John Pirie flag

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Diane Cummings on her website poses an interesting question:

"It seems likely the flag that flew on the JOHN PIRIE in 1836 was a white ensign with three kangaroos across the bottom half of the flag. We are still trying to discover if this was a flag of the South Australian Company, or was it specific to the JOHN PIRIE, or was it something else entirely"

Can you help?

27 Apr 2014 Comment by Chris Ward

This was the flag which headed the document establishing the South Australian Company in January 1836.

The original of the document establishing the South Australian Company in recent years was held in the boardroom of the Company Directors’ Association of South Australia. It’s present location is unknown.

An illustration of the John Pirie indicates that this vessel may have flown this flag as well as she was owned by the Company.

Click on the .pdf file below to see an image of the SA Company Appointment of Directors, and zoom in onto the flag at the top.

Neil Miller did a lot of research on this topic, which was presented to the executive committee in February 2016, and his report is summarised as follows:

No evidence could be found of the South Australian Company ever having an official company flag. It was probably a private flag for the John Pirie.

The following institutions and authorities were approached:

  • The British Museum, London, England
  • The National Archives of the United Kingdom, Surrey, England
  • The Royal Maritime Museum Greenwich, England
  • The War Dept. and Colonial Office for South Australia, London, England
  • The National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australia
  • The State Library of South Australia, Adelaide, South Australia
  • The South Australian Museum, Adelaide, South Australia
  • The South Australian Maritime Museum, Port Adelaide, South Australia
  • Ralph Kelly, Vexillologist, Flags Australia
  • History SA, Adelaide, South Australia

Why was the John Pirie the only one of the nine pioneer ships to fly this flag? Sir John Pirie (1781-1851), a former Sheriff of London and Middlesex (1831) and a former Lord Mayor of London (1841-1842), was also the largest ship-broker and ship owner in London (in 1831 he personally owned 20 ships). Amongst many directorships, he was a founding Director and Deputy Chairman of the South Australian Land Company Board and one of its largest financiers, and was the original owner of the ship named John Pirie. (When he retired from the position of Lord Mayor of London in 1842 he was granted a Baronetcy and became the first Baronet of Camberwell. Sir John never had any children as heirs, so when he passed away in 1851, the title ceased to exist), Now because this flag with the three red kangaroos emblazoned upon it was only flown on a ship that bore his name, it was probably commissioned by, and made for the John Pirie Company, because when this ship sailed from London for Kangaroo island, Sir John Pirie still owned half the shares in this vessel.

None of the other first eight ships owned or chartered by The South Australian Company or the Colonisation Commissioners flew this flag. Of course the ninth and last ship to arrive was the HMS Buffalo with Governor Hindmarsh on board, and as this ship was a Royal Navy vessel it would not have been permitted to fly a flag of this description on any of its masts.

When examining three photographs of the premises of the South Australian Company, the first erected at Kangaroo Island in 1836, the second dated 1909 on North Terrace, and the third dated 1914 on North Terrace, none show any flag.

The South Australian Company Office, K.I., 1836

State Library of SA B7764

The South Australian Company offices, North Terrace East 1901

State Library of SA BB21007/2

The South Australian Company offices, North Terrace East 1914

State Library of SA B21007/1

The South Australian Company ceased operations in 1949 and was taken over by Elder Smith & Co.

In consideration of this evidence, the flag with the three red kangaroos should be regarded as the "John Pirie flag", and not "The South Australian Company flag".

- Neil Miller 26 Jan 2016