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Victoria (Australia)

Last modified: 2011-07-19 by jonathan dixon
Keywords: australia | victoria | crown | blue ensign | southern cross | stars: southern cross | red ensign |
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[Flag of Victoria] image by Martin Grieve, 26 Jan 2009


See also:


Description of the flag

The Victorian state flag was created as a colonial flag - a British Blue Ensign with the badge of the colony added to the blue field. Because some of the Australian state badges were originaly created to represent the Governor (as distinct from the Colony) they generally showed some element of British royal heraldry - the main criteria being that it be different from similar badges used in other parts of the Empire. The Crown Victoria badge represented the status of the Governor as representative of Queen Victoria in the Colony. Victoria adopted the Southern Cross in 1870 initially for use on the HMCS Nelson - one of the early warships of the Colonial Navy. The Southern Cross had become fairly well associated with Australia during the 19th Century.
Ralph Kelly, 19 September 1999

Theoretically the Victorian badge [a crown above the five stars of the southern cross] was on a disc, but the disc was the same colour as the field, blue. This caused the British Admiralty some consternation, who suggested the Victorian badge should be redesigned as the southern cross on a blue shield on a white disc. In a rare display of independence (with respect to flags) the Victorian Government unilaterally approved the flag design anyway. Over the following decades, the southern cross "grew" outside of the nominal disc area, and eventually the pretence of the disc disappeared.
Brendan Jones, 07 February 1996

The number of points on the stars indicates the varying brightness of the stars which make up the Southern Cross. There are 8,7,7,6 and 5 points for Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon Crucis respectively. The Australian national flag was originally designed to also follow this pattern.
Colin Dobson and Jonathan Dixon, 5 August 2004


History of the state flag

1870-1877 blue ensign with southern cross badge

[Victorian blue ensign, 1870-1877] image by Martin Grieve, 26 Jan 2009

Victoria adopted the Southern Cross in 1870 initially for use on the HMCS Nelson - one of the early warships of the Colonial Navy. The Southern Cross had become fairly well associated with Australia during the 19th Century.
Ralph Kelly, 19 September 1999

An official history from the State gives the original adoption date as 4 February 1870.
Christopher Southworth, 5 September 2004

28 February 1870. The Governor of Victoria informed the Colonial Office that the Executive Council had recommended the adoption of the Southern Cross as the badge of the colony. A drawing of the badge in the fly of the Blue Ensign was enclosed. The Colonial Office reply of 22 July 1870 stated that the Admiralty approved the design.
[Sources: National Archives (PRO) CO 309/93, CO 325/54, and notes compiled by Ralph Kelly from Australian Joint Copying Project microfilm No. 2026 (CO 309/92)]
David Prothero, 26 January 2009

March 1877 - addition of shield and crown

[Victorian blue ensign, March-November 1877] image by Martin Grieve, 26 Jan 2009

Six years later the Governor received a draft sheet of the colonial badges that would appear in the Admiralty Flag Book and found that the badge of Victoria was shown as the Southern Cross on a blue shield on a white disc. He wrote to the Colonial Office on 10 July 1876 that the badge of the Colony of Victoria was still five white stars in the fly of the flag and that it was “not known whence was derived the device of a shield.” The Colonial Office reply pointed out that the badge was also to be used in the centre of the Union Flag on a white disc, where white stars would not be visible.

The shield, with a crown added at the top, now became the badge of the Blue Ensign. It was announced in the Victoria Government Gazette of 26 March 1877. “... the blue ensign, having in the centre of the fly thereof on a circular white ground the distinctive badge of the colony, viz. -Five white stars representing the constellation of the Southern Cross on a blue shield surmounted by an Imperial Crown.”
[Sources: National Archives (PRO) CO 323/326, CO 323/330, CO 325/54, and notes compiled by Ralph Kelly from Australian Joint Copying Project microfilms Nos. 2405 (CO 323/325-327) and 2408 (CO 323/329-331)]
David Prothero, 26 January 2009

Removal of shield

On 21 March 1877 drawings of the amended badge were sent to the Colonial Office, which forwarded them to the Admiralty on 17 May. The Admiralty appear not to have realised that on the Blue Ensign the shield would be on a white disc and observed that the badge would simply appear as five white stars surmounted with the crown, to which they had no objection. The result was that the badge on the Blue Ensign reverted to a slightly smaller version of the original five star Southern Cross, with a crown above. It was announced in the Government Gazette of 30 November 1877. “... the blue ensign, having in the centre of the fly thereof the distinctive badge of the Colony, viz: - Five white stars representing the constellation of the Southern Cross surmounted by an Imperial Crown.”

