The idea of a flag to represent New Zealand was first broached in 1830, when the Hokianga-built trading ship Sir George Murray was seized in Sydney by Customs officials for sailing without a flag or register. Australia, New Zealand's major trading market, was subject to British navigation laws which ruled that every ship must carry an official certificate detailing construction, ownership and nationality of the ship. At that time, New Zealand was not yet a British colony and New Zealand-built ships could not sail under a British flag or register. Without a flag to represent the new nation, trading ships and their valuable cargoes would continue to be seized.
The seizure of the Sir George Murray and her detainment in Neutral Bay occurred whilst two principal Maori chiefs, believed to be Patuone and Taonui, were on board, and reports at the time indicate that the Maori population were 'exceedingly indignant' upon hearing the news of the ship's fate. In New South Wales also, there was sympathy for New Zealand's plight and the weekly Australian called for amending legislation to remove any obstacle to New Zealand's increasing trade with Port Jackson. While a temporary licence was granted in August 1831 allowing the Sir George Murray to return to Sydney for trading, the need for an official flag to mark New Zealand-built ships was clear.