Dominion of New Zealand
1907–1947[note 1]
Motto: "Onward"
Anthem: "God Save the King"
StatusDominion of the British Empire
Common languagesEnglish, Māori
GovernmentParliamentary constitutional monarchy
• 1907–1910
Edward VII
• 1910–1936
George V
• 1936
Edward VIII
• 1936–1947
George VI
• 1907–1910
William Plunket (first)
• 1946–1947
Bernard Freyberg (last)
Prime minister 
• 1907–1912
Joseph Ward (first)
• 1940–1947
Peter Fraser (last)
LegislatureGeneral Assembly (Parliament)
• Upper house
Legislative Council
• Lower house
House of Representatives
26 September 1907
25 November 1947[note 1]
CurrencyNew Zealand pound[note 2]
ISO 3166 codeNZ
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Colony of New Zealand
New Zealand
Cook Islands

The Dominion of New Zealand was the historical successor to the Colony of New Zealand. It was a constitutional monarchy with a high level of self-government within the British Empire.

New Zealand became a separate British Crown colony in 1841 and received responsible government with the Constitution Act in 1852. New Zealand chose not to take part in the Federation of Australia and became the Dominion of New Zealand on 26 September 1907, Dominion Day, by proclamation of King Edward VII. Dominion status was a public mark of the political independence that had evolved over half a century through responsible government.

Just under one million people lived in New Zealand in 1907 and cities such as Auckland and Wellington were growing rapidly.[1] The Dominion of New Zealand allowed the British Government to shape its foreign policy, and it followed Britain into the First World War. The 1923 and 1926 Imperial Conferences decided that New Zealand should be allowed to negotiate its own political treaties, and the first commercial treaty was ratified in 1928 with Japan. When the Second World War broke out in 1939 the New Zealand Government made its own decision to enter the war.

In the post-war period, the term Dominion has fallen into disuse. Sovereignty on external affairs was granted with the Statute of Westminster in 1931 and adopted by the New Zealand Parliament in 1947. The 1907 royal proclamation of Dominion status has never been revoked,[2][3] although legal academics differ as to whether the proclamation can be said to be in force.[4]

Dominion status


The alteration in status was stirred by a sentiment on the part of the prime ministers of the self-governing colonies of the British Empire that a new term was necessary to differentiate them from the non-self-governing colonies. At the 1907 Imperial Conference, it was argued that self-governing colonies that were not styled 'Dominion' (like Canada) or 'commonwealth' (like Australia) should be designated by some such title as 'state of the empire'.[5] After much debate over lexicon, the term 'Dominion' was decided upon.[5]

Following the 1907 conference, the New Zealand House of Representatives passed a motion requesting that King Edward VII "take such steps as he may consider necessary"[6] to change the designation of New Zealand from the Colony of New Zealand to the Dominion of New Zealand.[7]

The adoption of the designation of Dominion would, "raise the status of New Zealand" stated Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward and "… have no other effect than that of doing the country good".[8] Ward also had regional imperial ambitions. He hoped the new designation would remind the world that New Zealand was not part of Australia. It would dignify New Zealand, a country he thought was "the natural centre for the government of the South Pacific".[9]

Dominion status was strongly opposed by Leader of the Opposition William Massey, an ardent British imperialist, who suspected that the change would lead to demands for increases in viceregal and ministerial salaries.[9]

Royal proclamation

A royal proclamation granting New Zealand the designation of 'Dominion' was issued on 9 September 1907. On 26 September the Prime Minister, Sir Joseph Ward, read the proclamation from the steps of Parliament:

Edward R. & I. Whereas We have on the Petition of the Members of the Legislative Council and House of Representatives of Our Colony of New Zealand determined that the title of Dominion of New Zealand shall be substituted for that of the Colony of New Zealand as the designation of the said Colony, We have therefore by and with the advice of Our Privy Council thought fit to issue this Our Royal Proclamation and We do ordain, declare and command that on and after the twenty-sixth day of September, one thousand nine hundred and seven, the said Colony of New Zealand and the territory belonging thereto shall be called and known by the title of the Dominion of New Zealand. And We hereby give Our Commands to all Public Departments accordingly. Given at Our Court at Buckingham Palace, this ninth day of September, in the year of Our Lord one thousand nine hundred and seven, and in the seventh year of Our Reign. God save the King[10]

Effect and reception

The New Zealand Observer (1907) shows Prime Minister Sir Joseph Ward as a pretentious dwarf beneath a massive 'Dominion' top hat. The caption reads: The Surprise Packet:
Canada: "Rather large for him, is it not?"
Australia: "Oh his head is swelling rapidly. The hat will soon fit."

