Defend New Zealand - History
On Christmas Day,
1876, 'God Defend New Zealand' had its first performance in Dunedin's
Queen's Theatre. Played by the Royal Artillery Band and sung by the
full complement of the Lydia Howard Burlesque and Opera Burle Troupe,
the patriotic hymn found immediate support and favour with the Dunedin
Written by Thomas
Bracken in the 1870s the words for 'God Defend New Zealand' were
first published as a competition run by The Saturday Advertiser and
New Zealand Literary Miscellany. The competition - the composition of
a National Air based on five verses of the poem, appeared in the Advertiser
on 1 July, 1876. The prize - Ten Guineas.
would close on September 1, the copyright of the successful tune would
become the property of the Advertiser's proprietors, and the entries
would be judged by competent musicians in Melbourne, Victoria.
In a period of widespread
home music and the growing popularity of the piano, there was no shortage
of enthusiastic composers though few managed to stay the distance. In
one Otago country town a young fellow sat down to his piano as soon
as the Advertiser reached him late one night and did not go to bed until
he had set it to music.
On September 9,
the Advertiser reported that 12 completed entries had been forwarded
to Melbourne, and that the decision could be expected in three weeks
time. It proved to be an over-optimistic estimate, and not until the
issue of 21 October was the newspaper able to print a letter from its
Melbourne agent, Mr George Musgrave.
the manuscripts safely, and have at last succeeded in my commission,
I have had great difficulty on getting the best men to act. Zelman at
first refusing, as he said he did not like to pass an opinion on other
Musgrave stuck to
the task and at last Zelman consented. Two other German musicians, Siede
and Zeplin completed the panel - each judging the 12 scores independently.
Of the winner, there was no doubt. All chose the score identified by
the nom-de-plume 'Orpheus' saying that it had more melody than the other
11 entries. And 'Orpheus', the Advertiser revealed, was a Lawrence school
teacher named J. J. Woods - the young man who had dashed off the music
in a single sitting.
The popularity of
'God Defend New Zealand' continued to grow throughout the 19th
century and entered the 20th century as one of the most popular hymns
of the period. Through the efforts of many people, mainly John McDermott,
chief engineer of the Post Office from 1935-39 and an enthusiastic admirer
of Bracken's work, 'God Defend New Zealand' was made New Zealand's
national song in time for the 1940 Centennial celebrations.
In 1976, almost
100 years after the first public performance, a petition carrying 7750
signatures, organised in Dunedin by Mr G. H. Latta and others and calling
for 'God Defend New Zealand' to become the national anthem of
New Zealand was presented to the Petitions Committee of Parliament.
With the permission
of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the Government adopted 'God Defend
New Zealand' as a national anthem of equal status in New Zealand
with 'God Save The Queen.'
The first Maori
translation was carried out at the request of Governor Sir George Grey
in 1878. The translator was Thomas H. Smith of Auckland, a judge in
the Native Land Court. The most recent edition was translated by former
Maori Language Commissioner, Professor Timoti S. Käretu.
Joseph Woods Composer (1849-1932)
At first glance John Joseph Woods was a man few would have picked to
compose the music of 'God Defend New Zealand.' The son of a soldier,
born and educated in Tasmania, and 'four-square' middle class all his
long life, he seems to fit much better to the role of county clerk which
House' in Lawrence, South Otago where Woods wrote the music to 'God
Defend New Zealand'.
Yet he was talented,
very musical (able to play 12 instruments, primarily the violin)
and creative. He was aged about 27 when the Advertiser ran its competition
for a musical setting to Bracken's 'God Defend New Zealand' and
was then teaching at the Roman Catholic School in the gold-mining town
of Lawrence. It was 9 o'clock at night when the Advertiser reached him
there. "On reading the beautiful and appealing words,' he
wrote to A. H. Reed in 1927, 'I immediately felt like one inspired
. . . I set to work instanter and never left my seat 'till the music
was completely finished late on in the night."
