There is a clear religious significance to launching ceremonies for the ancient sailors and it was akin to the baptism ceremony of infants in their entering the world.
Wine was used in rituals and the Romans used wine as a sacrament and water to signify purification.
The Vikings offered a human sacrifice to the Norse sea gods whom they believed demanded a life for every ship launched.
A slave, of whom it was thought, was easier to sacrifice than the life of a Viking was bound upon the launch warp and the longship would pass over their body to the water.
With the advent of Christianity this barbarous practice was dropped and the slave was replaced by a goat. By 1680, at all launchings, it was the common European practice to toast the health of the ship and her future complement with a silver cup of wine.
This would be thrown into the sea. However this practice was discontinued as too expensive when the expansion of ships built and launched by the development of the European navies and merchant fleets made it uneconomical.
A New Tradition
The idea of sponsorship has links to the practice of patronage given to Regiments of the Army which has its tradition reaching back to the 17th century.
In that case the regiment would be presented with its Regimental Colours by the patron who remained the honorary Colonel-in-Chief.
By the late 18th century in England the Royal House under King George initiated the custom of breaking a bottle of wine on the bows of a ship as it was launched.
A Princess of the House of Hanover, then the ruling House of England, was paid the compliment of being asked to sponsor one of the ships of the Navy.
This became the equivalent of the Army’s tradition of patronage for their regiments. Unfortunately, the Princess threw the bottle with more energy than accuracy and it struck of the spectators, causing severe injuries to the unfortunate man who subsequently claimed damages from the Admiralty.
To avoid a repetition, the Admiralty instituted the protocol of attaching a cord to the bottle.
By 1811 a Royal Navy vessel, was always launched by a royal personage or Dockyard Commissioner. In that year, the Prince regent instituted the custom of asking a woman to perform the Office of Launching.
This has continued down to the present day. The woman who launches the ship is also known as the sponsor and can act as a “patron” to the ship’s company during the commission of the vessel.
An example is Lady Liverpool who in 1915 raised funds to provide oilskins for the men serving in the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand.
Some examples of RNZN Vessels and their Sponsors
HMNZS Achilles Lady Stanley – Wife of the Secretary for the Admiralty
HMNZS Canterbury HRH Princess Anne
HMNZS Haku Lady Reeves – wife of the Governor General
HMNZS Otago HRH Princess Margaret
HMNZS Taranaki Lady Freyberg – wife of Governor General Freyberg
HMNZS Te Kaha Lady Joan Bolger – wife of Prime Minister Bolger
HMNZS Waikato HRH Princess Alexandra
Ladies Launching/Commissioning/Naming Ships
|ACHILLES||31/3/1936||Nil||Handover – originally Lady Stanley, wife of Parliamentary Secretary of the Admiralty|
|AROHA||8/9/1942||Mrs Adam Hamilton|
|AWATERE||26/9/1942||Mrs. Peter Fraser||Wife of the then NZ PM|
|BLACK PRINCE||1946||Nil||Handover – originally Lady Dixon|
|CANTERBURY||6/5/1970||HRH Princess Anne|
|CANTERBURY||12/7/2007||Helen Clark MP||Prime Minister in 2007|
|ENDEAVOUR [III]||6/4/1988||Mrs. J. McLean||Wife of Mayor of New Plymouth|
|GAMBIA||September 1943||Nil||Handover – originally Lady Hibery|
|HAKU II||November 1990||Lady Reeves||Wife of then Governor General|
|HAUTAPU||1943||Mrs. Adam Hamilton|
|HAWEA [FF]||1/10/1948||Lady Burnett||Wife of CinC Plymouth|
|HAWEA [PC]||29/9/1975||Mrs. W.E. Rowling||Wife of the then PM|
|HAWEA [IPV]||2007||Lady Sandra O’Regan|
|HINAU [M/S]||28/8/1941||Mrs. D.G.Sullivan||Wife of Minister of Supply|
|INVERELL||1952||Nil||Handover – originally wife of Mayor of Inverell|
|KANIERE||28/9/1948||Lady Willis||Wife of CinC Portsmouth|
|KIWI [IPC]||7/5/1984||Mrs A. Steward||Wife of CNS|
|LACHLAN||4/10/1949||Nil||Handover – Mrs. J.H. Scullin|
|MAKO II||1991||Mrs. H. Hunter||Wife of CNS|
|MANAWANUI [II]||8/12/1978||Mrs. G.L. McCready||Wife of Minister of Defence|
|MANGA II||11/3/1991||Mrs. S Teagle||Wife of CNS|
|MANUKA||23/9/1941||Mrs. Paikea||Wife of Hon. P.K. Paikea|
|MOA [IPC]||16/7/1983||Mrs. L. Saull||Wife of CNS|
|MONOWAI [AMC]||30/8/1940||Unknown||Commissioning Princess Te Puea Herangi had a definite interest in the ship|
|OTAGO||11/12/1958||HRH Princess Margaret|
|OTAGO [OPV]||18/11/2006||Dame Silva Cartwright||Governor General|
|PAEA II||12/5/1990||Mrs. M. Mace||Wife of CDS|
|PUKAKI [PC]||24/2/1975||Lady Blundell||Wife of Governor General|
|PUKAKI [IPV]||2007||Dame Alison Roxburgh|
|RESOLUTION||14/2/1995||RA Jen Welch||Renaming – CNS|
|ROTOITI [FF]||6/6/1949||Mrs. W.H. Jordan||Wife of NZHC London|
|ROTOITI [PC]||24/2/1975||Mrs. Fraser||Wife of Minister of Defence|
|ROTOITI [IPV]||2007||Barbara Arnott|
|TAKAPU [II]||9/6/1980||Mrs. J. Thomson||Wife of Minister of Defence|
|TARANAKI||19/8/1959||Lady Freyberg||Wife of former Governor General|
|TARAPUNGA [II]||November 1979||Mrs. B. Anderson||Wife of CNS|
|TAUPO [FF]||3/9/1948||Lady Burrough||Wife of CinC Nore|
|TAUPO [PC]||29/7/1975||Mrs. E.C. Thorne||Wife of CNS|
|TAUPO [IPV]||2007||Lady Susan Satyanand|
|TE KAHA||22/7/1995||Mrs. Joan Bolger||Wife of PM|
|TE MANA||10/5/1997||Kingi Tuheitia||Maori King|
|TUI [CORVETTE]||1941||Lady Jellicoe||Wife of Former Governor General|
|TUTIRA||11/4/1949||Lady Moore||Wife of CinC Nore|
|WAIKATO||19/2/1965||HRH Princess Alexandra|
|WAKAKURA [IPC]||29/10/1984||Mrs. S. O’Flynn||Wife of Minister of Defence|
|WELLINGTON [OPV]||27/10/2007||Dame Sian Elias||Head of the Supreme Court of NZ|
|MANAWANUI||8/06/2019||RT Hon Jacinda Ardern||Prime Minister|
- This list has been complied from sources available at the RNZN Museum only. Accordingly there is doubt in respect of the precise dates of launching naming of some ships.
- The Date as shown is that of launching/naming as applicable. In a few instances this date is the same as the date of commissioning
- Commissioning Booklets
- RNZN Cuttings
- Newspaper Cuttings
- RNZN Navy News
- Customs and Traditions of the Royal Navy