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Territory of New Guinea 1884-1942

Last modified: 2012-11-09 by ian macdonald
Keywords: papua | territory of papua | blue ensign | canton (union flag) | disc (white) | crown: royal |
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[Territory of New Guinea 1884-1942] 1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 12 July 2008

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The ensign was probably introduced for the special commissioner who was appointed when the protectorate was proclaimed in 1884, and then taken over by the administrator after the territory was annexed to the British crown in 1888. It may have gone out of use in 1901 when British New Guinea was assigned to the Commonwealth of Australia, or perhaps continued until 1906 when BNG became a territory of the Commonwealth of Australia with the name Papua.
Martin Grieve, 12 July 2008

Detail of Badge

[Badge Territory of New Guinea 1884-1942]  image by Martin Grieve, 12 July 2008

BNG flag of 1888

[Territory of New Guinea 1884-1942] image by Ben Cahoon, 1 May 2012

 In 1888, the letters were changed to "B.N.G" when it became a colonial possession called British New Guinea, and the badge was used on blue and red ensigns as well as with the wreath on the Governor's Union Flag, as standard British practice. (source: Jilek)
Jonathan Dixon, 1 May 2012

I wrote, "The badge in this case consisted of a crown above the letters BNG, although in 1906 correspondence from the Admiralty still referred to a badge where the letters were simply "NG", which had been used before 1888."

The badge seems pretty clearly attached to the request for information for the revision of the Flag Book (page 37), which I think is referred to as an enclosure to the 19 Dec1905 letter. In either case, it seems that the relevant people at the Admiralty did not believe there had been a change. However, the memo for the Australian prime minister (page 16) states
that the letters on the badge were "B.N.G."

I was originally focussing on flags after 1906, so I haven't seen the correspondence that Jilek [jil89a] refers to as a basis for the change, so I don't know exactly what approval it had. It wasn't unusual for there to be a difference in view between Melbourne and London, and without knowing more, I'd say there several possible explanations in this case.

When it comes to what flags were actually being used by the BNG administration, it's interesting that after Capt. Collins, the Commonwealth representative in London, was contacted by Benjamin Edgington, a London flagmaker, regarding the 1906 badge, his description of the old badge was that it "had simply B.N.G. in block letters", with no reference to a crown. (NAA A1 1907/7915 digital link,, p3).
Jonathan Dixon, 7 May 2012

The image of the badge with a crown and the letters N.G. appears to be sourced from the 1889 edition of the British Admiralty flag book [hms89]. It is possible that the publication date for this book could have been too close to the change in status of British New Guinea to reflect the change in the name from "New Guinea" to "British New Guinea", which seems to have occurred in 1884 with the British annexation.

Stanley Gibbons stamp catalogue has a note that states that Queensland stamps were used in the territory with postmarks that used N.G. in Port Moresby from 1885 and B.N.G. from 1888 at other post offices. The first issue of local stamps occurred from 1 July 1901 and bore the name British New Guinea until 1906. However, Frederick Hulme's "The Flags of the World" at page 84, published in 1897 [hul97], states: "New Guinea ... has the crown, and beneath it the letters N.G."

Other than Jonathan's ICV paper, and its use on there seems to be no source for the B.N.G. badge other than the ICV12 lecture by Dr. Wolfgang Jilek; "Symbols in New Guinea - Tribal, Colonial, National , and Provincial" [jiL89a]. Most of Dr Jilek's excellent paper focused on the tribal vexilloids and modern provincial flags and he gave only a brief discussion on the pre-independence flags associated with British New Guinea. He states: "In 1888 the status was changed from protected territory to colonial possession under the name British New Guinea. Consequently, the letters on the ensign badge were changed to B.N.G." Dr Jilek identifies his source in a footnote as "Correspondence and illustrations in the Flag Research Center archives." The Congress proceedings version of his lecture does not contain any illustrations relating to any of the British colonial flags.

I also note that the description of the New Guinea badge in the Australian Archives includes the inscription "Special Commissioner for Protected Territory of New Guinea", which was the pre-annexation description of the Territory.