It was this spark
of inspiration which has given 'God Defend New Zealand' its enduring
character and an ability to survive recurrent criticisms that the anthem
lacks musical distinction. In many ways it is the ideal complement to
Bracken's verse, which itself expresses the aspirations of ordinary
people with little academic or poetic pretension, but with notable spirit.
Woods was a man
of his community and its institutions. In his own district he was an
all-round sportsman of note, a member and office-bearer in clubs and
societies, long serving choir master of the Roman Catholic Church -
and County Clerk for the Tuapeka County Council for an astounding 55
years. This final achievement alone probably makes him unique in New
Zealand's history and when, on his retirement in 1932 at the age of
83, his services were recognised by creating him a 'freeman of
the county', this was the first time that anyone in the British
Dominion had been given such an honour.
Music, he would
say, was a Divine art, and he saw heaven ". . . as a beautiful
garden of celestial flowers, peopled by choirs of angels, whose songs
of praise and adoration would replace their present-day earthly language."
Not everyone's vision perhaps, but indicative of the populist sentiment
that has kept his music for 'God Defend New Zealand' close to
the aspirations of the average New Zealander.
Bracken Author (1843-1898)
Born at Clones, Ireland on December 21, 1843, Thomas Bracken emigrated
to Dunedin from Geelong, Victoria, in 1869. During his Australian years,
he had written much verse, which he collected into a volume issued in
Dunedin in February 1869. He was determined to make a career in journalism
and talked his way into a job on the staff of the Otago Guardian.
It was at the Guardian
where he met John Bathgate, founder and patron of the Advertiser. Bathgate
founded the Advertiser in July 1875 "to foster a national
spirit in New Zealand and encourage colonial literature"
and believed he had found "the perfect man for the job of
editor" in Thomas Bracken. Bracken accepted the position
of editor on 17 July 1875 and immediately began a progressive editorial
policy of encouraging local writers. He also wrote much of the paper
himself. Due to Bracken's vigorous editorship the papers circulation
soon reached 7000 copies and attracted talented contributors. The success
of the paper encouraged Bracken who felt inspired to contribute the
occasional verse himself, including 'God Defend New Zealand.'
Bracken led a life
of great contrasts. Following on from the highs of the Advertiser, Bracken
went on to have a selection of his poetry published in 'Flowers of
the Free Lands' in 1877. In addition, Bracken also flung himself
with his customary energy into politics. As a strong supporter of Sir
George Grey's radical, egalitarian policies, he stood unsuccessfully
for Dunedin City in 1879. Two years later he won Dunedin Central, but
after three years he was defeated, by three votes, by J B Bradshaw.
In 1883 he visited Samoa and joined with others in urging the New Zealand
Government to annex the islands before the Germans did. When Bradshaw
died in 1886, Bracken was returned at the ensuing by-election, but he
did not stand again after the 1887 dissolution.
When he was elected
in 1881, Bracken said in his speech of thanks, "I am tied
to no Party, and I will work for all classes - for justice to all."
His parliamentary career fulfilled this pledge. He was a firm supporter
of Liberal policies but went his own independent way when he thought
the occasion demanded it. He was a prime mover in encouraging the formation
of a Trades and Labour Council in Dunedin in 1881 and a supporter of
the eight-hour day. He was likewise a doughty opponent of centralism,
and fearful of government "by a handful of official fogies
in the Temple of Red Tape on Lambton Quay!"
the world of journalism after leaving parliament and formed Thomas Bracken
and Co. with Alexander Bathgate and others, who bought the Evening Herald.
He then conducted the paper until it was replaced by the Liberal journal,
the Globe in 1890. After this Bracken concentrated on his literature,
and ended publishing some 14 books of verse and prose. His final text
Musings in Maoriland did not sell well in Australia, so at the request
of his publisher, Bracken went on a promotional tour across the Tasman.
