The Navy and Waitangi

The New Zealand Navy and Waitangi

The Royal New Zealand Navy has been at Waitangi conducting commemorative ceremonies on 6 February each year for over fifty years.

The first national observance occurred on 6 February 1890, to mark the first fifty years of the Treaty. There was a gathering at Waitangi and on the marae at Te Tii, with a Grand Ball in Russell that night at which the band from HMS OPAL supplied the music.

A flagstaff for the Treaty Ground was first considered in 1933. Captain Bob Price RNR supervised the rigging and erection of the flagstaff. Set in concrete, the flagstaff had a height of 93 feet. A brass plaque at the base denoted the site and was in position for the ceremony at Waitangi on 6 February 1934.

The activities and ceremonies following the gifting of the land by Lord Bledisloe in 1934, occupied two days. Lord and Lady Bledisloe, the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. G.W. Forbes, 60 members of both Houses of Parliament, and two Australian representatives were present. A delegation of Ariki from Rarotonga, the Maori King, Koroki Te Rata Mahuta, and 5000 Maori from local and southern tribes also took part.
HM Ships DUNEDIN and DIOMEDE arrived on the morning of the 5th February and provided shore parties which “….played an important part in keeping the crowds at today’s ceremonies in the portions allotted. . . ” The Parliamentary delegation was received on to the marae on the morning of the 5th. Their Excellencies followed at 1430, landing by boat at Tii Point to the accompaniment of a 21 gun salute from HMS DUNEDIN.

On the 6th Their Excellencies arrived at the Treaty House at 1415 “Preceded by the bands of HMS DUNEDIN and HMS DIOMEDE playing a stirring tune and leading a company of sailors marching with fixed bayonets . . . ” After meeting members of the Waitangi Trust Board, “Lord Bledisloe immediately proceeded to the flagstaff, where the naval guard, now drawn up in parade order, presented arms, and the band played the time-honoured National Anthem. A brisk inspection of the guard followed, after which His Excellency walked to the base of the staff and, deftly handling the halliards, released the Union Jack at the masthead.”

His Excellency then moved to lay the foundation stone of the Whare-runanga that was to be erected as a national memorial to commemorate the centenary of the Treaty.

In 1937 a party from HMS ACHILLES effected “certain repairs to the flagpole”, but no other maintenance was done over following years.

The centenary celebration in 1940 was a subdued affair as a result of the war, but the Governor-General Lord Galway was present and the ship’s company of HMS LEANDER participated in a simple ceremony.

Two important events were included in the ceremonies. The first was the formal opening of the Whare-runanga after the tapu had been lifted on the building, let by Whina (later Dame Whina) Cooper. The other event was the unveiling of the memorial to Hobson by the Prime Minister, the Rt. Hon. Peter Fraser.

There was also a unique presence at the centennial gathering with a detachment from the Maori Battalion there, shortly before their departure overseas. It is the only time an Army unit has paraded at Waitangi.

The report to the Trust Board in 1944 noted that “. . . the flagpole is in a dangerous condition and should be dismantled immediately and re-erected with a new mainmast.” Kauri was obtained from the Puketi Forest for new masts, the original yardarm being retained.

In 1946 the Naval Officer-in-Charge Auckland, Captain C.R.U. Pugh, CBE RN, was on a visit to Northland, noted that the Trust was facing difficulty in erecting the new flagstaff. Representations were made to the Minister of Defence, the Hon. F. Jones, who approved that “. . . in view of the Navy’s association with this historical event, it would be appropriate if the work of erecting and rigging the flagstaff was undertaken by the Royal New Zealand Navy, who would be made responsible for its annual survey and maintenance.”

The offer was accepted and the Trust unanimously resolved that “. . . after erection the Navy be authorized to do whatever it thinks fit in the work of supervision and maintenance of the flagpole and be invited to carry out any naval ceremonies at the flagpole which it deems desirable.”

A team of personnel from the Naval Base duly erected the flagstaff and rigged it naval style with a gaff of 12 feet. The crown from the ensign staff of the veteran cruiser HMNZS PHILOMEL was placed at the truck, 112 feet high. The additional 12 feet of height over that planned arose because the rigging party placed the foot of the main mast in a metal tabernacle about three feet high, rather than set it into the ground. They thus sought to avoid the rapid decay of its predecessor. The mast has been maintained annually by the RNZN from that time.

The Navy inaugurated a ceremony on 6 February 1947, intended to commemorate the service of New Zealand’s first naval Governor, and it was not in fact designed as a ceremonial observance of the signing of the Treaty. There was no Maori ceremonial and no Government presence, but in a simple ceremony, the sailors raised the Union Flag to the mast-head before some 1,200 adults and children. The NZ Herald records that spectators were addressed by the Chief of Naval Staff, a practice that was to continue until 1959.

The Waitangi Trust Board resolved “That the Royal New Zealand Navy be thanked for the fine work carried out in the erection of the Flagstaff, the beauty and symmetry of which marks it as a worthy memorial to mark the site of the Treaty of Waitangi; and that this Board views with much satisfaction and pleasure the holding of the Naval Celebration at the Flagstaff on Anniversary Day.”

In 1990, further legitimisation of the Navy’s role at the commemorative ceremonies occurred when a Charter was presented to the RNZN. It conferred on the Navy “. . . the right and privilege, without further permission being obtained, of marching at all times with drums beating, bands playing, colours flying, bayonets fixed and swords drawn through the lands of the Tai Tokerau, especially the Treaty Grounds.” It cemented a relationship between the Navy and the Tai Tokerau which pre-dated nationhood. It also reinforced the undertaking given by the Waitangi National Trust for the Navy to carry out any naval ceremonies at the flagstaff, which it deemed desirable.

Rear Admiral Fred Wilson, 1998.
The Development of the New Zealand Navy,
2002 Edition.

2 Responses to The Navy and Waitangi

  1. Jim Dell says:

    I doubt if this will last much longer.

  2. Janet Saipaia (nee Earle) says:

    In 1967 a new metal flagpole was commissioned to be constructed at the New Zealand Dockyard at the Devonport Naval Base. It was built by Ronald Earle the chief boilermaker at the Dockyard. It was loaded on a truck in sections and Ron welded the sections on site and bolted the flagpole into concrete where it stands today.

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