Joseph Ward proclaims Dominion status

26 September 1907

The prime minister read the proclamation to the gathered crowd from the steps of the General Assembly Library in Wellington. This first Dominion Day was a public holiday.

As the capital of the new dominion, Wellington put on a big show all day and into the evening on 26 September. At mid-morning, a guard of honour marched from the Mt Cook Barracks to Parliament House as the 25-member Garrison Band played lively marching tunes.

At 11 a.m. the governor, Lord Plunket, invited Prime Minister Ward to read the proclamation of dominion status. Ward did so, then shouted out, ‘Three cheers for the King’. This was followed by cheers for the governor, for Ward, and for the new Dominion of New Zealand.

The military and school cadets paraded, and Māori performed a haka. It was all over in just 15 minutes. The smallish crowd then set off for Newtown Park to watch a military review involving 1600 men. The governor inspected the troops and more speeches were made before the dignitaries lunched at Government House.

Ward also issued a message to the people of New Zealand. He spoke of preserving ‘the purity of your race’ and urged ‘equal opportunity to all’.

Trust the future of our Dominion not to increasing wealth, but rather to an ever higher manhood and womanhood, to a wider enlightenment and humanity disciplined by the needs of industry, by temperate living, and by those healthy and beneficent tasks that beget advancement and which should be the price of promotion in a free country.

That evening, Parliament adjourned early so the politicians could enjoy an oyster supper. Parliament Buildings put on a grand show. What is now the Parliamentary Library shone like a beacon. Bright lights across the front of the building spelt out ‘Advance New Zealand’ and the words ‘Colony 1840’ and ‘Dominion 1907’.

The change of name meant little in practice. It was made to confirm the theoretical equality of status within the British Empire of Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Newfoundland (and later, the Union of South Africa and the Irish Free State). The inference was that dominions were fully self-governing, yet not quite independent. New Zealand resisted accepting the full implications of independence from the United Kingdom until 1947; the country’s subsequent change of status from ‘dominion’ to ‘realm’ was equally underwhelming.

Image: Parliament Buildings lit up on Dominion Day, 1907