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Cape of Good Hope (1876 -1910)

Last modified: 2015-05-26 by bruce berry
Keywords: south africa | cape of good hope | cape colony | blue ensign |
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Cape of Good Hope Blue Ensign

[Cape of Good Hope Blue Ensign] image by Blas Delgado Ortiz, 25 May 2002

The initial flag of the Cape Colony (1805-1876) was the undefaced British Union flag.  Following the adoption of a Coat of Arms for the Colony, a Blue ensign defaced in the fly with the Arms of the Colony (granted by Royal Warrant on 29 May 1876) in the centre of a white roundel was used.  Although the defaced blue ensign was the official flag of the Cape Colony, red ensign versions are known to exist.  The Cape Colonial Blue Ensign was used until the Union of South Africa came into being on 31 May 1910 when the Cape Colony became the Cape Province within the Union of South Africa.

No provincial flag was used by the Cape Province, or any of the other four provinces in the period 31 May 1910 to 26 April 1994.  The Cape Province was divided into the Western Cape, Eastern Cape and Northern Cape provinces on 27 April 1994.
Bruce Berry, 28 May 1999

 Red Ensign version

It has been stated that there was no Red Ensign for the Cape Colony. I have no way of checking this, but it’s quite possible that there was no authorised Cape Colony Red Ensign. On the other hand, one certainly did exist, and was known as the Railway Ensign because it was to be seen chiefly at stations of the Cape Government Railways (CGR). The roundel in the fly contained (as in the colony’s Blue Ensign) the full heraldic achievement of the Cape Colony.

This flag was then used as an example for a version of the South African Red Ensign that also seems to have had a railway provenance. I believe the CGR element that was taken up into the South African Railways and Harbours (SAR&H) organisation in 1913 must have continued ordering flags exactly like the “Railway Ensign”, but now with the South African arms – and again using the full achievement, instead of the shield only, as authorised by Royal Warrant.

The SAR&H was formed out of the CGR, the Natal Government Railways, the Cape Town Harbour Board, the Port Elizabeth Harbour Board, the East London Harbour Board and the Central South African Railways. (I’m not certain off-hand whether there was a Durban Harbour Board; if there was, it also would have been incorporated.) The Central South African Railways was a British civilian administration that took over from the Imperial Military Railways, set up following the invasion of the Boer republics to run the republican railway systems.  The South African “Railway Ensign” seems to have died a natural death when the South African flag was taken into use in 1928.
Mike Oettle, 24 May 2002

  image sent by Clay Moss, 25 Sept 2005

I thought you all might be interested in this photo of my Cape Colony red ensign. The flag is fully printed on what I would describe as a very high grade broad cloth. It's actually a cross between broad cloth and canvas, and quite a sturdy flag for being roughly 100 years old.

You'll notice that the Union Jack isn't proportionally correct. The entire ensign was dye printed with the disk, and though the Union Jack is incorrect, the overall quality of the print is very good. The badge was printed or perhaps painted on later with paint that is considerably stiffer than the supple

I didn't know it, but I acquired a Manitoba red ensign (bison shield on disk) sometime back that was apparently made by the same company. When I compared the two ensigns, they were virtually identical, including a duplicate 1/4 inch wide blue smudge that appears in the upper hoist white part of the Scottish saltier. Since getting both ensigns, I have seen other pictures of red ensigns for auction on e-Bay that look like they too came from the same stock. I would have bought all of them, but the bids got out of my league. Those pictured on e-Bay were all southern African including a South African ensign with South Africa's full colonial coat of arms, (like the "Railways Ensign" mentioned above) Sierra Leone, and Natal with the simplified shield. If all of the afore mentioned ensigns are from the same manufacturer, Manitoba is the only non-African sample I have seen.

The flag proves that a Cape Colonial Red Ensign was made/used - even if unofficially!
Clay Moss, 25 Sept 2005

 Governor's flag


image by Martin Grieve, 10 July 2010


A flag of the Governor of the Cape of Good Hope was taken into use on 12 May 1875, on the occasion of the laying of a foundation stone of the House of Parliament in Cape Town. The Governor's flag followed the traditional pattern of having the colonial arms in the centre of a Union Jack surrounded by a green laurel garland.

However, official authorisation by Royal Warrant for the arms of the colony was only granted nearly a year later on 29 May 1876 and a Blue Ensign bearing these arms on a white roundel was introduced soon thereafter.
Bruce Berry, 28 May 1999


 Arms of the Cape of Good Hope (1876-1910)


image by Martin Grieve, 10 July 2010


The Cape Colonial Arms were granted by Royal Warrant on 29 May 1876 and are described as:

"For Arms Gules a Lion rampant between three Annulets Or, on a Chief Argent as many hurts each charged with a Fleur-de-lis of the second, for the Crest - On a a Wreath of the Colours the Figure of Hope proper vested Azure resting the dexter arm on a Rock supporting with the sinister hand an Anchor Sable entwined with a Cable also proper, and for the Supporters On the dexter side a Gnu and on the sinister side an Oryx (gems buck) both proper, together with this motto "SPES BONA".


The supporters in the arms are a Gnu and an Oryx, which hold a shield consisting of a gold lion between three gold rings. A white panel containing three annulets appears in chief and the whole arrangement is ensigned by the Lady of Good Hope holding onto a rock with her right hand and grasping a fouled anchor with her left.  The motto on the ribbon reads “SPES BONA” which translates as “Good Hope”, whilst the red shield with three gold rings were the personal arms of Jan Van Riebeeck and the gold lion between them is the lion of Batavia. I presume the three fleur-de-lis within the annulets recall the French "invasion" of the Netherlands, which helped to inspire the formation of the Batavian Republic, or alternately, the French Huguenots who settled in the Cape. The flag was adopted in 1875 and abolished in May 1910 with the formation of the Union of South Africa.

Martin Grieve, 10 July 2010


The accepted view is that the fleurs de lis represent the Huguenots, and the lion both the Dutch and the British, i.e. the arms acknowledge the three main countries of origin of the colony's white population.
"avrmail", 11 July 2010