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Launching Ships

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
BELLONA 1946 Nil Commissioning
BLACKPOOL 1966 Nil Handover
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


15/8/1956 Unknown Commissioning
ENDEAVOUR [II] 5/10/1962 Nil Handover
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
HICKLETON 10/4/1965 Nil Commissioning
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
KAIMA 1952 Nil Handover
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
MANAWANUI [III] 5/4/1988 Nil Commissioning
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
SANTON 10/4/1965 Nil Commissioning
SOUTHLAND August 1983 Nil Handover
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
TUI [AGOR] 11/4/1949 Nil Handover
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 1/10/1982 Nil Handover
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


  1. 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.
  2. 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
  3. References
    1. Commissioning Booklets
    2. RNZN Cuttings
    3. Newspaper Cuttings
    4. RNZN Navy News
    5. Reveille
    6. Customs and Traditions of the Royal Navy

More to explore. 

Customs & Traditions