The Victoria Blue Ensign became the Victoria State Flag after the Australian Blue Ensign was officially announced in 1903.
[Sources: National Archives (PRO) CO 323/330, CO 325/54, CO 418/18 and notes compiled by Ralph Kelly from Australian Joint Copying Project microfilm No. 2408 (CO 323/329-331)]
David Prothero, 26 January 2009

Photograph of 'Recycled' 1870/1877 Victorian Ensign
[Photo of 1877 Victorian Ensign formed from an 1870 ensign by adding a crown] image by Ralph Bartlett, contributed 27 Mar 2009

The Victorian Naval Contingent sent to Tientsin, China, to support Victorian troops during the Boxer Rebellion [in 1900] used a “recycled” Victorian Colonial Ensign. The Ensign was in fact an original 1870 Victorian Ensign, which was recycled into the 1877 “style” version, by having an Imperial Crown sewn near the top of the flag's field, between the Southern Cross and the Union Canton.

The full details of this Ensign, which was presented to the Victorian Parliament after the Boxer Rebellion was written up by myself in Crux Australis [cxa] Vol.3, No.1/13 - Jan. 1987. The photograph of this Ensign was taken by myself shortly after it was stolen from Parliament and then thankfully found, in Sept.-Oct. 1986. Today, this Ensign is fully framed behind glass and displayed in an upper level corridor of Parliament House.
Ralph Bartlett, 27 March 2009

Changes in the crown

From Australian Flags [ozf95]:

From 12 November 1877 the badge was changed to include an imperial crown above the Southern Cross. In 1901, with the accession of Edward VII, this crown was replaced with the crown of St Edward, and the flag has not changed since then.
See also these official sources:
Proclaimed 12 November, 1877; Government Gazette, No. 119, dated 30 November, 1877.
and Amended by Dispatch No.56, 19 September, 1901.
Colin Dobson, 5 September 2004

The official history from the State government contains a statement which (on the face of it) appears to be a mistake. It reads:

Following the accession of Edward VII the Lieutenant-Governor of Victoria, The Honourable Sir John Madden K.C.M.G., informed the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 19th September 1901 , that henceforth the word 'State' would be used to in place of the world 'Colony', and that in the design of the state flag the St Edwards Crown would replace the Imperial Crown.
If this is accurate it would appear that the State of Victoria preceded (at least in theory) the general adoption of the St Edward's crown by some 50 odd years.
Christopher Southworth, 5 September 2005

The words quoted by Christopher Southworth are taken from the State Flag sheet from the Insignia folder produced by the Protocol Section of the Premiers Department of the State of Victoria - no date, but probably about 1985.

Like several other Australian state government insignia booklets, this document had significant errors, including that identified by Christopher. The document should have stated that the "Tudor Crown" would replace the "Imperial Crown", and it should then have further gone on to state that in 1953 the "St Edwards Crown" was adopted.

The relevant source is a Colonial Office despatch dated 14 June 1901 which requested that the use of the "Tudor Crown" be adopted throughout the colonies. The Governor General of Australia had earlier requested each of the State Governors to provide advice on whether any of the new states wished to change their seals or flag badges having regard to the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901 and the accession of King Edward VII. The Victorian Premier Alexander Peacock advised Lieutenant-Governor Sir John Madden (acting Governor) on 27 August 1901 that there needed to be only minor changes to the Seal and the change to the drawing of the Crown on the state badge. This advice was communicated to the Secretary of State for Colonies in the despatch quoted by Christopher and a similar letter to the Governor General.

Another error on the Insignia sheet was that Victoria's first Colonial warship was described as H.M.A.S. Nelson , when it should have been H.M.C.S. Nelson - one of Her Majesty's Colonial Ships, rather than an "Australian" ship. My copy of the publication had hand changed this error to the still erroneous H.M.V.S. Nelson!
Ralph Kelly, 6 September 2004

Apparently, in 1901, the "Tudor Crown" and "Imperial Crown" were not one and the same. It is strange that the title "Imperial Crown" has been transferred from the "St Edward's Crown", to the "Tudor Crown", when the former is similar in appearance to the "Imperial State Crown", while the "Tudor Crown" is not.
David Prothero, 9 September 2004

See also: British crowns on flags

An image of the "Flag Badge" with Tudor Crown for use in Victoria, either on the State Flag (as shown), or within a dark blue shield on a white disc on the State Governor's Flag from 1901-53 was prepared by the British Admiralty in 1903.
Ralph Bartlett, 7 September 2004

This image has written on it "Badge as amended in 1903." [my emphasis] Was this the badge in use from 1901 and, if so, does anyone know why it might have been amended, rather than simply approved by the Admiralty in 1903?
Colin Dobson, 9 September 2004

The note by the 1877 shield badge indicates that it was approved in Admiralty letter 5301 of 1878. The badge has been scored through because it was no longer correct.

Written below and to one side of it is the note, "See Admy 29663 [over] 1901, General - Amended Badge" and again, "See Admy 29663 [over] 1901, (amended badge)"

Thus the round badge is that shown in 1903, but the correct version of the shield badge is in Admiralty letter 29663 of 1901.
David Prothero, 10 September 2004


Colonial Red Ensign

[Victorian colonial red ensign, 1870-75, probably to 1903] image by Martin Grieve, 27 Jan 2009

When the Governor of Victoria informed the Colonial Office that the Executive Council had adopted the Southern Cross as the badge for the fly of the Blue Ensign [in 1870], he added that the Council had also recommended that, subject to the approval of Her Majesty the Queen, it should be the distinguishing mark in the fly of the Red Ensign of ships registered in the colony. The Board of Trade were responsible for regulating merchant shipping and the Colonial Office, which had not expected a request of this nature, considered consulting them, but probably did not. On 22 July 1870 the Colonial Office informed the Governor of Victoria that, together with the Blue Ensign, the Red Ensign was approved.

