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Royal Niger Company (1879 - 1900)

Last modified: 2022-10-22 by bruce berry
Keywords: nigeria | royal niger company |
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image by Andy Weir, 05 Feb 2001 See also:


The Royal Niger Company was a mercantile company chartered by the British government in the nineteenth century.  The company was formed in 1879 as the United African Company and renamed the National African Company in 1881 and again as the Royal Niger Company in 1886. 

Although the company existed for a relatively short time (1879 - 1900), it was instrumental in the formation of colonial Nigeria and established a bulwark against German territorial expansion in the lower Niger River area.  On 01 January 1900 the company controlled territories became the Southern Nigeria Protectorate, which later united with the Northern Nigeria Protectorate in 1914 to form the Colony and Protectorate of Nigeria.
David Prothero, 05 Feb 2001

Royal Niger Company ensign

Badge: A black Y with the words 'ARS', 'JUS', and 'PAX' written on the arms, surrounded by a red ring. Each angle between the arms of the Y is 120 degrees. The ends of the arms are square and do not touch the ring. The letters are yellow non-serif.

Meaning: The arms of the Y represent: the Quorra from the north west, the Benue from the north east, and the union of them both from Lokoja to the sea. The badge which the British Foreign Office considered unsuitable was proposed by G.D. Goldie-Taubman, Vice-Chairman of Company who wrote that the meaning of the colours was self-evident.

Use: The Admiralty approved the badge for use on the fly of the St George's cross White Ensign on the presumption that its use would be confined to inland waterways. The company actually used it on a plain White Ensign, flown at sea as well as on inland waters. When this was discovered the Admiralty withdrew the warrant and issued a new warrant authorizing use of the badge on the Blue Ensign.

Dates: White Ensign was approved 02 June 1887 and authorization withdrawn 01 February 1888. It probably continued to be used without authorization until June 1888 while Company argued with the Admiralty.  A defaced Blue Ensign was authorized 01 February 1888. It was presumably used until 1899 when the Royal Niger Company charter was surrendered.  On 18 June 1888 the Company was told to fly plain Red Ensign on merchant ships (Source: Public Records Office reference FO 403/75/1885-87 and 403/76).
David Prothero, 05 Feb 2001

From Trade Winds on the Niger, by G.L. Baker:

When Sir George Goldie submitted a small replica of the proposed company flag (see over) to the Foreign Office on 13 August 1886 for approval, he explained the symbolic significance of the company's device in the following manner (Public Records Office reference FO 403/75/1885-7).

The objective aspect is that the three arms symbolize the three main waterways in the territory on which the Company is established. The subjective aspect is that the triple form symbolizes stability. Ars and Jus are finger posts which, supported by Pax, are leading Europeans into the heart of Africa. The meaning of the motto is Unity (Pax), Equity (Jus) and Ingenuity (Ars).

PAX: the objective aspect is the peace and order the Company has evolved and is evolving out of the pre-existing anarchy and barbarism of the Niger Territories - a work unexampled in history for its rapidity and thoroughness under abnormal difficulties. The subjective aspect is peace (and coalition) between the numerous British and French trading interests in the Niger, which unity of action was an absolutely necessary antecedent to successful trade, to British predominance, and to an efficient administration of those regions, and without which equity and ingenuity would have failed.

ARS: The objective aspect is the skill in trade and liberal arts, which practical benefit European civilization is bringing to the millions of Central Africa. The subjective aspect is ingenuity - commercial and political - without which Unity and Equity would have failed.

JUS: The objective aspect is the actual law and legal rights established by public authority (the Royal Charter), without which peace would be unstable and the progress of commerce and arts hopeless. The subjective aspect is just conduct and equity, by which the confidence of the native races has been gained, and without which Unity and Ingenuity would have failed.

Colours: White (silver) ground, Black (Niger) device, and Yellow (gold) letters.

Unfortunately Goldie did not explain what the colours represent. However, my brother, Lionel, who knows about such things has suggested that white could stand for purity or water, i.e. trading on rivers, or the Hausa name of Farin Ruwa (white water) for the Niger, or even some white metal such as tin. Black is due, obviously, to the Latin `Niger`, i.e. the River Niger or Niger Territories, and yellow or gold probably represents the sun, i.e. the tropics.
Bob Hilkens, 05 Feb 2001