With the attaining of Dominion status, the colonial treasurer became the minister of finance and the Colonial Secretary's Office was renamed the Department of Internal Affairs. The proclamation of 10 September also designated members of the House of Representatives as "M.P." (Member of Parliament). Previously they were designated "M.H.R." (Member of the House of Representatives).[11]

Letters patent were issued to confirm New Zealand's change in status, declaring that: "there shall be a Governor and Commander-in-Chief in and over Our Dominion of New Zealand".[12][failed verification] Dominion status allowed New Zealand to become virtually independent, while retaining the British monarch as head of state, represented by a governor appointed in consultation with the New Zealand Government. Control over defence, constitutional amendments, and (partially) foreign affairs remained with the British Government.[12][failed verification]

Joseph Ward had thought that New Zealanders would be "much gratified" with the new title. Dominion status was in fact received with limited enthusiasm or indifference from the general public,[9] who were unable to discern any practical difference.[13][failed verification] Dominion status symbolised New Zealand's shift to self-governance, but this change had been practically accomplished with the first responsible government in the 1850s.[13][failed verification]

Historian Keith Sinclair later remarked:

… the change of title, for which there had been no demand, produced little public interest. It was largely regarded as Ward's personal show … it was merely cosmetic.[9]

According to Dame Silvia Cartwright, 18th Governor-General of New Zealand, in a 2001 speech:

This event passed relatively unheralded. It attracted little comment. This illustrates that what may appear as a constitutional landmark, particularly from this point in time needs to be seen in its context. And so, although new Letters Patent and Royal Instructions were issued in 1907, and the requirement to reserve certain classes of Bill for His Majesty's pleasure was omitted, New Zealand certainly didn't embrace dominion status with the vigour of a young nation intent on independence.[14]

The national flag, depicting the British Union Flag, remained the same.[15] Until 1911 New Zealand used the royal coat of arms of the United Kingdom on all official documents and public buildings, but following its new status a new coat of arms for New Zealand was designed. A royal warrant granting armorial ensigns and supports was issued on 26 August 1911 and published in the New Zealand Gazette on 11 January 1912.[16]

For a further decade, until 1917, the viceroy retained the title 'governor'; letters patent were issued re-designating the viceroy as 'governor-general' (as in other Dominions). The new title better reflected New Zealand's prestige within the British Empire. The 1917 letters patent constituted the office, with the officeholder described as 'Governor-General and Commander-in-Chief in and over Our Dominion of New Zealand'.[17]

Despite the new status, there was some apprehension in 1919 when Prime Minister Bill Massey signed the Treaty of Versailles (giving New Zealand membership of the League of Nations). This act was a turning point in New Zealand's diplomatic history, indicating that the Dominion had a degree of control over its foreign affairs.[18] Massey himself did not view it as a symbolic act and would have preferred New Zealand to maintain a deferential role within the empire.[18]

Dominion Day

Main article: Dominion Day § New Zealand

To mark the granting of Dominion status, 26 September was declared Dominion Day. The first Dominion Day was celebrated on 25 September 1907, when one politician said it would be remembered as New Zealand's Fourth of July.[5]

Today, it is observed only as a Provincial Anniversary Day holiday in South Canterbury. There is support in some quarters for the day to be revived as an alternative New Zealand Day, instead of renaming Waitangi Day, New Zealand's current national day.[19]

Territorial expansion

The Antarctic territory of the Ross Dependency, previously under the sovereignty of the United Kingdom, is today regarded by New Zealand as having become part of the Dominion of New Zealand on 16 August 1923.[20] The legality of that contemporary assertion has been questioned[21] but is nonetheless the position of New Zealand.

