HMS New Zealand: ‘A grim and formidable fighting machine’

One hundred years ago, Britain’s Royal Navy was threatened by the modern fleet being built by Germany. In March 1909, the New Zealand Premier, Sir Joseph Ward, responded to the defence crisis by promising that New Zealand would underwrite a ship for the Royal Navy. He declared: ‘We distant sons desire to stand in any peril beside the lion mother of our race’.

Postcard showing HMS New Zealand

Postcard showing HMS New Zealand

But there was more to Ward’s gesture besides imperial zeal. It was also in New Zealand’s best interests to make a contribution to the Royal Navy, as the country was dependent on it to protect trade routes to Britain.

People around New Zealand devoted themselves to fund-raising for the ‘gift ship’ – HMS New Zealand. They also raised moneys for gifts to present to the ship’s crew. In 1913, interest was still intense and around 500,000 New Zealanders flocked to inspect the ship when it toured the country for 10 weeks.

Waterline model of HMS New Zealand

Waterline model of HMS New Zealand made by Captain T. M. Devitt, 1950s

HMS New Zealand was an awesome sight; one visitor described it as ‘a monstrous vessel … – a grim and formidable fighting machine.’ But this monstrous vessel had a monstrous price tag – the equivalent of $231 million. Go to Collections Online for more details about this ultra-expensive fighting machine, plus related objects and images held in our collections.

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