The New Zealand Gazette of 23 October 1869 published a proclamation by Governor Bowen authorizing the use, by Government ships, of the Blue Ensign with “four five-pointed red stars in the fly” (the Southern Cross). This is what is now known as the New Zealand flag.
It has been claimed by the Flag Consideration Panel that the New Zealand flag was not adopted until 1902. This is incorrect. Although the flag was approved in 1869 only for Government use at sea, the proclamation described the flag as the badge of the colony, and it was increasingly flown on shore and by the public, and was accepted as the national flag.
In 1902 the flag was officially adopted by parliament as the national flag for all purposes. This was little more than a formality, as is clear from the preamble to the New Zealand Ensign Act 1901:
“WHEREAS by Proclamation under the hand of His Excellency the Governor, dated the twenty-third day of October, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, it was declared, in accordance with the Queen’s Regulations made under the provisions of an Act of the Imperial Parliament intituled “The Colonial Defence Act, 1865,” that the flag hereinafter described should have the distinctive seal or badge of the Colony of New Zealand for all vessels belonging to or permanently employed in the service of the colony: And whereas the said flag has since been in general use for the purpose aforesaid, and also as the recognised ensign of the colony: And whereas it is desirable that the same flag should be by law established as the ensign of the colony for the purposes hereinafter mentioned; BE IT THEREFORE ENACTED by the General Assembly…”
The Act clearly states that the 1869 flag was already the recognised ensign of the colony, and the purpose of the Act was simply to establish the flag by law “as the ensign of the colony”.
There is however no requirement for a national flag to be established by law (Act of Parliament) rather than custom and usage.
The Union Jack (or Flag) has no statutory basis. It has no official status on land in the United Kingdom. It too was adopted for Government use at sea, but has since acquired customary status as a national flag. It remains in the same legal position in the UK as the New Zealand Ensign (flag) had in New Zealand between 1869 and 1902. Despite frequent claims to the contrary, it never had any legal status on land in New Zealand.
The New Zealand Ensign Act 1901 was given royal assent on 24 March 1902. The last day of voting in the second flag referendum is coincidentally 24 March 2016.
The New Zealand Ensign Act 1901 therefore confirmed that the current flag has been our recognised flag or ensign since 1869, not 1902.
The public has been misled about the history of our national flag.
New Zealand Flag Institute
16th March 2016