The Cook Islands and Niue each already formed part of the Dominion of New Zealand on the date it was proclaimed. Both had become part of the Colony of New Zealand on 11 June 1901.[22] Western Samoa was never part of New Zealand, having instead been the subject of a League of Nations mandate and subsequently a United Nations Trusteeship agreement. In 1982 the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council allowed Samoans born under New Zealand administration (i.e. prior to 1962) to claim New Zealand citizenship.[23]

Changes to Dominion status

Balfour Declaration

Main article: Balfour Declaration of 1926

King George V with the prime ministers of the British Dominions at the 1926 Imperial Conference.[note 3]

The 1926 Imperial Conference devised the 'Balfour formula' of Dominion status, stating that:

The United Kingdom and the Dominions are autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status, in no way subordinate one to another in any aspect of their domestic or external affairs, though united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth

The Balfour Report further resolved that each respective governor-general occupied "the same position in relation to the administration of public affairs in the Dominion" as was held by the monarch in the United Kingdom.[25] Consequently, the only advisers to the governor-general (and the monarch in New Zealand) were his New Zealand ministers.

Prime Minister Gordon Coates, who led the New Zealand delegation to the conference, called the Balfour Declaration a "poisonous document" that would weaken the British Empire as a whole.[2]

Statute of Westminster

In 1931, the British (Imperial) Parliament passed the Statute of Westminster, which repealed the imperial Colonial Laws Validity Act and gave effect to resolutions passed by the imperial conferences of 1926 and 1930. It essentially gave legal recognition to the "de facto sovereignty" of the Dominions by removing Britain's ability to make laws for the Dominions without their consent:[26]

No Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom passed after the commencement of this Act shall extend, or be deemed to extend, to a Dominion as part of the law of that Dominion, unless it is expressly declared in that Act that that Dominion has requested, and consented to, the enactment thereof.

— Statute of Westminster, Section 4.[27]

New Zealand initially viewed the Statute of Westminster as an "unnecessary legal complication that it perceived would weaken imperial relations."[28] The New Zealand Government only allowed the Dominion of New Zealand to be cited in the statute provided that the operative sections did not apply unless adopted by the New Zealand Parliament.[29] Preferring the British Government to handle most of its foreign affairs and defence, New Zealand held back from adopting the Statute of Westminster Act.[30]

The Labour government of Peter Fraser adopted the Statute of Westminster in 1947.

The First Labour Government (1935–1949) pursued a more independent path in foreign affairs, in spite of the statute remaining unadopted.[29] In 1938 Deputy Prime Minister Peter Fraser told Parliament, "this country has to make up its own mind on international problems as a sovereign country – because under the Statute of Westminster ours is a sovereign country".[29] In the 1944 Speech from the Throne the Governor-General announced the government's intention to adopt the Statute of Westminster.[31] It was forced to abandon the proposal when the opposition accused the government of being disloyal to Britain at a time of need.[31] Ironically, the National opposition prompted the adoption of the statute in 1947 when its leader, and future prime minister, Sidney Holland introduced a member's bill to abolish the Legislative Council.[29] Because New Zealand required the consent of the British Parliament to make the necessary amendments to the New Zealand Constitution Act 1852, Peter Fraser, now Prime Minister, had a reason to finally adopt the statute.[31] It was formally adopted on 25 November 1947 with the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947, along with consenting legislation from the British Parliament.[30]

New Zealand was the last Dominion listed in the statute to adopt it.[30]

Dominion in disuse

After the Second World War, the country joined the United Nations as simply "New Zealand".[7] A year later in 1946, Prime Minister Peter Fraser instructed government departments not to use the term Dominion any longer.[32]

One of the first marks of New Zealand's sovereignty was the alteration of the monarch's title by the Royal Titles Act 1953. For the first time, the monarch's official New Zealand title mentioned New Zealand separately from the United Kingdom and the other Dominions, now called Realms:

Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God of the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Her Other Realms and Territories Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith.

