New Zealand Coat of Arms warranted

26 August 1911

First New Zealand Coat of Arms (Te Papa, 1992-0035-1583)

On 26 August 1911 King George V signed the Royal Warrant, addressed to the Earl Marshal, assigning the first New Zealand Coat of Arms (officially the Armorial Bearings of the Dominion of New Zealand).  The Warrant was published in the New Zealand Gazette on 11 January 1912.

From 1840 until 1911 New Zealand used the British Royal Arms. The first known move to establish a Coat of Arms for New Zealand was a design competition in 1906. Legend has it that the submissions were destroyed by a fire in the old Parliament Buildings the following year, but in fact they are held in Archives New Zealand.

Whatever the reason, the competition was rerun in 1908, when 75 designs featuring everything from kiwi, sheep, cows, moa and lions to stars, ships, British soldiers, Māori warriors and Union Jacks were received. Three entries were sent to England for the final judging. The winner was James McDonald, a draughtsman in the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts. However, the Heraldry of the World website notes that McDonald’s design was ‘tidied up’ before being officially accepted in 1911. Changes included replacing Māori carvings at the bottom with ‘more conventional’ decoration, and making the Zealandia figure ‘more demure’ and the Māori figure ‘less challenging’.

Although the Royal Warrant specified the design of the New Zealand Coat of Arms, by the mid-1940s at least 20 different versions were in use. A committee was set up to redraw and standardise the Arms and the Queen approved a revised version in 1956. These Arms are still in use today.

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