In 1909 Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward announced that New Zealand would fund the construction of a battlecruiser for the Royal Navy. In the event the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand cost £1.7 million (equivalent to $275 million in 2015). With 26 guns and 800 crew, the ship was commissioned for service in November 1912.
HMS New Zealand arrived in Wellington on 12 April 1913 as part of a 10-week tour during which an estimated 500,000 New Zealanders inspected their gift to Mother England. Ten sailors deserted in Auckland, while Dunedin sightseers had to be ferried out to the heads because the ship was too large to enter Otago Harbour.
The ship’s first captain, Lionel Halsey, was presented by Māori with a piupiu (flax kilt) and a greenstone hei tiki (pendant) which was intended to ward off evil. He wore these items while in command of New Zealand at the Battles of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank. His successor Captain John Green inherited the piupiu and tiki from Halsey and they were on board during the Battle of Jutland in May 1916, when, as in the earlier battles, the ship escaped significant damage or casualties. HMS New Zealand’s subsequent reputation as a lucky ship was attributed by some to the piupiu and hei tiki.
In 1919, when Admiral Jellicoe took a Royal Navy fleet on another tour of the dominions to report on their defences, he chose HMS New Zealand as his flagship. In New Zealand, crowds once more flocked to visit the ship. This time more than a third of the country’s 1.1 million people went aboard during the 11 weeks it was here.
By now obsolescent, HMS New Zealand became a casualty of the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty. The vessel was decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1923. New Zealand did not finish paying for it until 1944.
Image: HMS New Zealand in Lyttelton