Coats of arms were developed as heraldic designs for purposes of identification of individuals and had their origins in the 12th century among the nobility in Europe.
When knights in medieval Europe began to wear helmets which covered their faces, no one could tell who they were, so they painted individual identifiers on their shields and banners with a combination of colours, shapes and animals – hence coat of arms.
Coats of arms would later be adopted by organisations, such as municipalities.
Napier's coat of arms were granted and assigned on August 31, 1951 under the Seal of Sir George Rothe Bellew (1899‒1993, Garter Principal King of Arms, Sir Arthur William Cockrane (1872‒1952), Clarenceux King of Arms and Sir Gerald Woods Wollaston (1874‒1957), Norroy and Ulster King of Arms.
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A donation of £160 (2019: $10,000) to pay for the coat of arms was made by Mr C H Wilkie, a borough councillor from 1925 to 1929.
The motto on the coat of arms "Faith and Courage" was decided upon after a competition attracted 150 entries from Napier residents.
The coat of arms is made up of several different components.
Blazon. This is the description contained in the grant for the coat of arms.
Napier's is: Barry Wavy of six Azure and Argent a fleece or on a Chief of the second three Roses Gules barbed and seeded proper.
This can be described as the shield being patterned with an even number (six) of undulated bands of blue (azure) and silver (argent). The wavy undulated blue bands are accepted heraldic symbols for coastal towns.
Representing the importance to Napier of wool, is the heraldic symbol of the golden fleece.
At the "chief" of the shield is three roses taken from the coat of arms of Lord Napier and Lord Ettrick, head of the Napier clan, and a direct descendant of Sir Charles Napier, after whom Napier was named.
The supporters of the shield are the kiwi and lion and represents Napier's dependence on New Zealand and on Great Britain.
The crest above the helm (helmet) contains an inverted wing and claw of a hawk, which are taken from the arms of Lord Hawke, First Lord of the Admiralty, after whom the province of Hawke's Bay was named, and oak leaves which have no local significance.
Maori in the district are represented by the waihaka (weapon) also above the helm.
My opinion in relation to Napier's coat of arms is the elements of a 1951 origin, are now either inappropriate or irrelevant.
Napier's dependence on wool (and some might say using an inappropriate symbol of the golden fleece) now has less relevance.
Great Britain's entry into the Common Market in 1973, meant New Zealand's reliance on the old country had diminished (kiwi and lion).
It would be interesting to know why Ahuriri Maori were represented with a hand clasping a war weapon.
The symbols of Charles Napier and Lord Hawke could be questioned as dominating over Maori acknowledgement as indigenous people of Ahuriri.
Use of a coats of arms is subject to restrictions.
In terms of a flag, I think the one recently offered by Napier City Council means little in taking the coat of arms symbols of the golden fleece, waves, and a descendant of Charles Napier's coat of arms. There is also no Maori representation.
There are plenty of empty flag poles around the Napier CBD, and I personally think a competition should be held to design a flag which can be proudly flown on them (and elsewhere), that is relevant to Napier.
• Michael Fowler (email@example.com) is a contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history. During Art Deco Festival he will be taking guided tours around the Hastings CBD. Book at the Hastings i-Site.