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Territory of Papua 1906-1949 (Australia)

Australian External Territory

Last modified: 2015-11-18 by ian macdonald
Keywords: papua | territory of papua | blue ensign | canton (union flag) | disc (white) | crown: royal |
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[Territory of Papua 1906-1949 (Papua New Guinea)] 1:2 image by Clay Moss

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[The badge on the Blue Ensign of] Papua just had the circle, the crown, and the word PAPUA under the crown.
Josh Fruhlinger
, 20 February 1996.

In 1906, the colony became the Australian Territory of Papua (the first territory of the Commonwealth government). Once the relevant legislation had passed in 1905, the Port Moresby administration was asked for a decision about the badge (a question which had been deferred since 1904 when the Empire-wide change to Tudor crowns had been communicated from London). On 23 January 1906, the Executive Council agreed the badge should be a "Tudor crown above the word PAPUA in plain capitals, and the whole surrounded by a laurel wreath". The endorsement of this badge by the Commonwealth government was sent to the Colonial Office on 23 February 1906. When new flags were required in November, London confirmed that the design had been approved.

After the new Acting Administrator of the territory received the 1907 Flag Book, two messages were sent to Melbourne on 30 November 1907. One expressed regret at the lack of historical or characteristic significance, especially in contrast with the Public Seal, and the lack of the wreath (presumably not understanding that the badge was shown without the wreath, which would still feature on the Governor's flag). The second was accompanied by a flag, presumably a blue ensign defaced with the former badge, and asked whether this was the flag (with badge replaced) that was to be used at the 12 government stations and whether government vessels and boats should continue to fly the same flag, or would the government prefer the use of a (possibly modified) Australian flag.

A memo dated 20 December 1907 from Atlee Hunt (Dept of External Affairs) to the Prime Minister seemed to treat both parts of the question together, recommending "that a rule be laid down that territories of the Commonwealth use the Commonwealth Flag (blue ensign) with some distinguishing badge in fly thereof; such badge is to be in the case of Papua, the word PAPUA in block letters on a white circular patch." A letter to the Papuan administration on 6 January 1908 tells us that the minister agreed, at the very least in the case of Papua.

In preparing drawings and actual flags as a pattern for the new design, Dept of External Affairs correspondence suggested different possibilities - red or black letters, disc 1/3 or 2/5 the width of the flag (see this image - a rough example included at some point, made simply by pasting a handwritten badge (no block capitals) on a recent print of the Commonwealth blue ensign). Instructions for making a similar image explicitly state that the vertical diameter of the badge is to be "in middle of flag, i.e. in line with outer edge of Jack".

A copy of the defaced Commonwealth ensign was sent to Papua on 14 July 1908, along with the information that "in all probability" the Commonwealth star was to be changed from 6 points to 7, the "Imperial authorities having been asked for the necessary authority" (see this Australian page). It seems that the Papuan ensign, and the general rule for territories, may have been forgotten very quickly. Whatever I have read suggests that the British crown and "PAPUA" ensign continued to be used. No details appear to have been sent to London, which probably didn't help the new design.

However, I do like to entertain the possibility that the questions about the flag of Papua had an impact on the design of the Australian flag. Atlee Hunt was dealing with the same issue at the same time as the design of the new arms of the Commonwealth. The proposed crest - a six pointed star, as on the Governor General's flag, was too similar to an existing crest. Just before the suggestion that Papua should fly Australian, rather than British, flags, Hunt communicated to London that adding rays to the star would be an appropriate difference, but by the time he prepared the memo about territorial flags, he was passing on a request for 7 points instead, one to represent the territories. This was approved, which led to the use of the same star by the Governor General, and the change in the blue and red ensigns to seven points.
Sources: National Archives of Australia A1, 1908/9191, digital copy at and A462, 828/3/8 PART 1,
Jonathan Dixon, 1 May 2012

In 1907, Australian bureaucrats proposed "that a rule be laid down that territories of the Commonwealth use the Commonwealth Flag (blue ensign) with some distinguishing badge in fly thereof; such badge is to be in the case of Papua, the word PAPUA in block letters on a white circular patch." That this flag was to be used in Papua was confirmed in January 1908, but it wasn't recorded in the Admiralty Flag Book and I haven't come across any other mention of it.

Since we discussed this earlier in the year, I've come across a hint that there might be evidence of this flag in use, but it was replaced the same year (1908) by one "with crown". I am chasing that up and will let you know more details, but it's worth keeping in mind.
Jonathan Dixon, 27 October 2012

Some more details on the flags used in Papua between 1908 and WWII, particularly the Australian blue ensign defaced with "PAPUA" in a white disc which was chosen by the Australian government in 1908. There is, after all, evidence that this was actually used, and it seems likely that this or a variant was indeed used until 1942.

There is, after all, a photo of this flag in use, flying at The Residency, Kulumadau, Woodlark Island, "approximately 1908". The photo shows the seven pointed Commonwealth star and white disc with writing, although the other stars are not clear. Notes by Tessa Jones accompanying the photo confirm that the text is "PAPUA", and also comment that the flag was used only until  1908, and that one "with a crown" was used until 1940.

