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Our Flag

You may want to salute

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.{a}

St Helena has its own flag; flown at all important events and occasions

Our flag

In December 2017 the Government of St Helena Information Office publicised that some organisations were using an incorrect version of our flag and badge. We have checked and have confirmed that the version we are using throughout Saint Helena Island Info is the correct one.

Our current flag was Commissioned by Governor Massingham in 1983, as one of the initiatives to mark the 150th Anniversary of St Helena becoming a Crown Colony. It was granted by Royal Warrant, published in the St Helena Government Gazette on 30th January 1984.

Composition

In the top left is the British Union Flag (or Union Jack)Inline Image, showing that St Helena is a British Overseas Territory.

The background colour to the flag is deep blue{3}. All British territories use this colour, it being the blue of the Union Flag{4}.

Badge/Shield
Badge/Shield

In the centre right is our Crest (or, sometimes, Shield), extracted from the Coat of Arms (see right); this has two parts:

  1. A Wirebird, the national bird of St Helena, on a light brown background.

  2. An illustration of a three-masted sailing ship outside rocky islands (thought to be Lower Black Rock & Upper Black Rock{5}), signifying the importance of St Helena to shipping in days gone by.

The correct dimension of our flag are 2:1 - twice as long as it is high.

Our Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms
Coat of Arms

The Coat of Arms (right) was designed by the Garter King of Arms in London in consultation with the Governor and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office during 1982/83. On 30th January 1984, HRH Queen Elizabeth II commanded that the Coat of Arms be registered at the College of Arms for exclusive and sole use on St Helena. This was published in Gazette No 2 of 31st January 1984.

This is the official, registered description of our Coat of Arms:

Azure in base waves of the sea proper thereon an Indiaman rigged sable masts and sails furled or and flying at the stern. The George heading towards on the dexter side rising from the sea two cliffs proper on a chief or a Wirebird also proper; and for the crest upon a helm in a naval crown azure a demi figure representing St Helena. From her brow a veil or vested argent her mantle azure holding in the dexter hand a lily and supporting with the other in the crook of her arm a cross raguly proper mantled azure doubled or beneath the shield upon a scroll the motto ‘Loyal and Unshakeable’

The Government of St Helena uses the Coat of Arms as its logo.

Our Public Seal

Public Seal (Victorian version)
Public Seal (Victorian version){2}

The Public Seal (left) is applied by the Governor to Ordinances, Proclamations, Contracts and other legal and administrative documents. The presence of the seal validates the document and guarantees its authenticity.

Originally, to ‘seal’ a document, hot wax was dripped into a small pool on the document, and then a stamp (confusingly, also sometimes called ‘the seal’ but more correctly the Matrix or Die), engraved with a mirror-image of the official design, was pressed into the cooling wax. Nowadays the process involves a mechanical press.

The use of seals as a protection against forgery goes back to mediaeval times. As long as the Matrix or Die, from which the seal is made, is kept safe and not copied, any document bearing it can be assumed to be genuine. The East India Company used a variety of seals, some of which are on display in the Museum of St Helena. The first known use of the current official seal (which replaced The East India Company seal when the Crown took over in 1834) was by Governor Middlemore to commute a death sentence on 23rd October 1837{6}.

St Helena’s Public Seal, made of Sterling Silver, was designed in Victorian times by Benjamin Wyon, Chief Engraver of Her Majesty’s Seals. The wording on the seal changes with each new monarch; our current seal bears the legend:

ELIZABETH II BY THE GRACE OF GOD OF THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN & NORTHERN IRELAND & OF HER OTHER REALMS & TERRITORIES QUEEN + DEFENDER OF THE FAITH + HEAD OF THE COMMONWEALTH

(Presumably a seal bearing the name of King Charles III will arrive in due course, but at the time of writing has not yet done so.)

Where is the flag flown?

The flag flown above The Castle, the seat of government in St Helena, and from Signal House, at the top of Jacob’s Ladder, is the Union Flag, not the Flag of St Helena (See below){7}.

The French Tricolour flies at Longwood House, The Briars Pavilion and Napoleon’s Tomb, because since 1858 these places have been property of the French Government.

Our flag was flown by the RMS St Helena (1978-1990) & RMS St Helena (1990-2018), and it is usually flown over the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London on St Helena’s Day, 21st May.

Confused about which flag to fly?

The following Press Release{8} may help:

This press release is intended to dispel confusion over the flying of flags in the British Overseas Territories.

There are three types of flag normally flown in the British Overseas Territories

Personal Flag

This is the flag of the Governor in a British Overseas Territory and is the Union Flag, superimposed in the centre with the arms or badge of the Territory on a white disc surrounded by a green garland. This is flown from sunrise to sunset at Government House when the Governor is in residence.

Union Flag

This takes precedence after the Governor’s personal flag and can be flown at all other venues. Any person in the Territory may fly the Union Flag and there is general encouragement to do so.

