The coat of arms of New Zealand is the heraldic symbol representing the South Pacific island nation of New Zealand. Its design reflects New Zealand's history as a bicultural country, with a European female figure on one side and a Māori rangatira (chief) on the other. The symbols on the central shield represent New Zealand's trade, agriculture and industry, and a Crown represents New Zealand's status as a constitutional monarchy.
The initial coat of arms was granted by warrant of King George V on 26 August 1911, and the current version was granted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1956. While the use of the coat of arms is restricted to the New Zealand Government, the symbol enjoys wide use on state decorations; it appears on the uniform of the police and is on the cover of the national passport.
With the evolution of New Zealand self-government, especially the granting of Dominion status in 1907, it was decided that a new coat of arms was required. An official competition held in 1908 received 78 designs. The winning entry was a design by James McDonald, a draughtsman in the Department of Tourist and Health Resorts. Some adjustments were made to the design, and the arms were granted by Royal Warrant of King George V on 26 August 1911. The warrant was published in the New Zealand Gazette of 11 January 1912.
The arms have remained similar to the original design, with minor changes made in 1956. The central shield has remained unaltered since 1911. It comprises a quartered shield containing in the first quarter four stars representing the Southern Cross constellation (as depicted on the national flag, but with the stars in different proportions); in the second quarter, a golden fleece representing the farming industry; in the third, a wheat sheaf representing agriculture; and in the fourth, two hammers representing mining and industry. Overall this is a pale—a broad vertical strip—with three ships representing the importance of maritime trade and "recalling the 19th-century settlement of the country by European migrants".
In 1956, some of the features surrounding the shield were changed. In the original design, the crest was a demi-lion (the upper half of a rampant lion) holding the Union Flag, and the scroll at the shield's base featured the then motto of the country, "Onward". Early renditions of the coat of arms often featured stylised scrolling, replaced in 1956 by fern leaves.
One month prior to New Zealand's adoption of the Statute of Westminster (which formally accepted the full external autonomy offered by the British Parliament) on 25 September 1947, a special committee was formed by then Prime Minister Peter Fraser. Responsible for the "redrawing and standardisation of the Coat of Arms", the committee consisted of Alistair McIntosh, Joseph Heenan, Dr Colin Aickman, Frank Corner, Foss Shanahan and Professor John Cawte Beaglehole. One of the committee's concerns was that the female supporter looked too much like a "Soviet heroine". Following the election of the First National Government in 1949, the new Attorney-General, Jack Marshall (later Prime Minister) took up responsibility for the committee. Marshall requested the woman to be re-drawn based on the likeness of Grace Kelly, a favourite actress of his.
|“||Arms: Quarterly, Azure and Gules on a Pale Argent three Lymphads Sable, between in the first quarter four Mullets in cross Gules, fimbriated Argent, in the second a Fleece; in the third a Garb, and in the last two Mining Hammers in Saltire, all Or. Crest: the Crown of Saint Edward proper. Supporters: On the dexter side, a female figure proper vested Argent supporting in the dexter hand a Flag-staff proper, hoisted thereon the Ensign of the Dominion of New Zealand, and on the sinister side a Maori Rangatira vested proper holding in his dexter hand a Taiaha all proper. Motto: New Zealand.||”|
The Compartment, which is what the Supporters stand on, is not always part of the Blazon but in this case it is two New Zealand Ferns in their natural colour.
None of New Zealand's national symbols—the flag, the anthem or the coat of arms—are mentioned in the Constitution Act 1986. The official use of the coat of arms was mandated by Royal Warrant in 1917. The use of state, royal, and vice-regal emblems is also protected by the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981.
The arms are the official symbol of New Zealand as a sovereign entity. As such, official usage of the coat of arms is restricted to the New Zealand Government. It is used as a mark of authority by various government agencies and representatives, including the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and most courts, including the Supreme Court. The coat of arms also feature on all Acts of Parliament; and on the cover of the New Zealand passport, alongside the silver fern, another common symbol of New Zealand.
On a few occasions—such as royal visits or jubilee celebrations—individuals and private organisations can display the coat of arms temporarily. It can only be used or published with the permission of the Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
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