— Royal Titles Act 1953 (NZ), s 2; Royal Titles Proclamation (1953) II New Zealand Gazette 851

The name of the state in official usage was also changed to the Realm of New Zealand.[2][note 4] The term Dominion largely fell into disuse over the next decade.[2] The term persisted the longest in the names of institutions (for instance, the Dominion Museum was not renamed the National Museum until 1972),[33] businesses, and in the constitutions of clubs and societies. The Dominion Post, a newspaper formed by a merger of The Dominion (first published on 26 September 1907,[34] the day New Zealand achieved Dominion status) and The Evening Post, dropped "Dominion" to become The Post as late as April 2023.[35]

The change in style did not otherwise affect the legal status of New Zealand or its Government; the 1907 royal proclamation of Dominion status has never been revoked and remains in force today. As such, the term 'dominion' may be included in the formal title of New Zealand.[2][3]

Nevertheless, the opinion of the New Zealand Government is that New Zealand became sovereign on foreign issues in 1947: "…both in terms of gaining formal legal control over the conduct of its foreign policy and the attainment of constitutional and plenary powers by its legislature".[6] In passing the Constitution Act 1986 (effective 1 January 1987), New Zealand "unilaterally revoked all residual United Kingdom legislative power".[36] Legal academics Alison Quentin-Baxter and Janet McLean argue the 1907 proclamation should be regarded as "spent", albeit not revoked.[4]


Population summary of the Dominion of New Zealand in 1911

Further information: 1911 New Zealand census

In the 1911 census, the total population of the Dominion of New Zealand was counted as 1,058,313 – an overall increase of 122,004 people or 13.03% over the 1906 census figure.[37] This number also included half-castes and Chinese people. Māori were not included as part of the total population of the official census and were instead counted separately; the Māori population was counted at 49,829 people, and 15 Moriori living on the Chatham Islands.

Total Population (including Chinese and half-castes)
Persons. Males. Females.
Population (excluding Māori) 1,008,468 531,910 476,558
Māori population 49,829 26,468 23,361
Moriori living on Chatham Islands 15 7 8
Population of Cook Islands and other annexed Islands 12,598 6,449 6,149
Total population of the Dominion 1,070,910 564,834 506,076

Population in provincial districts (excluding Māori)

Provincial District. Persons. Males. Females.
Auckland 264,520 141,699 122,821
Taranaki 51,569 27,785 23,784
Hawke's Bay 48,546 25,769 22,777
Wellington 199,094 104,946 94,148
Marlborough 15,985 8,745 7,240
Nelson 48,463 26,958 21,505
Westland 15,714 8,719 6,995
Canterbury 173,185 88,391 84,794
- Otago portion 132,402 66,995 65,407
- Southland portion 58,728 31,735 26,993
Chatham Islands 258 166 92
Kermadec Islands 4 2 2

See also



  1. ^ a b Whether New Zealand's status as a British Dominion came to an end in 1947 with the enactment of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1947 is unclear. For a discussion, see the relevant section of this article.
  2. ^ Before 1933 British and Australian coins circulated in New Zealand.
  3. ^ Standing (left to right): Walter Stanley Monroe (Newfoundland), Gordon Coates (New Zealand), Stanley Bruce (Australia), J. B. M. Hertzog (Union of South Africa), W. T. Cosgrave (Irish Free State). Seated: Stanley Baldwin (United Kingdom), King George V, William Lyon Mackenzie King (Canada)
  4. ^ In 1952 the Realm comprised New Zealand and its dependent territories, the Cook Islands, Niue, Tokelau, and the Ross Dependency in Antarctica. The Cook Islands and Niue later became self-governing states associated with New Zealand, in 1965 and 1974 respectively.


