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Despite its relatively short history (i.e. disregarding the period before colonisation in which flags were not known) Rhodesia had a number of different national flags.

1a. Union Flag/BSAC Flag

The British Union Flag 1 was the first official national flag to be raised in the area that later came to be known as Rhodesia, hoisted for the first time by the men of the Pioneer Column at the fort built some distance from Providential Pass, in Mashonaland, which they called Fort Victoria. The pioneers then resumed their trek and built another fort at a spot 123 miles further on, called Fort Charter. Their final destination was Mount Hampden, about 12 miles from where Salisbury was eventually sited. About a mile from the kopje they outspanned and raised the flag on the next day, 13 September, 1890. This date is often erroneously quoted by the history books as the first time the Union flag was raised in Rhodesia. The Union Flag was used by the Pioneer Column because examples of the BSAC flag had not yet arrived from the manufacturers.2

Union Flag
Union Flag

On the morning of 13 September, "Skipper" Hoste, a captain in the Pioneer Corps, was appointed to command the Pioneer Corps on parade. He replaced Captain Heany, who had originally been appointed for this function, because the latter was an American, "and could not very well go hoisting British flags". Hoste suddenly realised that there was no flagpole to hoist the flag on, and together with Biscoe, went in search of a reasonably straight tree from which to make a pole. Reveille sounded while they were busy chopping it down, so Biscoe went back to camp to fetch a few more men to help.

 The pole, made from an Msasa tree, was erected in the middle of the area that was to be fortified, later to become Cecil Square. At 10 a.m. the men went on parade, "A" and "B" Troops of the Pioneer Corps in the centre, "C" Troop, with their two seven-pounder cannon on the right, and "B" Troop of the Police on the left. Colonel Pennefather, the Commanding Officer of the column, Sir John Willoughby, Lieutenant Sidney Shepstone (ADC to the Colonel), Lieutenant E.C. Tyndale-Biscoe, and Canon Balfour, the Column's Chaplain, stood at the flagstaff. Biscoe held the Union Flag under his arm while Canon Balfour gave a short address and said a prayer of thanksgiving. When he had finished, the Royal Salute was sounded by the buglers and the men presented arms while Biscoe slowly raised the flag. As it reached the top of the pole "C" Troop commenced firing the seven-pounders in a 21 gun salute. When they were finished the bugles sounded once more and the men again presented arms. Colonel Pennefather called for three cheers for Queen Victoria and the men were dismissed and set to work building a fort.3

 The Union Flag was raised at Bulawayo three years later, on 4 November, 1893, after the Ndebele had been driven from the area by Major Patrick Forbes at the head of the Pioneer Column. The BSAC flag was raised at the same time, a Union Flag embossed with the crest of the British South Africa Company - a yellow lion guardant holding an elephant tusk - in the centre. This flag was thereafter used alongside the Union Flag until 1923, although it was used by the Governor until as late as 1931, and by the BSAC as its company flag up to 1965 at its offices in London and in Rhodesia.

 There is no official description of the BSAC flag, and it appears that several variants of the basic design were used. Most illustrations of this flag show a red ring around the white circle containing the crest, but original flags in versions with and without the circle are to be found in various museums in Zambia and Zimbabwe.4

BSAC Flag with red ring

A photograph taken by B.F. Wright in Salisbury in 1897 shows a contingent of the Native Police marching past Market Hall, which was decorated with a variety of flags for the occasion. Prominent among these is a BSAC flag which clearly shows the lion and tusk badge in a plain white circle, without a red ring. Another photograph, taken in 1902 during the laying of the foundation stone of the Queen Victoria Memorial Library on 5 July 1902, also shows two BSAC flags with the lion and tusk in a plain white circle. The same flags are visible hanging from the building in the photograph of the opening ceremony in 1903.5

BSAC flag with plain white circle

Ensigns displaying the BSAC crest in the fly are also illustrated in different versions, some on a white disk, others without. No original examples of these Ensigns have ever been found, and, since flags of this kind were intended for maritime use, it is doubtful if they were ever actually made.6