On balance, I am inclined to the opinion that the B.N.G badge probably did exist, though there is some doubt, as the various sources are highly suggestive that the N.G. badge was not replaced until the PAPUA badge came into use.
Ralph Kelly, 7 May 2012

It seems to me that any of the sources suggesting that NG badge wasn't replaced are relying on the Admiralty Flag Book, and so we wouldn't expect to see any flag that for whatever reason did not make it there. On the other hand, the Department of External Affairs minute referring to the BNG badge came a few months after the enquiry from Mr. Edgington, so at this point I can't be sure that there is any source confirming the BNG version independent of a flagmaker in London.
Jonathan Dixon, 7 May 2012

I am now convinced that the B N G badge existed. Three separate contemporary references to B N G are pretty convincing proof. The discrepancy appears to have arisen from a failure to record the change in the 1889 Admiralty Flag Book. A copy in the National Maritime Museum Library has the complete set of fifteen amendments, but still shows the original N G badge for New Guinea. A flag chart published by James Brown in about 1906 has the badge for Transvaal, which was a 1904 Flag Book amendment, but still has N G for “Sp. Commissioner for Protected Territory of New Guinea”.
David Prothero, 7 May 2012

TNG flag of 1921

[Territory of New Guinea 1921-1949] image by Ben Cahoon, 1 May 2012

The possible 1921-49 Territory of New Guinea flag.
Ben Cahoon, 1 May 2012

There is plenty of evidence that the Flag of the Territory of Papua was the badged British Blue Ensign. But a report from the post-war P&NG Administrator was misinterpreted by Dept External Territories staff, so that the above flag, which was being replaced in general use pre-war by the Cth Blue Ensign, was 'combined' with it to form a PAPUA-badged Cth Blue Ensign. I haven't found any hard evidence that this alleged badged ANF, or a matching ARE, existed.
Jeff Thomson, 24 October 2012

Firstly, as I remarked above, a 'PAPUA'-badged Commonwealth Flag was certainly approved by the Australian government in 1908, even if it was quickly forgotten or deliberately replaced. In the three NAA files, the earliest mention of flags in Papua is a Department of External Territories document dated 11 November 1949 which describes flag use before the war (during which Papua and New Guinea were jointly administered). (NAA barcode 102516, page 239)

This document describes the Flag of Papua as the "Commonwealth Blue Ensign with approved badge", and implies that this was the PAPUA+crown badge approved in 1906. It says the flag was used on administrative  buildings, by administration vessels, and on the mizzen mast accompanying the Administrator's defaced Union Jack on the main mast when the governor was aboard.

Also mentioned is the ensign required by the local customs regulations
- the "Flag of the Territory of Papua (Blue Ensign) with the addition in the fly of the letters "H.M.C." in black in bold character" (presented as a quote from the regulations), with the note that there is no indication that this flag was used before the war, and wasn't used afterwards.

The same document, when dealing with pre-1942 New Guinea, describes two flags: the flag flown by the Administrator when afloat as a 'Blue Ensign with Laurel Wreath enclosing the letters "T.N.G."'; and the customs flag as a "Commonwealth Blue Ensign with the addition in the fly of a white ball with the letters "T.N.G.C." in black in bold character". Whoever wrote the document seems careful to distinguish between badges on the British Blue Ensign and defacements to the Australian blue flag. This would add weight to the claim that Papua had a defaced Australian flag, although I note that the document is describing the situation of at least 7 years (and a war) earlier, and does not say what it was based on. Seeing as it is dated before the  P&NG administration responded to a request for comment (see below), I'd guess it was based on departmental records.

(Our sources for the territory flag, described on the overview page of PNG historical flags, include a crown in the badge, although Jilek (1989a) agrees with the DET document in not including a crown. I don't think we mention the customs flag, while Jilek does describe the badge without any mention of which flag it defaces. The document acknowledges that they do not know of any authority for the TNG flag, but the customs flag was defined in the customs regulations.)

The 1949 DET document also says that only the Commonwealth Blue Ensign had been used since the  resumption of (joint) civil administration of the territories, and I guess Jeff meant that it replaced the earlier flags post-war, rather than pre-war.

The Administration, replying to the department on 7 December (pp218-219), also uses "Commonwealth Blue Ensign" to describe the NG customs ensign, but describes the flags of both Papua and NG as simply Blue Ensigns with lettered badges without crowns, and the Papua customs ensign as an HMC-badged blue ensign, not HMC added to the territory flag. They were very keen to stress conformance with usual British practice, both in the past, and as a recommendation for the future, but detailed different flag usage (pre-war) on boats in the two territories, as well as suggesting that P&NG might deserve a bird of paradise badge rather than simply letters.

A memo from the department to the Prime Minister's Department on 20 February 1952 (p125) provides details of use at that time of the blue Commonwealth flag and the new "T.P. & N.G.C." badge defacing it for the customs ensign, and also another conflicting account of the pre-war Papua flag. It says the PAPUA+crown badge was used on a "British Blue Ensign", mentioning that approval for the badge was given in 1926. Given that that exact badge was approved for use on a normal British ensign in 1906, I guess that 1926 is a typo.
Jonathan Dixon, 26 October 2012