The seal of New Zealand is an instrument of sovereignty representing the legal authority of the state and is used to authenticate official government documents. The seal currently in use was introduced in 1959 and is the first to use the New Zealand coat of arms (accompanied by the words ‘Elizabeth The Second Queen of New Zealand’). In 2002 custody of the seal was formally transferred to the clerk of the Executive Council (part of the Cabinet Office in Wellington).
The colonial seal
A public seal was sent to New Zealand for use on documents requiring the signature of the governor (later the governor-general). Captain William Hobson used a small seal, with sealing wax, on the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840. This seal bore the royal arms with the words ‘New Zealand’ below.
All colonial government documents from 1841 onwards were affixed with the public seal of New Zealand. The design of the seal changed periodically. The first seal (1841) showed Queen Victoria, with a group of Māori chiefs. A second seal (1848) dispensed with the chiefs. Subsequently, seals were sometimes replaced to acknowledge a new sovereign coming to the throne.
Provincial and local governments
Seals were also used by territorial authorities. New Zealand’s provincial governments (in existence between 1848 and 1876) were able to affix a seal to their public documents.
The sixth and seventh seals
The sixth seal, reflecting the accession of King George VI in 1936, remained in use until 1959 despite the King’s death seven years earlier. He was described as the Emperor of India despite India and Pakistan having become independent in 1947.
The seventh seal (1959) is the only one to be issued during the reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
Seal of New Zealand Act
The Seal of New Zealand Act 1977 provides for a seal of New Zealand to be used by the Queen or the governor-general on the advice of a minister in the New Zealand government ‘or on the advice and with the consent of the Executive Council of New Zealand’.
The seal – like the coat of arms – is an expression of the authority of the Crown, applied in accordance with advice from the New Zealand government. There are no legal barriers to a future New Zealand government’s advising its head of state to issue, ‘by Proclamation’, a new or revised public seal.
The seal is also the basis for the Queen’s Royal Standard of New Zealand, her personal flag as the country’s monarch. The flag, adopted by the Queen in October 1962 for use on her tour of New Zealand the following year (and also used subsequently), includes the principal items from the shield on the coat of arms – the Southern Cross, the wheat, the fleece, the crossed hammers and the ships – with the middle ship replaced by the letter ‘E’ and a crown, surrounded by roses.
Acknowledgements to Phillip O’Shea