Defaced Blue Ensign

The Blue Ensign, defaced with the arms or badge of the Territory in the centre of the part between the Union and the end of the flag, requires approval for use. Governors have discretion to authorise the use of the Defaced Blue Ensign to persons or bodies representing the Territory. This is sometimes taken, mistakenly, to be an individual Territory’s own flag.{b}

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As with the convention in the UK and elsewhere, these flags are flown at half-mast following the death of a person of significance (to the island; to Britain; or globally). The photograph (right) was taken the day after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022.

Other flags and crests

The East India Company flew its own flag over St Helena until in 1687; then it started flying the Union Flag, which continued in use until 1874 when the first flag of St Helena was introduced, as below (left):

The official crest

You will see the St Helena Shield (which forms part of our flag and Coat of Arms) represented in many different ways. The one we use on Saint Helena Island Info is the official one, provided by the Government of St Helena in May 2019 (First image, below). Also shown (below) are other variants we have seen used, of which the ‘Cartoon Wirebird’ version seems to be the most popular:

The motto mystery

St Helena’s motto is ‘Loyal and unshakeable’, but exactly how we acquired these words seems to be a mystery. There is no mention of a motto in the Records. It has been suggested that it was introduced by Governor Massingham when the new Coat of Arms and flag were commissioned in 1983. It seems there was no public consultation, and exactly who came up with these words is not known.

One theory we have heard, which if you know how Government on St Helena works on St Helena certainly rings true, is that one day an official form arrived, perhaps from an encyclopaedia or a travel guide or maybe even from the government in the UK, asking for information about the island’s National Symbols: Flag; Motto; Coins; National Flower, etc. The form was handed down from superior to inferior until it reached a relatively lowly individual who had nobody to delegate it to, so they simply filled in the first thing that came to mind and sent it back up the chain. And thus our national motto, flower, etc. were defined. Well, there are dafter theories…

If you know the answer, or have a better (or more amusing!) theory, please contact us.

Protesters with flag
Protesters in Whitehall, London, in March 2009{9}

Read More

Article: Letter to The Editor

Union Flag over Signal House
Union Flag over Signal House

By Silence Donogood{10}, published in The Independent 7th November 2014{1}

Perhaps your readers are able to explain why the St Helena flag is not flying on any of the public buildings on the Island?

The Union Flag is present on The Castle, Signal House and at Plantation House as well as privately owned buildings such as Prince’s Lodge (including the South African flag being flown on a smaller adjacent building) and The Consulate Hotel. The St Helena flag has been in existence for a while now and surely some kind of national pride and identity should dictate that this is the flag flown on our public buildings and not that of our overlord.

In order to increase and improve national identity, not only to visitors but also the younger generation, shouldn’t the St Helena flag be flown at other public buildings as well - the Customs terminal, the Courthouse, Prince Andrew School, the Post Office and so on.

Additionally, the vice regal standard should be the flag flown at Plantation House - and only when the Governor is in residence; this is a Union flag with the circular seal of St Helena placed centrally. This should also be what is placed on the Governor’s vehicles when the Governor is in the vehicle.

St Helena has a perfectly good flag which it should be proud to display - can we not see more of it please?

Our Comment

The answer would appear to be as described above.

LOL

Credits:
{a} George Bernard Shaw{b} GOVERNOR’S OFFICE, 15th July 2002{1}

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Footnotes:
{1} @@RepDis@@{2} Apparently we’re not allowed to reproduce the current one. Something to do with facilitating forgery, and even our disclaimer{1} doesn’t get us out of it. Sorry.{3} Formally: hex #00247D; RGB (0, 36, 125); Pantone (paper) 280C; CMYK 100.72.0.18.5.{4} Actually this is the ‘Scottish’ part of the Union Flag, although St Helena has no particular Scottish link over and above any other part of the UK, and indeed was discovered and settled while Scotland was still a foreign country!{5} It is sometimes suggested that these features are intended to represent the mouth of James Valley, but this cannot be the case, firstly because these are clearly islands not valley sides and secondly because, if the drawing is to scale, the ship would have to be at least 200m tall!{6} Close inspection of the faint Seal shows it was in the name of William IV, who had died by this time (on 20th June 1837). Presumably the Governor was forced to use an out-of-date Seal because the up-to-date one was still in transit from Britain!{7} The practice of flying the Union Flag from the mast at Signal House when a ship is in James Bay arose in the early days of The East India Company, to reassure an arriving ship that the island remained in British hands (and not, for example, Dutch). It fell into disuse when the threat of capture receeded but was re-introduced in 1981, purely for tradition, and remains today.{8} Printed in the St Helena Herald 19th July 2002.{9} The 2007-2010 Labour government ‘paused’ our Airport Project, hence the protest; the incoming 2010 Conservative/Lib-Dem government re-started it. More here.{10} We strongly suspect this to be a pseudonym…

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