Jacking up the Jack

The outcome of the flag referendum on 30 March 2016 shows that many New Zealanders, by choosing to keep the current flag, are still happy to have the Union Jack on it. The voter turnout of 67.8 % may indicate that the third of the population who did not vote didn’t mind whether or not the Union Jack stayed or went.

This was not the case a century ago when the ceremony of “unfurling the flag” became a popular event at schools across New Zealand during the late 1800’s and early twentieth century. These ceremonies were designed to instil national identity and pride in children, as well as make them appreciate the honour of the Union Jack, and by association, the country’s role in the British Empire.

The South African War saw a marked increase in these ceremonies. Schools acquired Union Jacks and flagstaffs either by donation or by fundraising. These formal ceremonies at schools were very well attended by parents, students, teachers, visitors and others in the community.

In some instances these events drew crowds bigger than ever before seen in the district. Newspapers reported on these ceremonies in detail: many times having whole page spreads with accompanying photographs as this following example from The Auckland Weekly News, 22 June 1900, p.4, shows:

There would be patriotic speeches by dignitaries, the official “hoisting of the flag”, bunting, men in uniform, everyone singing the National Anthem and sometimes also “The United Nation”, “The Red, White and Blue” and “The Union Jack of Old England”. Later on it became popular to salute the flag during the ceremony. Formalities would usually be concluded with enthusiastic cheering.

If you’re interested in more flag images, they can be found on Footprints, Heritage Images and Papers Past.

For more British-themed fun look out for Auckland Libraries’ this Queen’s Birthday Weekend down at Queens Wharf. If you can’t make it down there have a look at a much younger Queen Elizabeth II on a couple of her visits to New Zealand in this Historypin collection:


Author: Lynn Diedricks, South Auckland Research Centre