In December 1942, after the territory had been placed in military administration, there were enquiries in Canberra about flag use, seemingly inspired by General Blamey's observation of the use of the Union Jack (rather than an Australian flag) at Government House in Port Moresby, saying the locals had been taught to revere it. The Department of the Army consulted with the Department of External Territories. The first response, on 21 December, referred to instructions from the Prime Minister's Department from the 1920s (circulated in Papua in 1931), which dealt with use of Australian and state flag, but not specifically territories, and were reported that the Commonwealth flag and British Ensign Papua flag (with 1906 badge) were used. (NAA barcode 109104, p40)

On 23 December, after "further research and enquiry" Mr Halligan at the DET, corrected this, saying that the UJ that was used at Government House and the Papuan flag used at all other buildings was not as previously described, but the defaced Australian flag. Only the word Papua is mentioned for the badge, no crown. A handwritten note included in NAA file barcode 109104 notes the use of the Papuan flag on government vessels as well as at outstations, and describes the badge with crown used with a laurel wreath on the Union Jack when the Governor was afloat. (pp. 38-39)

The original opinion of the Department of the Army was that in general circumstances, the Australian flag should be used rather than the Union Jack. This remained unchanged when the current situation was better explained, and they advised that the flag should be used whenever it would be in Australia, removing any reference to existing Papuan flags from the draft letter to the Commander-in-Chief. This seems to be how the Papuan flag met its demise, as well as the use of the Union Jack at Port Moresby and possibly Norfolk Island. (pp36, 24-5)

[Territory of Papua 1906-1949 (Papua New Guinea)] image provided by Jonathan Dixon, 20 November 2012

After the war, Papua and New Guinea were administrated jointly. On 19 July 1946, the administrator, J. K. Murray, proposed a flag for the combined territories which "more or less fits with the precedents in Appendix 6 of the Colonial Regulations". This proposal was an Australian blue ensign with a laurel wreath in the lower part of the flag, enclosing the inscription "T." above "P.-N G." (line drawing above). This prompted more inquiries into what flags had been used pre-war. Once again, notes at the Dept of External Territories assume Papua followed the standard British colonial model with the badge adopted in 1906, while other territories use simply the Australian flag (although they note customs regulations). In contrast, the reports from PNG (in Jan 1947) describe the flags other than the UJ used pre-war both in New Guinea and Papua as based on the "Blue Ensign", understood to be the Australian version. Once again, the badge for Papua is described without reference to a crown. (pp. 19,12-13,9)

The idea of a new flag for the combined territories was rejected, at least partly because it was thought the Commonwealth flag would be adequate (except where an alternative was required by customs regulations) until a permanent administration was established. (pp6-7)

Where does that leave the 1908 flag? It was adopted and used with the 7 pointed star version of the Australian flag. The reference to a new flag with a crown is possibly consistent with reverting to standard British colonial flag with Admiralty approved badge. It is certainly consistent with the descriptions of PAPUA and crown on an Australian flag in Department of External Territories documents from 1949 (see my 27 October post), although the basis for those descriptions seems a bit shaky. In any case, it may be that someone decided the Australian ensign should be defaced with the Admiralty-approved badge, rather than simply the name. However, by the 1940s the administration do not mention this. I would say it's very unclear whether (or when?) this defaced Australian ensign was used with a crown or not, but given the reports in 1942 and 1946/7, it was probably used in some form until 1942.

National Archives of Australia series A518 item Z918/1 barcode 109104,
Photo with notes by Tessa Jones, Papers, 1897-2006, from Papua New Guinea Association of Australia, UQFL 387, Box 8, Folder 8, Fryer Library, University of Queensland Library.
Jonathan Dixon, 20 November 2012

Details of the Papuan Customs flag prescription 1909 to 1951: If any such flags existed in reality, their use ceased permanently in February 1942; Customs Regulations of 13/12/1909 (Gazette No 54), and of 04/07/1917 Regulation 2.
'The Customs Flag shall be the Flag of the Territory of Papua (Blue Ensign), with the addition in the fly of the letters "H.M.C." in black in bold character.' (Presumably HMC was supposed to be added to the Papua badge's white disc).
Jeff Thomson, 29 October 2015

Governor's flag

[Territory of Papua 1906-1949 (Papua New Guinea) Governor's flag] 1:2 image by Clay Moss

An image was posted on the website at [location no longer available, but image archived here].
Christian Berghänel, 16 February 2003

The badge is certainly that of colonial Papua, and it is partly surrounded by the wreath which normally fully encircles the relevant badge in the flag of a colonial governor.
Christopher Southworth, 16 February 2003

I have seen several older samples of union flags and the open ended wreath of garland, at least on actual flags was not all that uncommon. I have never seen a published illustration with an incomplete wreath.
Clay Moss, 13 December 2006