pataka Museum of Arts and Culture's "History Unfurled" exhibition of the history of flags in New Zealand, "The flag was gazetted in New South Wales on 19 August 1835 - however the description omitted the fine black border on the smaller cross, substituting white and making the stars six-pointed rather than eight. These mistakes were perpetuated in the Flag of the New Zealand Company and that of the Shaw Savill and Albion Shipping Company's 1858 flag." However, by this time, the flag had already been adopted by Maori with black fimbriation, and the use of this variety by Maori continued (and still continues to the present day). As such, two distinct versions of the flag are often seen, with the black-fimbriated flag being more commonly encountered. The black-fimbriated version of the flag is generally seen with eight-pointed stars; both numbers of points are often seen on the white-fimbriated flag. Its modern use among Maori tribes is almost always with the black fimbriation and eight pointed stars, as seen - for example - in the image at

It is perhaps worth noting that in early years, hand-sewing of the flag meant that any number of points were commonly found on the stars, and the fimbriation was often ignored completely. Perhaps the most well-known existing flag from this era is the New Zealand Company flag made on board the "Tory" and raised by Col. William Wakefield at Petone in September 1839. It had crude, six-pointed stars, and was without fimbriation. A replica of this flag toured with the "History unfurled" exhibition, and I've provided an image.
James Dignan, 20 October 2014

Missionary influence?

According to [cra90], the flag selected was “borrowed” from that of the Church Missionary Society.
Roy Stilling, 8 November 1996

The missionary Henry Williams (a former Royal Navy lieutenant) who designed the three flags from which the one was chosen had earlier designed (and used) it on the Church Missionary Society vessels he sailed, so it wasn’t borrowed so much as promoted by him. It’s an interesting question to what extent the Anglican affiliation of the chosen flag swayed the for and against voters in their choice — were the chiefs who made the choice 12 Anglicans, 10 Catholics and 3 non-conformists?
Stuart Park, 9 November 1996