Historical flags


1606 Flag of Great Britain

There was an earlier version of the Union Jack originally introduced in 1606 to herald the personal union between England and Scotland under King James VI. The two nations would remain disparate kingdoms with their own parliaments and flags. The question of which flag should be used afloat was addressed in a proclamation dated 12 April 1606 where it was directed that the English and Scottish designs be counter charged together for maritime purposes. On 17 April 1707 in advance of the commencement date of the Acts of Union whereby a full parliamentary merger was achieved the design was formally adopted after several concepts were presented to Queen Anne and the privy council. The main alternative contender was the Scottish union flag where the white cross of Saint Andrew overlays the cross of Saint George.

The First Union Jack (1770 – 1801).


The Queen Anne Jack was first raised on Australian soil on 29 April 1770 at Botany Bay during a voyage of discovery led by Lieutenant James Cook of the Royal Navy. It was also raised on Possession Island, 22 August 1770, where Cook landed just before sunset and claimed the east coast of Australia in the name of King George III as recounted in his journal as follows:


"Notwithstand[ing] I had in the Name of His Majesty taken possession of several places upon this coast, I now once more hoisted English Coulers and in the Name of His Majesty King George the Third took possession of the whole Eastern Coast ... by the name New South Wales, together with all the Bays, Harbours Rivers and Islands situate upon the said coast, after which we fired three Volleys of small Arms which were Answered by the like number from the Ship." 



Bowman Flag

The immediate inspiration for the Bowman flag was the news of the victory of the Royal Navy over the combined fleets of France and Spain in the battle of Trafalgar on 21 October 1805 reaching the far off Australian colonies, a landmark event in British empire history. The design was in turn an inspiration for Australia’s national coat of arms. Held at the Mitchell Library the Bowman flag is a shallow tail fly concept and was constructed in 1806 by John and Honour Bowman of Richmond. It is hand painted, in oils, on silk from Honor Bowman’s wedding dress. On the shield is featured the rose of England, the thistle of Scotland and the shamrock of Ireland. The scroll commemorates one of the most lopsided victories in the known history of warfare carrying the motto "England expects every man to do his duty."


This call to arms was issued via flag signal by Admiral Horatio Nelson onboard HMS Victory as he ordered his force of 27 warships to attack the colation fleet of 33 in the most audacious and unorthodox fashion. Upon finding the enemy fleet strung out in a line, Nelson preferred to deploy his fleet of smaller and less amorous vessels in two parallel lines. He was able to surround one half of coalition forces including the flagship of Admiral Villeneuve thereby severing communications, and making them fight to the end. By the time the other half responded the battle was already lost with 18 French and Spanish ships striking their colours. Villeneuve suffered the ignominy of having to surrender and be taken prisoner. Although a number had taken such a hard pounding they needed to be towed away the British never lost a ship, whilst suffering an estimated 1,666 casualties against 5,239 for the French and Spanish. As the two fleets came within range Nelson's lead elements where being forced upon from multiple directions by the heavily armed enemy vessels. However the British crewman and gunners were superior in terms oif mobility, accuracy and rate of fire all factors Nelson, who was picked off by an enemy sniper at the height of the battle, used to rout the enemy fleet. Napoleon is suspected of having ordered the assassination of Villeneuve who was deemed to have died in mysterious circumstances as his Emperor's dreams of a seaborne invasion of England had turned to dust.

The Bowman Flag (1806).

National Colonial Flag

The advent of the national colonial flag in either 1823 or 1824 was the first recorded attempt to design a flag to represent all the Australian colonies. According to Captain John Bingle, who along with Captain John Nicholson are credited as the vexillographers responsible for this design concept, it was adopted by the Government of Sir Thomas Brisbane. It appears however that it never entered mass circulation perhaps on account of lacking a certain appeal to settlers from the non English home nations of the United Kingdom. Based the red cross of Saint George this was also the first of many flag designs to feature Union Jack and the Southern Cross, in this case with four white eight pointed stars arrayed on the arms of the cross, as opposed to how they appear in the heavens above.



The National Colonial Flag for Australia (1823/24 - 1830s).