BSAC red Ensign
BSAC red Ensign

BSAC dark blue Ensign
BSAC dark blue Ensign

Only one photograph of the flag-raising at Bulawayo survives, of very poor quality, but showing the BSAC flag nailed to the top of a tree near a building known as "Dawson's Store", the most solid building in the "White Man's Camp" at Bulawayo, and a natural strongpoint around which to form a laager. Another photograph of the "Flag Tree", as it became known, was taken in 1904. Dawson's Store was used for various other purposes in the following years and in 1968 a Rhodesian historian, Oliver Ransford, decided to try and find the original building. His search for the store led to the unexpected rediscovery of the "Flag Tree", which he was able to identify by using the two surviving photographs of the tree for comparison. A coloured man living in the vicinity later called on the historian and confirmed his find with the information that his African grandmother had once told him that this was the tree on which the white men had nailed their flag in 1893! The original store was also located, although it had undergone a number of alterations in the intervening years. According to Ransford, the original photograph also shows a Union Flag, which would have been hoisted after the BSAC flag.7

 Although 12 September, anniversary of the arrival of the Pioneer Column at the site of Salisbury, had been commemorated a couple of times, it wasn't until 1905 that it became firmly fixed in the public mind as a special day for Rhodesia. In this year all Rhodesians had two days holiday on 5 July and 6 July, Rhodes's Day and Founders' Day, and the previous year, 1904, had seen the dedication of the Allan Wilson Memorial in the Matopos. These events led to a revival of public interest in the recent history of the country and a growing realisation that 12 September was a day of great national importance.

 The new Mayor of Salisbury at that time, Edward Coxwell, decided that it was time that Salisbury's children became aware of the importance of their fathers' deeds and arranged a full programme of events to celebrate Occupation Day.

 In Cecil Square, near the original spot where the Union Flag had first been raised, a gum pole was erected in front of an audience of 250 children. A youngster named Frank Pascoe, as the first child to have been born in Salisbury, was given the honour of re- enacting the flag-raising ceremony. Colonel Raleigh Grey gave the children a talk on the subject and the children and their parents then proceeded to Hartmann Hill for a picnic and sports.

 In the evening the adults held a dinner at the Commercial Hotel, the menu consisting of a chunk of bully beef and an army biscuit, to remind those present of the hardships the Pioneer Column had experienced.8

 In 1906 the celebration of Occupation Day was repeated, this time the honour of raising the flag going to the first girl to have been born in Salisbury, Florence von Hirschberg.9

 Every year after this a flag-raising ceremony was held on Pioneers' Day, the honour of raising the flag going to the children or grandchildren of the first pioneers, although in some years the flag was raised by one of the pioneers themselves. In 1932, for example, the flag was once again raised by Commander Tyndale-Biscoe RN, the man who originally performed this function for the Pioneer Column. In 1940, to mark the occasion of Rhodesia's 50th Anniversary, the original flag used in 1890 was returned by General Smuts from its place of honour at Groote Schuur in Cape Town, as a gift to Rhodesia. This original Union Flag was used for the Pioneers' Day ceremony for the last time before being laid up in the National Archives.10

 The Union Flag became the official flag of the colony when the first Governor to be appointed as the King's representative under Responsible Government - Sir John Chancellor - arrived in the Colony in 1923. The Rhodesian High Commissioner in London, however, flew the Rhodesian Standard, the Blue Ensign with the Colony's coat of arms in the fly.

 The formal transfer of government from the BSAC to the newly elected Legislative Assembly took place at midday on 1 October 1923 and Sir John Chancellor was sworn in as the representative of King George V. The previous evening at sunset the native trumpeters had sounded Retreat at the BSAP Depot and the BSAC flag had been hauled down for the last time by RSM Douglas, Sergeant Hughes- Halls and Sergeant Harmer of the BSAP. The following day the Union flag was raised in its place.11

 The Union Flag remained in use at all Government establishments in Rhodesia until sunset on Sunday 10 November 1968, when it was lowered for the last time and replaced by the new Rhodesian flag, known affectionately as the "Green 'n White". The Union Flag that was used at Brady Barracks was placed in safekeeping at St. John's Cathedral in Bulawayo. It was given to the Church authorities by the Brigade Commander, Brigadier R.A.G. Prentice in 1970.

1b. Northern Rhodesia

First known tentatively as "Northern Zambesia", the territory that was later to become Northern Rhodesia first came under British rule in 1891, at least on paper, when the British South Africa Companyís charter was extended to include this area as well. The main incentive was the fact that the Germans were threatening to expand their colonies Southwards from East Africa. After a slow process of expansion and pacification, the Company succeeded in bringing the entire region under their control, creating a local police force and army.

