God defend New Zealand

The poet Thomas Bracken (1841-98) was born in Ireland and orphaned at a young age. He was sent to Australia to live with an uncle, near Melbourne. He was initially apprenticed to a pharmacist but later worked as a station hand and shearer. His first volume of verse appeared in 1867, and there was a steady output from his pen until his final years.

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Bracken moved to Dunedin in 1869, and concentrated on journalism, working at the Saturday Advertiser. In the edition of 1 July 1876, he published a five-stanza poem of his own composition entitled ‘National Hymn’ and announced a contest with a prize of ten guineas for the person who composed the best musical setting to accompany his words. The judges were trio of reputable Melbourne-based German-born musicians: Herr Zelman, Herr Siede and Herr Zeplin. They unanimously chose an entry submitted by John Joseph Woods, head teacher at St Patrick’s Catholic School in the town of Lawrence, ninety-six kilometres north of Dunedin.
Ref: Original words & music to 'God defend New Zealand', 7-C1897, Sir George Grey Special Collections

'God defend New Zealand' was first performed in public at Dunedin’s Queens Theatre on Christmas Day, 1876, sung by the Lydia Howard Burlesque and Opera Bouffe Troupe, backed by the Dunedin Royal Artillery Band. Although it proved popular with the general citizenry from the outset, official recognition was a long time coming. It was not until 1977, that the New Zealand government granted the song equal status with God save the Queen as a national anthem.

Ref: Saluting and singing the national anthem, AWNS-18991222-6-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections
When Sir George Grey visited Lawrence, as Premier of the country, in March 1878, a large gathering of local school children sang 'God defend New Zealand' to him, with Woods conducting. Deeply moved, Grey asked the composer for the original music to add to his collection of New Zealand artifacts. He later wrote to Bracken requesting the original manuscript of the words. These are now in the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Central City Library for safe keeping:
  • Lyrics to 'God defend New Zealand' by Thomas Bracken, 1876 (GNZMS 6).
  • Music score to 'God defend New Zealand' by J.J. Woods (GNZMS 296). Related letters from Johannes C. Andersen, E Fox, G Grey, R Seddon and Thomas Bracken are kept with the score. These are copies of originals held at the Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington.
  • Māori translation (printed) by T.H. Smith (facilitated by Sir George Grey) of Thomas Bracken's five-stanza poem, 'God defend New Zealand', 1878 (GNZM 554a  Aötearoa).
Mac Jackson has also discussed the lyrics to the anthem, in another blogpost about the meaning of the words 'Pacific's triple star'.

Ref: Children singing the national anthem, AWNS-18990519-3-1, Sir George Grey Special Collections