  1. ^ "The New Zealand Official Year-Book 1907". Statistics New Zealand. 1907. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b c d e "What changed? – Dominion status". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  3. ^ a b "New Zealand 'still a colony'". 30 September 2007. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  4. ^ a b Quentin-Baxter & McLean 2017, p. 30.
  5. ^ a b c McIntyre, W. David (20 June 2012). "Self-government and independence – Political independence". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand.
  6. ^ a b "Research papers". New Zealand Government/New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  7. ^ a b McIntyre, W. David (2001). A guide to the contemporary Commonwealth. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave. p. 11. ISBN 9781403900951.
  8. ^ Report on the Inquiry into New Zealand's Constitutional Arrangements
  9. ^ a b c d "Becoming a dominion". NZ History. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  10. ^ See Proclamation of the Dominion of New Zealand (London, 9 September 1907), archived on WikiSource
  11. ^ Scholefield, G. H. (1932) [1908]. Who's Who in New Zealand (3 ed.). Wellington: Reed. p. 11.
  12. ^ a b "Dominion Day – From colony to dominion". NZHistory. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 20 December 2012. Retrieved 10 March 2013.
  13. ^ a b "Dominion status". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 5 August 2014.
  14. ^ "The Role of the Governor-General," speech by Governor-General Dame Silvia Cartwright, New Zealand Centre for Public Law, Victoria University, Wellington, 2 October 2001.
  15. ^ "Flags of New Zealand - Flags of New Zealand". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 8 February 2019.
  16. ^ "Coat of Arms". Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
  17. ^ "Letters Patent Constituting the Office of Governor-General of New Zealand (SR 1983/225) (as at 22 August 2006) – New Zealand Legislation". New Zealand Government.
  18. ^ a b McLean, Gavin. "William Massey". NZ History. Ministry for Culture and Heritage. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  19. ^ "Editorial: Dominion Day debate needless – National – NZ Herald News". The New Zealand Herald. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  20. ^ "Ross Dependency Boundaries and Government Order in Council 1923 (SR 1923/974) (as at 17 August 1923), Imperial Contents". Parliamentary Counsel Office. Retrieved 18 November 2021.
  21. ^ See "New Zealand's Claims in the Antarctic" by Ivor L. M. Richardson, New Zealand Law Journal, Vol. 33, No. 9, p. 133
  22. ^ "Commonwealth and Colonial Law" by Kenneth Roberts-Wray, London, Stevens, 1966. P. 891 and 897
  23. ^ "Privy Council rules on Samoan citizenship". Ministry for Culture and Heritage. 5 July 2017. Retrieved 22 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Balfour Declaration of 1926". National Archives of Australia. Archived from the original on 3 August 2006. Retrieved 23 July 2006.
  25. ^ Dawson, R. MacGregor (1 January 1937). "Review of The King and His Dominion Governors: A Study of the Reserve Powers of the Crown in Great Britain and the Dominions". The Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science: 139–142. doi:10.2307/136836. JSTOR 136836.
  26. ^ "Statute of Westminster". The Commonwealth. Retrieved 18 December 2016.
  27. ^ "Statute of Westminster, 1931" (PDF). Government of the United Kingdom. 1931.
  28. ^ Harshan Kumarasingham, 'The "New Commonwealth" 1947–49: A New Zealand Perspective on India Joining the Commonwealth', The Round Table, Vol. 95(385), July 2006, pp. 441–454.
  29. ^ a b c d McIntyre, W. David (20 June 2012). "Self-government and independence: Statute of Westminster". Te Ara – the Encyclopedia of New Zealand. Retrieved 20 December 2016.
  30. ^ a b c "Statute of Westminster passed". NZ history. Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
  31. ^ a b c Michael Bassett and Michael King (2001). "Tomorrow Comes the Song: A Life of Peter Fraser". Penguin Books. Archived from the original on 8 February 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2007.
  32. ^ Dame Silvia Cartwright (2001). "The Role of the Governor-General". Governor-General of New Zealand. Archived from the original on 16 October 2006. Retrieved 23 July 2006.
  33. ^ "Former National/Dominion Museum and National Art Gallery" (PDF). Massey University. p. 6. Retrieved 21 December 2016.
  34. ^ "The Dominion". Papers Past. National Library of New Zealand. Retrieved 22 July 2018.
  35. ^ "'Evolving with its community': New name for The Dominion Post". Stuff. 13 April 2023. Retrieved 3 November 2023.
  36. ^ Philip A. Joseph, Constitutional and Administrative Law in New Zealand, Brookers, Wellington, 2001, p. 459.
  37. ^ Total and Māori populations 1858–2013 Archived 26 October 2016 at the Wayback Machine Censuses of Population and Dwellings


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