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Orange River Colony

Orange River Colony (1904)

Arms granted to the Orange River Colony by Royal Warrant on 10 December 1904, the blazon of which reads:

Arms: Argent on a Mound a Springbok and on a Chief Azure a Tudor crown all proper.

This was the first appearance of the springbok (Antidorcas marsupialis) in any coat of arms, having been taken from the flag badge of the colony. It was taken from this coat of arms to become the dexter supporter in the arms of the Union of South Africa, and so became a national symbol of the first importance.

The crown in the chief is almost a provocation to the Boer citizens of the Oranje Vrij Staat, signifying as it did the triumph of the British Empire over their republic. It is almost surprising, then, that these arms were used by the Orange Free State Province until 1925. Sometimes described as an imperial crown, this is in fact the Tudor crown, used at the time (on flags especially) to symbolise the British sovereign. For more information on this topic, click here.

About the colony:
British forces under the new British Commander-in-Chief (South Africa), Field Marshal Baron Roberts of Kandahar, lifted the siege of Kimberley (whose town limits bordered on the Oranje Vrij Staat) on 15 February 1900 and almost immediately entered the republic, rapidly assuming control of its territory. On 28 May Lord Roberts hoisted the Union Jack in Bloemfontein, and on 10 August postage stamps of the Cape Colony were issued overprinted “Orange River Colony” – although no such colony existed. The republic was, however, formally annexed under that name on 6 October.

The conventional phase of the South African War ended shortly after the fall of Pretoria on 5 June. Guerrilla warfare would nonetheless continue until the Peace of Vereeniging was signed in Pretoria on 31 May 1902.

The annexation of the two republics as colonies was at least dubious in international law, and remained a bone of contention for the Boer inhabitants. Jan Christian Smuts (who at the time of the annexation was still Attorney-General of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek) was to raise the matter at the League of Nations following the First World War. That body outlawed unilateral annexations of captured territory and created a framework of international law to cover events of this nature.

Sir Alfred Milner, High Commissioner for South Africa and Governor of the Cape Colony, was appointed Governor of the Orange River Colony and resigned as Governor of the Cape. On 3 February 1901 the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek, too, was annexed, under the name Transvaal Colony. Sir Alfred was appointed Governor of the Transvaal as well, and in May he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Milner. In the same month an Administrator was appointed over the Orange River Colony, as deputy to the Governor.

Milner’s peerage meant in effect that the aggressor who had precipitated the war had now been rewarded for his efforts.

Self-government:
The colony, together with the Transvaal Colony, attained self-government in 1907. On 27 November Abraham Fischer of the Orangia Unie became Prime Minister of the Orange River Colony.

Under self-government the colony again recognised the Dutch language, which had disappeared from official use under direct British rule, and from 1907 onwards it is permissible to refer to the colony also by its Dutch name, the Oranje Rivier Colonie.

During 1909 the Orange River Colony participated in what was called the National Convention – talks with the Natal, Transvaal and Cape colonies (with observers from Rhodesia in attendance) with a view to forming a federation or union. These resulted in the passage of the South Africa Act (1909) by the Westminster Parliament, which paved the way for the Union of South Africa’s coming into being on 31 May 1910. The Orange River Colony now became the Orange Free State Province.


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  • Sources: National and Provincial Symbols of South Africa, by F G Brownell, and various historical sources.

  • Scan courtesy of the Evening Post.


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    Comments, queries: Mike Oettle

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