Thomas Bracken


Thomas Bracken
Thomas Bracken

A prolific writer, Thomas Bracken’s one permanent poetic monument is the stirring prose that became New Zealand’s national anthem.

Bracken, an Irish-born orphan, is believed to have arrived in Dunedin in early 1869 where he soon began a journalistic career. Throughout the 1870s and 1880s Bracken founded, owned, and edited several newspapers. He also wrote poetry prolifically throughout the period, publishing a number of books in New Zealand, Australia and England.

Bracken’s single most important literary achievement was his poem ‘God defend New Zealand’. On 1 July 1876 his newspaper the New Zealand Saturday Advertiser published the five stanzas under the title ‘National hymn’. A score written by John Joseph Woods, a teacher from Lawrence in Otago, was chosen as the air to accompany the poem. The first presentation of the poem with its music was on Christmas night 1876, at a concert in Dunedin’s Queen's Theatre by the Lydia Howarde troupe.

‘God defend New Zealand’ rapidly gained popular recognition. Premier Richard Seddon even presented a copy to Queen Victoria at her diamond jubilee. However, having relinquished the copyright of the poem to Woods, Bracken was unable to recover from financial difficulties and died penniless in 1898.

The National Centennial Council recommended in December 1938 that the government adopt ‘God defend New Zealand’ as the national hymn. In 1940 the government purchased of the rights to Bracken's words and Woods's music, and the work was given equal status with ‘God save the Queen’ as a national anthem in 1977.

Adapted by Matthew Tonks from the DNZB biography by W.S. Broughton

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