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History of the Australian national flag (Part 2)

Last modified: 2022-02-12 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | southern cross | stars: southern cross | star: 6 points | stars: 7 points |
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Obtaining Approval from London

9th October 1901. Australian Senate.
Vice-President of the Executive Council, Senator O'Connor said that "The prize designs, and possibly others, will be forwarded to the Imperial Government."

On 27th November 1901, the Prime Minister, Edmund Barton, told the House of Representatives that the Government was submitting a flag, the design of which was sent in by five individuals at the recent competition, for the consideration of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and also another design which met with the approval of the Naval Assessors to the Board of Judges.

According to the Acting Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, when answering a question in the House of Representatives on 30 July 1902, the designs were sent to London in December 1901. [Cayley, 'Flag of Stars' [cay66] p114.] This seems to have been a misunderstanding as the designs were not sent to the Governor-General's Office until 8th February 1902.

01/134. Department of External Affairs.
Minute for His Excellency, the Governor-General.

Mr. Barton presents his humble duty to Your Excellency and referring to the despatch of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, dated 29th November 1900, will be pleased if, in response to the desire expressed in paragraph 5 of that despatch, Your Excellency will forward the two designs, herewith, to the Secretary of State.

2. [This paragraph gives details of the flag competition and the competition judges.]

3. The decision of the Board was that the design, copy of which is forwarded herewith, marked "A", was the most suitable for adoption; that design was sent in by five different persons.

4. The Report of the Judges states that "it was apparent that a Commonwealth Flag, to be representative, should contain:-

"The Union Jack on a blue or red ground;

A six-pointed 'Star' representing the six federated States of Australia, immediately under the 'Union Jack', and pointing direct to the centre of the St George's Cross, and of a size to occupy the major portion of one quarter of the flag;

The 'Southern Cross' in the fly, as being indicative of the sentiment of the Australian Nation.

Such a combination should be easily distinguished as a signal of distress, is original in character, and should be agreeable to the Home Authorities, as they have already given their sanction to the 'Southern Cross' being shown in some of the State Flags, such as New Zealand and Victoria, &c., and exception could not be taken to the one star under the 'Jack'."

Mr Barton has the honour to request therefore, that this design be forwarded as a suggestion to the Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Mr Barton will also be pleased if Your Excellency will forward the design sent herewith, marked "B", which is the Flag that was originally known as the Australian Flag, and was in general use on the East Coast of Australia before the separation of Victoria and Queensland from New South Wales.

[Federation Flag with five seven-pointed stars. The blue of the Union is very dark as would be expected before 1908, but the overall cross is an unusual lavender blue. The stars are arranged so that their centres are equally spaced, with the result that the 'hoist star' is not directly beneath the vertical arm of the Union, but off-set slightly to the fly.]

Mr Barton understands that Your Excellency wishes to forward at the same time, a design which His Excellency, the Naval Commander-in-Chief concurs with Your Excellency in thinking suitable for the Flag of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth, and if this is the case, Mr Barton will be glad if Your Excellency will take that course.

Edmund Barton.

David Prothero, 22 Feb 2005

The three designs and a copy of the Prime Minister's Minute were sent to Joseph Chamberlain, the Colonial Secretary, by the Governor-General, the Earl of Hopetoun, on 18th February 1902.:

Adverting to your despatch "General" of the 29th of November 1900, I have the honour to transmit to you the accompanying copy of a Minute which I have received from my Prime Minister on the subject of The Flag for the Commonwealth, and covering annexures hereto as follows :-
"A". Design for proposed Commonwealth Flag. and
"B". Design of Flag originally known as Australian Flag.

2. I have also to enclose a design, marked "C". of the Flag which appears to me to be suitable for adoption as The Flag for The Governor-General of The Commonwealth of Australia. The Naval Commander-in-Chief on the Australian Station has also expressed his approval of this design. I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient, humble servant &c.

The despatch reached the Colonial Office in London on the 4th March 1902. It was numbered 11675 and circulated with the following Minute by Sir W.Hamilton and Sir M.Ommanney.:

We are not concerned with Design marked "B" which represents the Australian Flag which was formerly used without any authority. Lord Derby in his Circular Despatch of the 21st March 1884 asked that the use of this flag might be stopped.

Design "A" is the Design proposed for the Commonwealth Flag - the Blue Ensign for Government Vessels, the Red Ensign for Merchant Vessels.

Merchant Vessels of the Colonies were formerly only allowed to use the Red Ensign without any Badge, but the Admiralty have since authorised the Badge being placed upon the fly in the case of Canada and New Zealand and they are not likely to raise any objection in the case of the Commonwealth.

If the Six-pointed Star on the Flag is regarded as the Badge it would not carry out the suggestion in the Circular despatch of 23rd August 1875 that the device on the Seal should be adopted as the Badge on the Flag, but that is a matter which rests with the C.O. and I do not think we could press the suggestion against the wishes of the Commonwealth Government.

The adoption of the proposed design would however involve a departure from the practice of confining the Colonial Badge to a circle on the Fly as shown in the drawing of the Blue Ensign which I place herewith. The Admiralty may object to the defacing of the Ensign to the extent proposed.