Illustrated Retrospect of Present Century - John Bingle (1881)

"Many years ago as far back as 1823 or 1824 I assisted Captain Nicholson RN, the first Harbour Master of Port Jackson, to plan and recommend to the Lords of the Admiralty a National Colonial Flag for Australia which met with their Lordships approval and adopted by the Government of Sir Thomas Brisbane. Our proposition had the British National St. George's Ensign adding Four (4) Stars placed in the four quarters of the Cross in the fly of the Ensign as the emblem of our Hemisphere THE GREAT SOUTHERN CROSS. The flag has lately been disfigured by adding another star in the centre of the Cross by some one not comprehending the original intention and embodying American Nations. Sydney in those days was Australia! and no other province to represent so that adding more Stars frustrated the original intention."

Australian Federation Flag

The Australian federation flag, also known as the Australian ensign, originated in the 1830s as a proposed New South Wales design. It was first documented by Captain John Nicholson, harbour master of Sydney, in a chart of flags dated 31 December 1831. It features five eight pointed stars of the Southern Cross arrayed on the arms of a blue cross.


This design was a popular favourite and, although it remained unofficial, was in wide spread use in the eastern colonies for over 70 years. It was employed by the mercantile marine in the 1880s until such use was discontinued by the colonial office under Lord Derby. At around the same time it was adopted by the Australian Natives Association and the Australian Federation League being used to promote the Yes along with the slogan "One people, one destiny, one flag"  in the federation debate which was brought to a head with referenda held in the colonies from 1898 - 1900. The federation flag was still regarded as a national symbol by some up until the 1920s with the federation flag flown at a state premiers conference in 1908 and during a visit to Australia by the Duke and Duchess of York for the 1927 opening of old parliament house in Canberra. It was flown around the nation in 2001 for its historical importance during the centenary of federation and is included in a gallery of flags displayed in the main hall of Sydney central station.


The federation flag was favoured by Australia's inaugural prime minister, Sir Edmund Barton, who dispatched it along with the winning designs to the 1901 Federal Flag Design Competition.



The New South Wales ensign/Australian Federation Flag (1831 – 1901).


Anti-Transportation League Federation Flag

The Anti-Transportation League flag is credited to the Reverend John West. It was used between 1851-1853 by the Anti-Transportation League which aimed the end convict transportation to Australia and New Zealand. This design is notable for being the first to feature the Southern Cross in the form of free floating stars. The white border around three edges was part of a scheme whereby the name of the organisation and the year and colony where founded was displayed.




Anti-Transportation League flag (1851-1853).



Murray River Flag


There are few records as to the origin of the Murray River flag design. It is believed that the concept dates from at least 1850, when the Murray River League was formed. Paddle steamers operating on the Murray River have been flying this flag since at least 1853. The Murray River flag recalls the Van Diemen's Land ensign, the Grand Union flag used during the American revolution and the flag of the British East Indian Company. It is thought that the blue stripes symbolise the four major tributaries to the Murray being the Murrumbidgee, Lachlan and Darling rivers.


A more recent development has been the creation of a separate flag for the lower Murray River, used by operators based in South Australia, first published by Frank Cayley in 1966.




Murray River flag (c.1850 - ).



Eureka Flag

The Eureka flag was devised by Charles Ross of Quebec, Canada during the 1854 Eureka rebellion on the Victorian-era Ballarat goldfields. It has a Prussian blue field featuring the five eight pointed white stars of the Southern Cross arrayed on a white cross. Although more faithful replicas are seldom seen to be authentic the dimensions of the original specimen which currently resides in the Museum of Australian Democracy are 260cm x 400cm (2:3.08 ratio). The horizontal cross is 37cm wide and the vertical cross 36cm wide. The central star is slightly wider measuring 65cm tall (point to point) and the other stars 60cm tall. The number of points of the stars appears to have been a mere convenience being the easiest to manufacture in the absence of custom made sewing instruments. The stars are white and the arms of the cross off-white.



The restored Eureka flag.



