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New South Wales Ensign/Federation Flag

Last modified: 2016-05-20 by ian macdonald
Keywords: australia | new south wales ensign | white ensign | southern cross | stars: southern cross | new south wales merchant flag | federation flag |
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[New South Wales Ensign] image by Miles Li, 14 September 2015

See also:

The 'New South Wales Ensign'/Federation Flag

A White Ensign with an overall blue St George's cross with five stars, sometimes four stars, sometimes possibly no stars, is variously called 'Australian Colours', 'Colonial Ensign', and 'New South Wales Ensign'. It was definitely used at sea in the 1880's, but apparently as an unofficial merchant ensign.
David Prothero, 30 Apr 1998

Undoubtedly the most popular early 'national' flag was the Australian Federation Flag (AFF), which was regarded as the unofficial flag of Australia for nearly 70 years. Indeed, so popular was this flag that it was one of the flag designs officially submitted to the Imperial authorities for possible selection as the Australian National Flag in 1901...

The AFF was originally designed as the proposed New South Wales (NSW) Ensign in 1831 by Captain John Nicholson, one of the designers of the National Colonial Flag. Captain Nicholson was the son of a Bermondsey baker in England and later joined the Royal Navy and fought in the Napoleonic Wars. He eventually emigrated to Australia, where his past naval experience led to his gaining the position of Harbour Master of Sydney.

According to Australian vexillologist Tony Burton, the NSW Ensign seems to have been widely used. This is not surprising, because, as Burton says, New South Wales at that time included both Victoria and Queensland, and consequently the colony of New South Wales extended across the entire eastern seaboard, thereby constituting most of colonial Australia. Thus, the NSW Ensign became known over time as the 'Australian Flag' or the 'Australian Ensign'.

The 'Australian Ensign' ultimately became the symbol of the federation movement, which gained momentum in the 1880s and 1890s, and was used by such groups as the Australian Natives Association and the Australian Federation League. The League's slogan was 'One people - one destiny - one flag'.

The AFF [Autralian First Flag] (...) was subject to some variation depending on the manufacturer. Sometimes the cross was dark blue and sometimes light blue, and often the stars had five points instead of eight and occasionally they were differently positioned on the arms of the cross.

The AFF was so popular and so identified with Australia that it was the national symbol used on the official invitation to the inaugural celebrations of the new Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. It was also used extensively, along with the Union Jack, throughout the federation celebrations and was still flown in Australia in the 1920s, well after the official adoption of the current national flag in 1903.
David Cohen (quoting Foley [fol96]), 10 May 1998

The flag was referred to in a Crux Australis [cxa] article as "Australia's Forgotten Flag" (Issue no. 36 Oct 1992). The design was first recorded in 1832 and it was widely used in New South Wales as a local shipping ensign until 1883 when the British Admiralty banned its continued use at sea. The design was revived as a land flag in the late 1880's by political groups supporting federation of the colonies and it was used as an unofficial national flag in parts of Australia until the current flag was adopted in 1903. Examples of the flag exist in a variety of design details - dark blue or light blue cross, 4, 5or 6 stars of 5, 6, 7 or 8 points arranged centrally or at edges of the crosses.
Ralph Kelly, 14 Dec 1998

The so-called Australian Federation Flag, widely flown in the 19th century in the lead up to (and after) federation. Never official, but it did feature prominently in federation celebrations and was submitted to the British Admiralty as a proposal (along with the current flag) for Australia's National Flag. Has anyone ever seen one flying anywhere? Not neccessarily original ones, but recreations? In my humble opinion it's quite a nice flag indeed.
Dylan Crawfoot, 03 Feb 1999

This came up a few months ago when someone saw it; but only on a T-shirt.

There is a picture of the Federation Flag, as it appeared on invitations to the Inaugural Celebrations, on page 78 of Smith [smi75b] with an inaccurate caption which reads, "The Commonwealth of Australia had no official flag when it came into being on 1 January 1901, although unofficially the British Union Jack and Eureka Stockade flag were combined."

It can't be a combination of the UJ and the Eureka flag since the "Federation Flag" already existed in 1832 as the NSW Ensign, while the Eureka flag wasn't devised until 1854. See Nicholson Flag Chart, Sydney 1832 in Crux Australis [cxa] No.36.
David Prothero, 06 Feb 1996

On 18 Feb 1902, the Prime Minister, Edmund Barton requested that the Governor General send the winning design for the new Australian national flag to London for approval. His letter including the following paragraph:

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.

["B" was a 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.]

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

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.

David Prothero, 22-23 Feb 2005

New South Wales Merchant Flag

[New South Wales Merchant Flag] image by Miles Li, 14 September 2015

In Flags of Australia [vau83] a flag called the NSW Merchant Flag is pictured. The flag is the NSW ensign with two horizontal blue stripes added; one in the upper fly, and one through the lower two quadrants. The chart states:

In the early years of last century [the 19th ed.] the description New South Wales was frequently interpreted as including most of the Australia continent. In the 1830s Captain John Nicholson added two blue stripes to his New South Wales Ensign and designated it a proposed merchant shipping flag for Australia. The Red Ensign remained the official merchant flag.
Elsewhere, the chart suggests that this flag influenced the Murray River Flag.
Jonathan Dixon, 15 Sep 2001
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