As regards Design "C", which is the design for the Flag of the Governor General, it conforms to the King's Regulation 77 c (assuming the Six-point Star be taken as the Commonwealth Badge) except as regards the crown. If the crown is to form part of the Badge it should so appear on the Commonwealth Flag. If not part of the Badge it should be omitted. See last part of Admiralty letter of 28th July 1875 enclosed in the Circular of 23rd August 1875. The Admiral has expressed concurrence. Possibly he looked upon the Crown as part of the Badge.

[It was usual to have the same badge on the Blue Ensign and on the Flag of the Governor. The Admiralty letter of 28th July 1875 had considered the flags of New Zealand and New South Wales, and suggested discontinuing the badge on the New Zealand Blue Ensign in favour of that on the Flag of the Governor, and removing the crown from the New South Wales badge.]

Send a copy of the despatch and enclosures to the Admiralty and ask whether they are prepared to approve Designs A and C -- without inviting any criticism. 27th March.

The Admiralty are (?) (?) to criticize these designs and I think we might go so far as to express a hope that they might be approved. Sir M.Ommanney, 25th April.

I think we may certainly express such a hope. No design for a seal is in the least suitable for a flag and A and C are much more effective than anything else that has been proposed. (Initials) 29th April.

Will not The King want to see these papers ? (Initials) 1st May.

David Prothero, 23 Feb 2005

20th May 1902. Colonial Office Chief Clerk's Register of Out-Letters to Admiralty:

Transmit copy of 18th February 1902 despatch from Lord Hopetoun, submitting designs for Australian Commonwealth Flag and hope that those marked "A" and "C" will meet with approval. HM's pleasure will then be taken.

25th June. Admiralty to Colonial Office:

With reference to your letter 11675 of 20th ultimo transmitting sketches of the proposed Australian Commonwealth Flag and Flag for the Governor-General of the Commonwealth. I am commanded by my Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty to acquaint you, for the information of the Secretary of State for the Colonies, that they concur in the designs 'A' and 'C' forwarded by the Governor-General, with the following minor alteration.

The crown on the Governor-General's Flag to have nine pearls on each side of the arch as shown in the attached design.

My Lords will be glad if Mr.Chamberlain will cause them to be informed when the King's pleasure has been taken, in order that the necessary additions can be made to the Admiralty Flag Book, and I am further to enquire whether in the event of the Commonwealth Flag being approved, the Flags of the separate Australian States viz; New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania will be cancelled or retained for use by the Governors of those States as in the case of the Provinces of the Dominion of Canada.
Designs 'A' and 'C' forwarded in your letter are returned herewith.

Attached Colonial Office Minute. Submit when well enough to attend business. Presume States will wish to retain their own flags after Commonwealth Flag has been approved.

There was then a delay of nearly two months. King Edward VII underwent an operation following a burst appendix shortly before his Coronation which had been scheduled for the 26th June. The postponed Coronation finally took place on 9th August.
David Prothero, 25 Feb 2005

Royal involvement in the creation of a new colonial flag was quite informal, and not part of any laid down procedure, so the date when the King saw the designs is of no particular significance. Queen Victoria took no interest in insignia, and was not, as far as I know, concerned with the creation any of the colonial flags that were introduced between 1867 and her death in 1901. King Edward VII was interested in emblems, and must have asked that flag designs should be shown to him, but this was a new departure.
David Prothero, 3 Feb 2005

21st August. Colonial Office to (Lord Chamberlain's Office ?):

Mr Chamberlain presents his humble duty to Your Majesty and begs to lay before Your Majesty the accompanying sketches marked 'A' and 'C' respectively of the designs which have been proposed for the Flag of the Commonwealth of Australia and for the Flag of the Governor-General of the Commonwealth.

The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have expressed their concurrence in these designs subject to the number of pearls on the arch of the crown of the Governor-General's Flag being increased to nine on each side of the arch. Mr.Chamberlain would recommend the adoption of the design with this alteration should Your Majesty be pleased to approve.

3rd September. Colonial Office to Admiralty.:

Flag of the Commonwealth : Flag of the Governor-General. The enclosed sketches were submitted to HM subject to the alteration of the number of pearls on the crown, and HM does not object to them. Request supply of twenty copies of the drawings of each, as they will appear in Admiralty Flag Book, for transmission to the Governor-General.

11th September. Admiralty to Colonial Office:

Commonwealth Flag and Governor-General Flag. Referring to 36059/02 of 3rd inst regarding approval of the designs. Request reply to letter of 25th June regarding retention of Colony Flags.

18th September. Colonial Office to Admiralty:

In reply to your letter L.12238 of 11th inst., I am directed by Mr.Secretary Chamberlain to state for the information of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that it is not proposed that the adoption of Flags for the Commonwealth of Australia should in any way affect the retention of the flags now authorized for the use of the several States of the Commonwealth.

6th October. Telegram to Governor-General. Advising him that the designs had been approved.
David Prothero, 25 Feb 2005

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