The fragment kept as a trophy flag by constable John King has 30.99 per cent of its surface area missing which has been frayed, lost or in public archives or private collections. These laborious calculations were made by leading authority Val D'Angri who led the first conservation effort in the 1970s. Remarkably a mysterious 'W' marking found by D'Angri on the King fragment may stand for Anastasia Catherine Withers, one of three women who according to family tradition were responsible for weaving the one true Eureka flag.


D'Angri theorises that the Eureka flag was originally intended to be based on a cross throughout, rather than a couped cross, "however, when fitting the four stars to the cross ends they were not very prominent and the cross was shortened to the centre of the stars and blue inserts were added to extend to the background. This could also explain why the centre star is larger than the other four stars."


Of the materials used to construct the Eureka flag it was been determined that: "The flag is constructed of several pieces of a very fine blue 1850s woollen fabric ... Pieces of cotton twill were used for the cross, and pieces of fine cotton lawn for the stars."


The standardised Eureka flag seen today is an enhanced and different design to the 1854 original as the modern version based on a 2:1 ratio with blue key lines around each of five equal stars with D'Angri saying: "Some of the flags being reproduced today leave a lot to be desired concerning the shape, size and location of the stars on the flag, and the fact that the centre star is 8.5 per cent larger than the other stars is largely ignored."




The standardised Eureka flag.



According to Frank Cayley in his landmark early work of Australian vexillology Flag of Stars the ground could have been chosen to represent the ocean, the sky or more probably the colour of the miner's singlets with the five white stars and the white cross symbolising their unity in the south seas. However in a report that appeared in The Argus, 5 December 1854 edition, where the Eureka flag was described it as the "Australian flag", their correspondent who attended an oath swearing ceremony on Bakery Hill that day was apparently informed that the stars represented "the five Australian colonies."


Ross was mortally wounded at the battle of Eureka Stockade and there are only various theories in relation to the inspiration of the Eureka flag and D'Angri has noted the strong resemblance to the Fleurdelise flag of his native province Quebec. The tent where Saint Alphius Catholic chapel was founded also flew a blue flag featuring a white couped cross. Professor Geoffrey Blainey has stated that another possible influence which bears examination is the Irish celtic cross. However the Federation flag, which was already in customary use in the eastern colonies, appears to be most likely starting point as there are several examples of "borrowing the general flag design from the country one is revolting against can be found in many instances of colonial liberation, including Haiti, Venezuela, Iceland, and Guinea." On a visit to Ballarat in 1963 Cayley would discovered what is believed to be an original sketch of the Eureka flag on the drawing board where the cross extends to the edge of the field as per the Federation flag. Arnold Denham wiring around the time of the 50th anniversary of the Eureka rebellion said: "In this connection it is interesting to note that the rebel banner, "The Southern Cross" - the "cross" in white stars on a blue ground - was very similar to the flag which now symbolises the United States of Australia, the difference being the jack in the left corner of the present flag."





Mystery Eureka flag sketches published in Frank Cayley's Flag of Stars were  once held by the Ballarat Historical Society.



John King and his family retained the original specimen for forty years, until it was loaned to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery in 1895, where fragments were cut off and given to visiting dignitaries as souvenirs. In 2001 legal ownership was transferred to the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery who expect the King family and the gallery to be acknowledged every time a replica of the Eureka flag is displayed. It is now on loan to the Museum of Australian Democracy which is located near the Eureka memorial in Ballarat.

The design was lost to the imagination of the general public until after second world war, when radicals started weaving political meanings into the Eureka Stockade folklore; in the 1949 movie Eureka Stockade, the stars of the flag featured were not arrayed on a white cross. As for the province of the provenance of the star spangled Eureka Flag, Withers published in the Ballarat Star, on 1 May 1896, an article which contained a quote from John McNeil, who recalled a meeting on Bakery Hill when Robert McCandlish "unbuttoned his coat and took out and unfurled a light blue flag with some stars on it, but there was no cross on it."



The oath swearing scene from the 1949 motion picture Eureka Stockade starring Chips Rafferty and associated promotional material featured the vintage star spangled Eureka flag. 

There is also an unresolved mystery involving the first report of the battle of the Eureka Stockade that appeared in The Argus newspaper the next day, whose readers were told that the Eureka flag as well as another battle flag, known as the Eureka Jack, had been captured by the foot police.