March 1909: This month last century

102 years ago: Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward announces that New Zealand will gift a ‘first-class battleship’ to the Royal Navy (22 March 1909).

Prime Minister Ward was positioning New Zealand as a loyal and active participant in the defence of the British Empire. This was a time of increasing naval rivalry among the world’s leading nations. There was great anxiety in Britain and the Empire about emerging threats to the Royal Navy’s supremacy.

HMS New Zealand, 1910s, New Zealand. Te Papa

HMS New Zealand, 1910s, New Zealand. Te Papa

The New Zealand government borrowed heavily to pay for the war ship (pictured above) which visited New Zealand in April and May 1913. Huge crowds turned out to greet the new battle cruiser, HMS New Zealand, described by one observer as a ‘grim and formiddble fighting machine’. Many gifts were presented to the ship’s crew, including a pair of silver kettle drums (or timpani), one of which is seen here.

Kettle Drum, 1913, Hawkes and Son (1860–1930), London. Te Papa

Kettle Drum, 1913, Hawkes and Son (1860–1930), London. Te Papa

HMS New Zealand was ready in time to serve in the ‘European War’ which began in August 1914. The ship participated in the Battle of Jutland, an important sea battle in the North Sea near Denmark. The 1916 battle is commemorated in the embroidered picture shown below.

Embroidered picture ’Victory for the Allies’, 1916, Maker unknown. Purchased 2007. Te Papa

Embroidered picture ’Victory for the Allies’, 1916, Maker unknown. Purchased 2007. Te Papa

The ship’s duty was done by the 1920s. It was decommissioned and scrapped in 1922. But the debt remained and the country was still paying off the loan at the end of WWII.

See more objects related to HMS New Zealand in Te Papa’s collections.

See a model of HMS New Zealand and read about its role in imperial relations, on the Slice of Heaven minisite.

One Response

  1. Auckland

    Oh my gosh! Nothings changed, if there’s one side issue that jumps to mind immediately upon reading this post it springs from the lines

    “The New Zealand government borrowed heavily to pay”

    and

    “But the debt remained and the country was still paying off the loan ”

    I guess the old adage proves true time and time again.

    It saddens me greatly that New Zealand has such a nautical and innovative history yet we just can’t seem to pull it together and make a world class maritime patrol fleet from our vast resources.

    Now where’s those h.p. papers……….

    Reply

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