In March 1874 the British Consul in Le Havre reported that "British ships registered in the North American provinces have a Red Ensign with a kind of shield, on which are displayed sundry emblems, in the fly thereof. I am informed by their captains that it is the flag of the Dominion of Canada and is given to all vessels belonging thereto and clearing out therefrom, and that they have to pay a certain sum for it." The Consul asked the Board of Trade for instructions as, in his opinion, this rendered null and void, Section 105 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1854, and paragraph 17 of the Board of Trade Instructions to Consuls.

Opinion on the matter was divided. One law officer though that “The flag is not a distinctive national colour other than a Red Ensign, but a Red Ensign with an unimportant addition, which by no means makes it resemble any other distinctive national flag, and that consequently it is very doubtful whether the Act would have been infringed even had the Admiralty not agreed to the change.”

In May 1874 the Colonial Office asked the Admiralty to confirm that vessels registered in a colony were entitled to wear a Red Ensign bearing the badge of the colony in the fly. On the 22nd the Admiralty replied that this was correct.

There matters rested until July 1875 when the Admiralty wrote to the Colonial Office saying that the letter of 22 May 1874 had been written “under a misapprehension of the exact state of the case, and in the belief that the proper authority had been obtained, and that such use of the Red Ensign with the badge of the colony was in accordance with the orders bearing on the subject, which, however, now appears not to have been the case.” It was suggested that the matter should be explained to Governors of Colonies.

The Colonial Office circulated drawings of colonial flag badges to all governors on 23 August 1875. The last paragraph of the covering letter stated that to avoid unnecessary expense there was no objection to continued use of inadvertently approved Red Ensigns with the badge of the colony in the fly until it was convenient to change them.

A Proclamation in the Victoria Government Gazette of 10 December 1875 rescinded that part of the 1870 Proclamation that referred to the Red Ensign.

However the concession of 'continued use until convenient to change' may have been extended. In April 1881 the Colonial Office answered a Board of Trade enquiry about the status of the Canadian Red Ensign. After explaining the inadvertent approval of Red Ensigns for Canada, Victoria and South Australia the letter concluded; “I am also to enclose for the information of the Board of Trade a copy of a Circular Despatch which is now being sent to the Governors of Colonies enclosing a chapter respecting Flags which has been concurred in by the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, for insertion in the Colonial Regulations, and it will be seen from sub-section 6, that it is provided that the Red Ensign is to be flown without any Badge, but this will not necessarily be taken as prohibiting the use of the Badge on the Red Ensign in those Colonies already referred to and in which the practice has been approved.”

The probability that use of the Victoria Red Ensign continued, is strengthened by a memorandum sent to Alexander Peacock, the Premier of Victoria, by the Lieutenant-Governor in 1901, saying that there should be “no alteration to flags except under the terms of the Colonial Office Despatch of 14 June; the Tudor crown for that at present in use.” A note dated 24 February 1902 was added to the memo.

“For government vessels : British Blue Ensign with Southern Cross and crown on fly.
For merchant vessels : British Red Ensign with Southern Cross on fly without crown.
The stars would spread all over the fly.”
[Sources: National Archives (PRO) CO 309/93, CO 323/318, CO 325/54, CO 418/18, MT 9/183, MT 10/195, and notes compiled by Ralph Kelly from Australian Joint Copying Project microfilms Nos. 2026 (CO 309/92), 2149 (CO 418 17-18) and 2405 (CO 323/325-327)]
David Prothero, 27 January 2009

Depiction with blue disc

[Depiction of Victorian red ensign with blue disc] image by Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 Jan 2009

In the Cigarette album Wer nennt die Länder, kennt die Fahnen, edited by Massary cigarette manufacturers, Berlin, before 1933; p.52, series 76, image no.57 (see [neu29]), the Victoria ensign is illustrated as a red ensign with a blue disc in the fly end. On the disc are five white stars topped by crown.
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 6 January 2009

The Victoria Red Ensign with the Southern Cross on a blue disc also appears in Carol Foley's The Australian Flag [foL96]. It is on a plate entitled 'Early Australian Flags and Arms'; reproduced with permission - Coo-ee Historical Picture Library. It has a large, early version of the Arms of New Zealand draped with 1834 New Zealand flags, and smaller illustrations of the Victoria Red Ensign with blue disc, an Australian Blue Ensign with six-point Commonwealth star, and a New South Wales State Flag. In an end note Foley wrote that “No official authorisation of the 1977(sic) Victorian Red Ensign [ie. with blue disc] has been located.”
David Prothero, 27 January 2009