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Transvaal Colony

Colonial seal


Transvaal Colony flag badge

The Transvaal Colony had no coat of arms. However, it had two emblems which had an influence on future symbols of the Transvaal Province. State Herald F G Brownell gives no date for the adoption of the badge used on the Transvaal version of the Red and Blue Ensigns, but notes that by 1905 it was to be found in the Imperial German Navy’s flag book.

The flag badge appears on a roundel and is in landscape format, showing a male lion couchant, facing the fly, on a grassy area with palm trees behind his rump and white-coloured mountains in the distance.

Edward VII Great Seal of the Transvaal Colony

The flag badge was in fact preceded by the Edward VII Great Seal of the Transvaal Colony. Its format is similar to that used in 1910 for the Great Seal of the Union of South Africa, and appears to have been used as a basis for that design. It has at its centre a shield of the British royal arms,[1] ensigned of an imperial crown and having beneath it on a scroll the royal motto DIEU ET MON DROIT. Four roundels are placed around the shield, two on either side. They show (top left) a mine headgear and a steam locomotive, (top right) an oxwagon, (bottom left) a lion couchant and (bottom right) a cluster of beehive huts.

The headgear and locomotive signify industry and modernisation (it is worth recalling that one of the prime objects of going to war against the Boer republics was to obtain British control of the gold mines of the Witwatersrand). The locomotive is odd, because it is shown without its tender. It is also hard to make out its wheel configuration, but it is either a 4-8-0, the type used for main-line work from 1890 onwards, or a 4-6-2, a type only introduced on the Central South African Railways (the British railway administration covering the Transvaal and Orange River colonies) in 1904.

The wagon is taken from the trek-wagon in the arms of the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek – but the wagon illustrated is the half-tented variety favoured by transport drivers. It was unsuited to the lifestyle of the Voortrekkers and their predecessors, the Trekboers, because it did not provide sufficient shelter to serve as a home on wheels. The half-tented wagon – presumably because the seal of the Transvaal Colony was available to the College of Arms, while the arms of the ZAR were not – nonetheless provided the model for the wagon in the Transvaal quarter of the arms of the Union of South Africa. It is likely that the half-tented wagon was used because few, if any, examples of the fully tented wagon were to be seen, perhaps leading to the conclusion that such wagons were “unfashionable”.

The lion is clearly taken from the ZAR arms (it bears little resemblance to the heraldic lions of British royalty), and while the flag badge is a fanciful piece of landscape, the lion there was most likely derived from this lion.

The beehive huts are typical of the homes of the abeNguni – the amaZulu (whose traditional huts in this shape can still be seen), the amaXhosa (who ceased making huts of this kind at least a century ago), the Swazi (many of whom lived in the eastern parts of the colony) and presumably the amaNdebele of the Transvaal, although they are currently better known for a different style of building. Huts of this kind are less typical of the homes of the Sotho and Tswana peoples – the majority of the indigenous people of the colony were either North Sotho or Tswana – or of the VaVenda, who live in the far north. So it would seem that the huts are an inadequately researched symbol for the “native tribes”.

The outside of the seal is inscribed, as was standard for seals of Edward VII: “EDWARDUS VIT D: G: BRITT: ET TERRARUM TRANSMAR: QUĆ IN DIT: SUNT BRIT: REX: REX F: D: IND: IMP:” plus the words “THE TRANSVAAL”.

About the colony:
British forces under Lord Roberts crossed the Vaal River into the Zuid Afrikaansche Republiek on 28 May 1900 and entered Johannesburg on the 31st. Pretoria fell without a shot being fired on 5 June, and the last set-piece battles of the South African War were fought just east of Pretoria shortly afterward.

However, this was far from being the end of the war, merely the beginning of a new phase. Nonetheless the republic was annexed as the Transvaal Colony on 3 February 1901.

Those parts of the Transvaal that were under effective British control (the rapid movements of commandoes meant that this varied from day to day) were treated as a British colony, although martial law was in effect (and widely abused by both sides) throughout the Transvaal and Orange River colonies. The guerrilla phase of the war only came to an end with the signing of the Peace of Vereeniging in Pretoria on 31 May 1902.

The annexation 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 ZAR) 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 Orange River Colony (he had resigned as Governor of the Cape), was also appointed Governor of the Transvaal. In May he was elevated to the peerage as Baron Milner. In the same month Administrators were appointed over the Orange River and Transvaal colonies, as deputies 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 Orange River Colony, attained self-government in 1907. On 27 November Louis Botha of Het Volk became Prime Minister of the Transvaal 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 Colonie Transvaal.

During 1909 the Transvaal Colony participated in what was called the National Convention – talks with the Natal, Orange River 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 Transvaal Colony now became the Transvaal Province.


[1] For more detailed information on the British royal arms, see this site.


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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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