Although he sold 700 copies of the expensive work, Bracken's lecturing
failed to cover his costs. Upon his return to Dunedin, his health began
to deteriorate. He had not been a prudent or temperate man, and he found
himself in strained circumstances. A job was found for him as Bill Reader
in Parliament, but after two sessions, worsening health forced his return
Clouded in debt
and with continuing poor health, the final highlight of Bracken's life
came in 1897 when the then Prime Minister Seddon presented a copy of
the words and music of 'God Defend New Zealand' to Queen Victoria.
Less than six months later Bracken was found lying sick and poor
"at a cottage at the back of a tram in Mornington.' He
was taken to Dunedin Public Hospital where he died on 10 February 1898.
Save The QueenHistory
'God Save The Queen' (or King, depending on who is Sovereign
at the time) is the oldest and possibly the most well known of all
national anthems. The composition of the anthem has been the subject
of much scholarly debate with the words and music being of mixed ancestry.
Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable quotes the words 'Grand Dieu
sauvez le roi' which were sung before Louis XIV in 1686 although
it is probable that the words have their roots in both plainsong and
popular traditions. The music can be translated back to a similarly
wide variety of sources. There is a manuscript copy of words and music
in Antwerp which says both were by Dr John Bull, who was organist of
the Chapel Royal but became organist of Notre Dame, Antwerp, from 1617
to 1628. This manuscript alludes to the anthem being composed on the
discovery of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, to which the words "frustrate
their knavish tricks apply."
The first recorded
conjunction of words and music occurs in a printed collection of songs
issued in 1744 under the title Harmonica Angelica. Around this time
the anthem was frequently performed in London playhouses: Thomas Arne's
arrangement for the Drury Lane Theatre still exists and can be seen
in the British Museum. Since then, minor alterations have been made
to both the words and music. A range of composers, among them Beethoven,
Brahms, Paganini and Debussy, have interpreted the music and there also
exist various choral arrangements, the best known by Elgar and Britten.
Although no single
version has ever received official authorisation, attempts at regulation
have been made. In 1933, owing possibly to the influence of King George
V, who is said to have taken a particular interest in its correct performance,
an Army order was issued containing a set of guidelines to ensure the
proper interpretation. The score for this version is available, published
by Boosey & Hawkes.
'God Save The
Queen' has been the traditional anthem of New Zealand since 1840.
Early in the twentieth century there were attempts to include verses
with special application to New Zealand. One such verse written by E
S Emerson was approved by King Edward VII but never adopted.
A verse written
especially for Commonwealth Day by David Scott is now in use in New
Zealand. Initially used for the Commonwealth Day observance at Westminster
Abbey in 1993, it is also sung in the Commonwealth Day observances at
the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul. Giving recognition to the family
of nations that make up the Commonwealth, Scott's version replaces the
second and third verses.
Not on this land
But be God's mercies known
From shore to shore.
Lord, make the nations see
That we in liberty
Should form one family
The wide world o'er.
Prime Minister Richard Seddon presents a copy of words and music for
'God Defend New Zealand' to Queen Victoria.
Cabinet considers a request, led by John McDermott, to make 'God
Defend New Zealand' our National Song in time for the Centennial
Announcement proclaiming 'God Defend New Zealand' as the
National Song of New Zealand made by Prime Minister Peter Fraser.
Attempt made by Prime Minister Norman Kirk to promote 'God Defend
New Zealand' to status as a National Anthem. This bid was unsuccessful.
Petition presented to Parliament asking that 'God Defend New
Zealand' become New Zealand's official anthem.
On Monday, 21 November, then Minister of Internal Affairs Hon D
A Highet, announced in the New Zealand Gazette "that the
National Anthems of New Zealand shall be the traditional anthem 'God
Save The Queen' and the poem 'God Defend New Zealand', written by Thomas
Bracken, as set to music by John Joseph Woods, both being of equal status
as national anthems appropriate to the occasion." This
action was given with the consent of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.