HMS New Zealand visits Picton


In 1913, Picton was visited by the largest warship that had ever come to New Zealand, the HMS New Zealand.

HMS New Zealand visits Picton

HMS New Zealand visits Picton. Picton Historical Society

Our country was very proud, as the ship was funded by the New Zealand government as a gift to Britain (our government took out a loan to pay for this). She was launched in 1911, commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1912, and in 1913 was sent on a tour of British Dominions, New Zealand in particular. It was estimated that almost half the population of New Zealand saw the ship, so her arrival in Picton was warmly anticipated. Meetings were held, committees formed, and there was great bustle to ensure that the town upheld its honour. Shops and businesses were decorated with bunting and greenery, and several trains brought sightseers from Blenheim and further south.

HMS New Zealand visits Picton Public welcome

HMS New Zealand is welcomed to Picton. Picton Historical Society

Anchored outside Mabel Island, HMS New Zealand was a battlecruiser of the Indefatigable class, 590 feet long. Tenders were used to bring officers and crew ashore and to take the many local visitors out to the ship for tours of inspection. The ‘native chiefs’ D. Love and A. Rore were asked to provide a Māori welcome, and there was a civic reception outside the Post Office, when the Captain was presented with a framed photo of the brand-new Cook Memorial in Ship Cove.

A ball was held in the evening for the officers, and during the day men of the ship took part in shooting, football and hockey matches against the locals. The visitors were diplomatic enough to state that Picton had the best harbour in New Zealand, and that the haka they’d witnessed was the best they’d seen anywhere.

HMS New Zealand Promotion poster

HMS New Zealand Promotion poster. Picton Historical Society

The ship returned to England in time to take part in the First World War, and was active in many major North Sea battles. She survived unharmed through much action, and this was credited by the crew to her Māori gifts of a piupiu (flax skirt) and greenstone hei-tiki, which the Captain would wear during attacks.

There was another world trip in 1919, when she again visited Picton with the same amount of festivity. The ship was sold for scrap in 1922, many items from the battlecruiser being sent to New Zealand. During the Second World War, her 4-inch guns were mounted to protect harbour entrances at Auckland, Wellington and Lyttelton. The captain's piupiu was returned to New Zealand in 2005, and is on display at the Navy Museum in Auckland alongside the ship's bell and other artefacts. The New Zealand Government completed paying off the loan used to fund the ship in the 1944/45 financial year.

Story originally written by Loreen Brehaut for the Seaport Scene Picton paper in 2013 (updated August 2020)

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