Arms of Northern Rhodesia

Up to 1924 the arms of the British South Africa Company were used as the arms of the new country, but in 1927 a new design displaying a fish eagle above a number of wavy bars representing the waters of the Zambezi was introduced and finally officially granted by Royal Warrant in 1939.

Northern Rhodesia dark blue Ensign
Northern Rhodesia dark blue Ensign

Shortly afterwards a national flag was adopted displaying the arms in the fly of a dark blue British Ensign, and this flag was used until 1953. The Governor of Northern Rhodesia used a Union flag with the arms of the country in a white roundel in the centre, surrounded by a garland of laurel.

 As in the case of Southern Rhodesia, the military forces of Northern Rhodesia originated in the countryís police force, later becoming a separate force known as the Northern Rhodesia Regiment and eventually reaching a strength of 8 battalions which saw service in both World Wars.

NR Regiment Colours
NR Regiment Colours

A "Kingís Colour" was formally presented to the Northern Rhodesia Police after the Great War of 1914-1918 in the form of a Union Flag with the customary circle in the centre displaying the unitís name and Ensigned with the crown. It was consecrated by the Bishop of Northern Rhodesia in 1921 at an official ceremony at Livingstone. In 1933 the colour had to be altered when the name of the unit was changed from "Police" to "Regiment". In 1938, having seen much wear and tear, it was replaced by a new colour of the same design. The first Regimental Colour, consisting of a scarlet field with the regimental badge in the centre, was presented to the unit in 1924 by "the ladies of Northern Rhodesia" in recognition of the unitís war services, and this colour was also used until 1938, when it was replaced by a new design. The new colour followed the regulation design approved for British infantry units and consisted of a red cross of St. George on a white field, with the unitís name in a circle in the centre, together with the unitís badge of a golden crested crane. Surrounding the circle is a Union wreath of roses, thistles and shamrocks, with the imperial crown above.

NR Regimental badge In 1938 a regimental flag was also introduced for the regiment, which until then had used the Union flag at its headquarters in Lusaka. The new flag measured 36 by 18 inches, divided horizontally into red and white panels, with the regimental badge in the centre in the form of a yellow silhouette. Originally the badge was printed, with the letters of the unitís name being sewn on, but later a more satisfactory version was adopted in which the badge was also sewn on in yellow bunting.12

1c. Nyasaland

At the time of the Pioneer Column's entry into the territory that was to become Southern Rhodesia, the area of Nyasaland was not yet officially British territory, although missionaries and explorers had already entered the country. The Portuguese still had strong claims to the territory and controlled all means of access via Mozambique. In January 1889, however, a Scotsman, D.J. Rankin, discovered that there was a navigable channel from the sea into the Zambezi via Chinde. This meant that Nyasaland could be reached by an international waterway, avoiding Portuguese territory altogether. The British decided to take action with regard to their claim on Nyasaland.

 Mr. H.H. Johnston, who had been appointed Consul at Mozambique in 1888, travelled to Blantyre along the new route and made preparations to declare Nyasaland British territory. A mission station in the town became a "factory" for the purpose of making Union Flags to distribute to the African chiefs throughout the district while negotiations for treaties of friendship were under way. On 21 September, 1889, John Buchanan, acting Consul while Johnston was travelling around signing treaties, declared officially that the territory was now "under the protection of Her Gracious Majesty the Queen of Great Britain". The Union Flag was hoisted officially for the first time in front of his residence at Blantyre, heralding a new era for "British Central Africa". The name Nyasaland only came into use in July 1907.13

Arms of Nyasaland

As early as 1894, however, Johnston had designed arms for the territory, still then known as the British Central Africa Protectorate. Interestingly, the arms as a whole were not approved, but the crest of a coffee tree was approved by the Admiralty for use on flags! The crest, surrounded by a wreath of laurel, was used in the centre of a Union flag by the Commissioner of the British Central Africa Protectorate and later by the Governor of Nyasaland. The crest was displayed on a roundel of yellow, white and black diagonal stripes in the fly of the blue Ensign and this flag was the design used until 1914, when arms were formally granted by Royal Warrant. The new arms displayed a leopard standing on a rock, with a rising sun above it. The Governorís flag was changed to incorporate the new badge in the centre of the Union flag, and the blue Ensign was changed at the same time to display the new arms in the fly.

Nyasaland dark blue Ensign
Nyasaland dark blue Ensign

2. Southern Rhodesia

With the division of the territory into a "Northern" and "Southern" Rhodesia in 1923, the need for distinctive symbols slowly began to make itself felt.

