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Grey records inscripted on UNESCO register

29 November 2013

Grey records inscripted on UNESCO register

The original manuscripts of New Zealand’s national anthem have received national recognition with inscription on the UNESCO Memory of the World New Zealand register of documentary heritage.

The inclusion of the only existing manuscripts of God Defend New Zealand were announced on Thursday 28 November at a ceremony at Dunedin’s Hocken Library.

The manuscripts join seven other heritage documents registered with UNESCO Memory of the World, including the Treaty of Waitangi and the 1893 Women's Suffrage Petition.

The manuscripts are held in Auckland Libraries’ Sir George Grey Special Collections. New Zealand is a member of the international community working to honour and promote the importance of documentary heritage through the UNESCO Memory of the World Programme, says Allison Dobbie Manager Auckland Libraries and Information.

“Documentary heritage tells the stories of our nation throughout the years and is necessary for understanding New Zealand society today.

“The God Defend New Zealand manuscripts are treasures which we are proud to hold on behalf of the nation,” she says.

The story of our anthem is an interesting one. Thomas Bracken, an Irish-born poet who emigrated to New Zealand in 1869, first published the words of God Defend New Zealand in the Saturday Advertiser, the Dunedin newspaper he edited, in July 1876. At the same time he announced a contest for the best tune to accompany his lyrics. The winner was John Joseph Woods, a young schoolteacher in the Central Otago town of Lawrence.

In March 1878, when Sir George Grey, the then Premier of New Zealand, visited Lawrence, he was welcomed by Woods conducting a choir of 800 schoolchildren singing God Defend New Zealand. Grey’s enthusiasm for the song helped transform it from a local Otago success to a work of national significance.

He asked for manuscripts of the words from Bracken and the musical score by John Joseph Woods. These documents were included in the collection that Grey donated to the Auckland Public Library in 1887.

At Wood’s request and with Bracken’s blessing, Grey also arranged for the words to be translated into Maori by Thomas Henry Smith, a judge in the Native Land Court. Smith’s version, which captures the spirit of Bracken’s lyrics rather than a literal translation, was published in Auckland in November 1878. With just a couple of small changes, it is still the version sung today.

The popularity of God Defend New Zealand grew steadily and with the advent of radio, God Defend New Zealand was broadcast frequently throughout New Zealand in the 1930s. The New Zealand Centennial Council recommended to the Government in 1939 that it should be made our national song. In May 1940 the New Zealand Government officially purchased copyright to the song and in November 1977, with Elizabeth II’s consent, it was declared the country’s national anthem, of equal status with God Save the Queen.

Further information about Memory of the World and the inscriptions on the register can be viewed at


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