New Zealand Coat of Arms – The Armorial Bearings of the Dominion of New Zealand

New Zealand Coat of Arms

A lithograph of the New Zealand Coat of Arms, dated 26 August 1911. Archives reference: IA9 31b. Click on the image to enlarge or download.

New Zealand used the British Royal Arms from 1840 until 1911. However, in 1905, Britain pointed out that New Zealand did not have its own coat of arms, and in 1906 the New Zealand Government ran a competition to select one.

In fact, there were two competitions, possibly because the plans were forgotten until New Zealand became a Dominion in 1907. One story is that the original entries were destroyed in the 1907 parliamentary fire. But this is not true – both sets are held at Archives New Zealand.

Ordinary New Zealanders entered the competitions to design a coat of arms. 75 submissions were received when the competition was rerun in 1908.

The three best entries were sent to the College of Arms in London for judging. First prize (£20) went to James McDonald, who worked as a draughtsman for the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts. He was also an artist, photographer, filmmaker and promoter of Māori arts and crafts.

McDonald’s winning entry was altered before being officially accepted in 1911. The Māori carvings were replaced, and the Zealandia figure was made to look "more demure" and the Māori figure "less challenging".

On 26 August 1911 a royal warrant was issued for the use of the New Zealand Coat of Arms (officially the Armorial Bearings of the Dominion of New Zealand). McDonald’s design was used for the next 45 years. It was redrawn in 1956 to give "a more direct New Zealand touch". This revised version is still in use today.

The Coat of Arms is the symbol of the New Zealand Government and represents the sovereign nature of New Zealand. The granting of the arms recognised New Zealand’s national identity and was considered appropriate given that the country achieved Dominion status in 1907.

The image above is a lithograph of the first New Zealand Coat of Arms, dated 26 August 1911. The original signed painting is held at Te Papa. The lithograph, as well as competition entries dated 1906 and 1908, form part of the "Constitutional Papers" record group (Series 8341). This group is comprised of records relating to significant constitutional developments in New Zealand.

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