 After a number of suggestions had been put forward with regard to a coat of arms for Southern Rhodesia (including one proposal to use a BSA Policeman and a Matabele Warrior as supporters) and a suitable motto, a design was decided on and granted by Royal Warrant on 11 August 1924. The motto chosen was "Sit Nomine Digna", which means "May she be worthy of the name". The principal charge was a pick, symbolizing the countryís mineral wealth, with above this the lion and thistles from the arms of Cecil John Rhodes.

Southern Rhodesia coat of arms
Southern Rhodesia coat of arms

This took care of the question of armorial bearings for the country, but the subject of a distinctive flag was to take a lot longer and cause a great deal of confusion before a final decision was made. The official flag of the colony in 1923 was the Union Flag and this flag continued in use even after Rhodesia became a self-governing colony. Other British colonies, however, had their own distinctive flags based on the British blue Ensign, the distinguishing feature being the badge or shield of the country concerned in the fly.

 Shortly after an official coat of arms was approved, the British Admiralty approved the use of red and blue Ensigns with the Southern Rhodesia badge in the fly for use by Rhodesian shipping, a decision that was presumably purely theoretical, as there was no need or demand for such flags.

 As Southern Rhodesia began to take part in more and more official and international occasions, including gatherings of the Commonwealth countries, Rhodesians became more aware of the need for their own national flag.

 Discussions and correspondence on the subject between officials continued from the 1920s into the 1930s, the standard response to enquiries in this period being that the Union flag was still the official flag of the colony, despite the number of alternative designs that were beginning to make their appearance, some even finding their way into books and atlases!

 In 1937 a letter was received by the Southern Rhodesia High Commissioner in London from the Dominions Office, stating:

"The view taken here is that the establishment of a separate flag for use on land in a self-governing colony is a matter to be governed by law or usage. As you will gather from our letter to Mr. Wright of the 26th of December, 1934, legislation is thought to be the most satisfactory alternative but, as the Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia is averse from passing legislation on the subject, the only courses open would appear to be either (1) to begin using the proposed new flag for such purposes as may be desired without calling special attention to the innovation, or (2) to publish a notice in the Gazette indicating what may be decided as to the use of such a flag, the notice making clear that the official land flag of the Governor of the Colony remains the Union Flag.

As to what the new flag should be, we should be rather disposed to favour the use of the Blue Ensign with the badge of Southern Rhodesia emblazoned on the fly (this being a flag which might be regarded as already existing in theory, if not in fact), but the question is really one for the Southern Rhodesia Government to decide."14

Southern Rhodesia dark blue Ensign
Southern Rhodesia dark blue Ensign

According to T.W. Baxter, the Southern Rhodesia Blue Ensign did already exist at that time as it had been used at the Commonwealth Games in 1934. No official decision was made on a new flag, however, and the situation continued to be confusing, with red Ensign versions also being used, and this variant even appeared in a major book on the subject of flags as the official national flag of Southern Rhodesia. Despite the use of blue and red Ensigns, the official flag throughout this period remained the Union Flag.

 In 1951 the subject was reopened by the Governor, who recommended that the dark blue Ensign be adopted. This flag was finally officially approved on 31 July 1951. The official status of the red Ensign version remained obscure and, although it had been used on a number of occasions, it was rarely seen.15 The explanation for the continuing existence of this version of the Southern Rhodesia flag was that it had been authorised for use on merchant ships and trading vessels owned by the Southern Rhodesian Government. In fact, the country was landlocked and did not own any major shipping vessels, so it seems likely that the flag was only used on small boats on the countryís rivers. The only major occasion on which the flag is known to have been used was during the Royal Visit in 1947 and this use was without official approval.

Southern Rhodesia red Ensign
Southern Rhodesia red Ensign

Whether or not this flag was also used during the second Royal Tour of Southern Rhodesia in 1953 is uncertain. The Official Souvenir published shortly afterwards with numerous photographs shows only Union Flags being used, and the Union Flag was also used for the unveiling of the Kingsley Fairbridge Memorial statue in Umtali. Significantly, although the arms of Southern Rhodesia and those of the major cities are illustrated in the Official Souvenir, there is no mention or illustration of a Southern Rhodesian flag other than the Union Flag.

