Armoria patrić

Transvaal (British possession)

flag badge prepared for the Transvaal but not used

During the period of British rule that lasted from 1877 to 1881, the Transvaal (previously the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek) had no state symbols of its own. The Union Jack was hoisted in Pretoria to signify the territory’s annexation on 12 April 1877, and the British royal arms appeared on the Transvaal Government Gazette.[1]

However, in terms of Britain’s Merchant Shipping (Colours) Act of 1864 and the Colonial Defence Act of ’65, colonial vessels were able to fly distinctive versions of the Red or Blue Ensign, “with the seal or badge of the Colony in the fly thereof”. For colonial governors the same device was placed within a wreath in the centre of the Union Jack. Brownell notes: “This led to an unprecedented proliferation of such ‘colonial flags’ throughout the British Empire, in many case, it seems, for no better reason than to ensure the colony or territory’s inclusion in the Admiralty Flag Book.”

A device for the Transvaal was drawn up and entered in the Admiralty records, although that entry can now be found deleted, having had diagonal lines drawn through it in black ink. It was not approved for use until mid-1881, by which time the Transvaal had been lost to Britain, so the device was in fact never used.

It is shown above, minus the obliterating black lines: a shield divided per pale, with the Burgers flag in the dexter half and the Vierkleur in the sinister, ensigned with the royal crown. Brownell notes that this was “despite the fact that the entirely landlocked Transvaal had no shipping of its own”.


About the territory:

The Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek was in a state of crisis when Theophilus Shepstone arrived in Pretoria from Natal in April 1877 and, on the 12th, hoisted the Union Jack and proclaimed the Transvaal a British possession.

He was able to do this because of the country’s parlous economic position, because of the general lack of public confidence in President T F Burgers, and because of the unresolved question of the Pedi chief, Sekhukhune, who had sued for peace but was still a source of possible unrest.

Sir Garnet Wolseley, High Commissioner for South East Africa, declared war on Sekhukhune, and with the aid of British troops and allied troops (including the Swazis who had supported Burgers) and in 1879 defeated him and imprisoned him in Pretoria.

With the threat of Sekhukhune removed, the burghers were no longer so amenable to British rule.

On 13 December 1880 the members of the last Volksraad were summoned to a meeting at Paardekraal (site of the present-day town of Krugersdorp), where authority was placed in the hands of a triumvirate comprising Paul Kruger, Piet Joubert and M W Pretorius.

They declared Heidelberg their seat of government and hoisted the Vierkleur there on 16 December.

The small British detachments garrisoning the country were roundly defeated at Bronkhorspruit, Laing’s Nek and Ingogo, and on 27 February 1881 at Majuba, where General Sir George Pomeroy Colley fell at the head of his troops.

Following this defeat, Britain saw no future in continuing the campaign, and on 6 March an armistice was concluded. On 23 March, peace was agreed on in a farmhouse near Majuba.[2]

Drawing up of the detailed peace treaty was left in the hands of a royal commission comprising Sir Hercules Robinson, General Sir Evelyn Wood and Mr Justice J H de Villiers[3] of the Cape Colony.

Britain now referred to the territory as the Transvaal State, but the Volksraad regarded the old Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek as having been restored.

[1] Replacing the Staats Courant of the ZAR.

[2] The town of Volksrust was later established not far from Majuba.

[3] Judge Henry de Villiers was later knighted, and following Union in 1910 was created Baron De Villiers of Wynberg.


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Acknowledgements: Illustration of flag badge courtesy of Flags of the World; colours adjusted using MS Picture It!© Historical information from various articles in the Standard Encyclopćdia of Southern Africa (Nasou).

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Comments, queries: Mike Oettle