History of the Ensign

Australian White EnsignHistory of the Ensign

In general Australia follows the British system which, as far as is known, dates back to about the middle of the sixteenth century. Initially the Ensign was a flag with the Cross of St George or the Cross of St Andrew in the canton to denote the ship was from England or Scotland. Later, by Royal Proclamation in 1606 at the time of the accession of James 1, these crosses were combined to form a Union Flag for use at sea; this was to be flown at the maintop although the individual crosses could still be flown from the foretop to indicate whether they came from England or Scotland. It was not until 1707 that the flag was confirmed for use on land as well as at sea and not until 1801 that the Cross of St Patrick was added to form the Union Flag as we know it.

The Union Flag was restricted to the exclusive use of H.M. Ships in 1660 but only worn whilst in harbour. In 1823 the Union Flag with a white surround was approved for use by merchant ships and later was flown at the stem‑head as a Pilot Jack.

White ensign

After 1660 the Royal Navy had used Red, White or Blue Ensigns at sea to identify their tactical divisions. In 1864 the White Ensign, the St George's Cross with the Union Flag in the first quarter, came into general use by the Navy when the classification of Red, White and Blue Squadrons was discontinued. It is worn by H.M. Ships and at specified Royal Naval Establishments ashore, although certain British yacht clubs were given permission to wear this Ensign in 1828, this permission was withdrawn in 1859 except for the Royal Yacht Squadron.

The Blue Ensign

This is the Ensign of the Royal Naval Reserve although permission has been given by the British Admiralty and later by the British Ministry of Defence (Navy) for its use by certain yacht clubs.

A number of clubs in the Commonwealth have permission to use the Ensign in its original form and others to use the Blue Ensign (defaced), i.e. with the Club's identification or badge etc, added to it. Clubs in Australia permitted to wear the Blue Ensign in its original form are: 

The Royal Sydney Yacht Squadron 
                        The Royal Melbourne Yacht Squadron 
                        The Royal Brighton Yacht Club 
                        The Royal Yacht Club of Victoria  
                        The Royal Geelong Yacht Club 
                        The Royal South Australian Yacht Squadron 
                        The Royal Perth Yacht Club 
                        The Royal Queensland Yacht Club 
                        The Royal Yacht Club of Tasmania

Examples of clubs with the right to wear the Blue Ensign (defaced) in Sydney are:

The Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club - With a Crown 
                        The Royal Prince Edward Yacht Club - With the Prince of Wales Feathers 
                        The Cruising Yacht Club of Australia - With the letters C.Y.C.A. 
                        R.A.N. Sailing Association ‑ With a Naval Crown and the letters R.A.N.S.A.

A member of a club which has been granted this permission may then, subject to certain specific conditions, be given a warrant from that club to use the Blue Ensign. As with the White Ensign, the Blue Ensign is a purely maritime flag and, although in general its use ashore is incorrect, it may be flown at the club houses of those yacht clubs given permission to use it.

The Red Ensign

The Red Ensign in one form or another has been commonly used by British Merchantmen since about 1700. The Red Ensign now used by merchant ships was introduced at the same time as the White Ensign in 1864 and, in addition to the British Merchant Service, it is the only ensign that can be worn by all other ships and vessels belonging to H.M. subjects. British yachts were classed as merchant vessels in the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 and may wear the Red Ensign whether registered or not.

Certain British yacht clubs are also authorised to use the Red Ensign (defaced).

Australian National Flag

On 24 April 1901 a design competition for The Flag of Australia was announced by the first Prime Minister of Australia, Edmond Barton. The winning design was officially raised on 3 September 1901, which day is now Australia National Flag Day.

The Australian Army is the protector of the Australian National Flag by which it is represented. It is worn as an Ensign on Army vessels. The Royal Australian Navy fly the National Flag at sea only as a Battle Ensign when in combat. It is worn as a Jack in harbour when secured to a buoy or wharf, or when the Sovereign is present and naval ships are assigned special duties.

Residents of Australia may choose to fly the National Flag or the Australian Red Ensign on privately owned, unregistered small vessels.

Australian Red Ensign

The Australian Red Ensign was adopted in 1901, proclaimed by the King in 1903, confirmed under the Navigation Act 1912 and again confirmed in the Flags Act 1953. It is the proper flag to be flown by merchant vessels registered at an Australian port. It may also be flown by unregistered vessels and small craft, the property of residents of Australia.

The ensign is flown only at sea and never on land unless with express permission.

Australian White Ensign

The Royal Australian Navy adopted its own White Ensign after World War II and it was first flown on 1 March 1967 during the Vietnam War. It is used only by the Navy in ships and at shore establishments. 

At first, Royal Australian Navy ships flew the British White Ensign from the stern, under the direction of the British Admiralty. Australian government ministers, along with their counterparts from other dominions such as Canada, had proposed in 1909 that a White Ensign defaced with a local symbol would be more appropriate, however the Admiralty insisted that the national flag flown from the jackstaff at the bow was sufficient to display the nationality of the ship.

By 1965, Australian forces were fighting in the Vietnam War, a war which did not involve the British, and a member of parliament questioned the appropriateness of using the ensign of another country. At the same time, it was reported in parliament that the Navy were looking for a distinctly Australian ensign. On considering the matter on 1966-01-21, the Naval Board recommended to the Government "that the Royal Australian Navy should have its own unique white ensign", a "white flag with the Union Flag in the upper canton at the hoist with six blue stars positioned as in the Australian flag". The new ensign was granted Royal Assent on 1966-11-07 and announced by the prime minister on 1966-12-23. The introduction of the ensign was brought forward from the originally planned date, 1966-05-01, to 1 March, when HMAS Boonaroo became the first ship to be commissioned under the Australian white ensign. 
        Source: Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australian_White_Ensign (Accessed: 30 January 2006) 
                    Australian White EnsignSea Power Centre - Australia site. (Accessed: 4 August 2005)

The Royal Australian Air Force Ensign

In December 1946, King George VI approved a distinctive light blue ensign for use by the Royal Australian Air Force. This ensign incorporated the Southern Cross with the Commonwealth Star and replaced the Royal Air Force Ensign which had been in use in Australia since 1922. In 1981 the leaping kangaroo was placed at the centre of the Ensign's roundel The Ensign is flown at RAAF establishments and worn on RAAF vessels.

The Australian Shipping Registration Bill

This bill was introduced into Parliament on 22 May 1980 and provided for the establishment of an Australian Register of Ships. The Government at first proposed that the National Flag should replace the Red Ensign as the proper colours for all civilian vessels, whether registered or not. However, after further consideration, it was announced on 21 August 1980 that Australian merchant ships will continue to fly the Australian Red Ensign as their national colours. Also, that yachts and other civilian vessels outside the merchant service will be allowed to fly either the Australian National Flag or the Australian Red Ensign and that yachts holding a warrant for the use of the British Blue Ensign could continue to wear this ensign.


Other Links
  Yachting Flag Lore - LTCOL E. Bruce Starrett ED (RL)


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