 According to the few extant documents regarding the use of the Southern Rhodesian flag, the dark blue Ensign was intended for use "outside the colony" at functions where it would be necessary to distinguish Southern Rhodesian participants from those of Britain itself. Inside the country the flag appears to have seen very limited use, if it was used at all, and the fact that neither the present author nor any of the major collectors of Rhodesian flags have to date been able to locate an original example would indicate that very few were manufactured and actually used in the short period of its official status as a flag for use on land before it was superceded by the Federal Ensign in 1953.16 There is also some debate as to whether the badge in the fly was contained in a white disk. A later (post 1968) Rhodesian Government publication 17 illustrates this flag with the badge on a white disk, while other sources make no mention of a disk.

 After the demise of the Federation in 1963 the question of a national flag for Southern Rhodesia was once again raised, the main motive for not continuing to use the dark blue Ensign being that it was felt that a clear break had to be made with the situation before and during the Federal period. A decision was reached fairly quickly and in April 1964, Mr. Winston Field, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia, stated in Parliament:

"The Government, therefore, has decided that this flag should be an Ensign with a sky blue background (the same colour as appears on the Air Force flag) with the Union Flag in the top left-hand corner and with the Southern Rhodesian badge in the fly."18
Light blue Rhodesian Ensign
Southern Rhodesia light blue Ensign

Again, the adoption of a new national flag seemed to be primarily for use outside the colony, as it was directed that this new flag would only be flown inside Rhodesia at "stations where it had been customary for the Federal flag to be flown alongside the Union flag". At such sites the Union Flag was still to occupy the position of seniority. In practice, however, the new light blue Ensign was fairly widely used inside the country, perhaps as a result of the increasing feeling of estrangement from Britain after the failure of the Federation and the reluctance of the British Government to grant independence to Southern Rhodesia at the same time as the other two territories.


1. The term "Union Flag" is the correct name for the British national flag, more popularly known as the "Union Jack". A jack is actually a small flag flown at the bow of a ship.
2. Lord Robert Blake's "A History of Rhodesia" (Methuen 1977), probably the most authoritative book on Rhodesian history, makes no mention of the first hoisting of the flag at Fort Victoria, although it does give a very detailed account of the hoisting of the flag at the site that was to become Salisbury. In his book "Deserve to be Great" (Bulawayo 1960), W.D. Gale, author of numerous works on Rhodesian history, wrote: "Near the head of the Pass they built their first fort, named it Fort Victoria in honour of the Queen, and hoisted the Union Flag for the first time in the new territory. They rested for five days to allow men and animals to recover from their gruelling passage through the lowveld, and then they went on over the undulating plains towards their destination [Mount Hampden]." pp 28-29.
3. The most detailed first-hand account of the raising of the flag was written by Henry Francis ("Skipper") Hoste, a Captain in the Pioneer Corps at the time. A few years before his death in 1936 he wrote a book, titled "Forty Years Ago: Rhodesia in 1890", based on the detailed diary which he had kept while with the Pioneer Column. The diary was later lost, but extracts from his book were published in "Rhodesiana" (no. 12, September 1965), and in 1977 the book was published under the title "Gold Fever", edited by Hoste's grandson. The two versions differ slightly, the version published in "Rhodesiana" being Hoste's original wording. 4. "Rhodesiana" no. 12, September 1965, pp 22-23.
5. Berry - "Flags of the BSAC 1890-1923", lecture at the 15th International Congress for Vexillology in Zurich, August 1993.
6. All of these photographs are included in the books "A Scantling of Time" and "A Sequence of Time" by G.H. Tanser.
7. "Rhodesiana" no. 18, July 1968, pp 13-21.
8. Tanser - "A Sequence of Time", pp 115-116.
9. Tanser - "A Sequence of Time", pp 127.
10. "Rhodesiana" no. 24, July 1971, pp 59-62. See also Appendix 1 of this book.
11. Gibbs - "Right of the Line", pp 165.
12. Brelsford - "The Story of the Northern Rhodesia Regiment, pp 103-106.
13. Gale - "Zambezi Sunrise", pp 71.
14. Quoted in Baxter - "Flags and Arms of Rhodesia" pp. 12-13.
15. An original example of this flag, storm-size, is owned by a collector in South Africa.
16. The period of use of this flag is often listed as being from 1924 to 1953, presumably because of the Admiralty approval of the design in 1924, but in practice it was not officially used until 1951, so that in fact it only existed for a period of 3 years, which might explain the fact that no originals have been found.
17. "Flags of Rhodesia", undated, Ministry of Information, Salisbury.18. Quoted in Baxter - "Flags and Arms of Rhodesia", pp 1.

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