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Badge of HMNZS Philomel


Battle honours: Navarino 1827, Benin 1897, South Africa 1899-1900

Motto: Fide et Fortitudine (By faith and fortitude)

It is believed that the badge of Philomel was designed in a mess deck on board the ship during the First World War. It is known to have been in existence in 1926-27. When the Royal New Zealand Navy began formalising its ships badges in the late 1940s, the design was rejected by both the Naval Board and the College of Heralds. Alternatives were suggested, but a spirited rearguard action by the Captain of Philomel eventually prevailed and the figure of Philomela holding a nightingale became the badge of the ship. A more persuasive argument was that by the time the discussions came about, the design had already been incorporated into many fixtures in the establishment. Although officially – if reluctantly – sanctioned, the badge was never formally defined. Time obscured the designer’s aims and for a period in the mid-1960s Philomela was sometimes depicted as a Maori woman. Moves were made to have this officially recognised, but tradition prevailed and Philomela remains Greek.

The legend of Philomela

The legend used as the basis for the badge concept is the later, Roman version. Tereus, a son of Ares, was King of the Thracians. He helped Pandion, King of Athens, and was given Pandion’s daughter Procne in marriage, who bore him a son, Itys. However, Tereus was in love with Procne’s sister, Philomela. He hid Procne among the slaves and tore out her tongue so she could not reveal the fact. Tereus told Philomela that her sister was dead and seduced her. Procne wove a message for her sister into a robe and was released by her. To avenge herself Procne killed and cooked their son and gave the meat to Tereus. When he realized what he had been eating, Tereus pursued the sisters with an axe, but the gods changed all three into birds, Procne to a swallow, Philomela to a nightingale and Tereus to a hoopoe.


Royal New Zealand Navy Museum
Permission of the Royal New Zealand Navy Museum must be obtained before any reuse of this image.

How to cite this page

Badge of HMNZS Philomel, URL:, (Manatū Taonga — Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated