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Southern Rhodesia Governor's flags (1924 - 1970)

Last modified: 2022-10-22 by bruce berry
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Southern Rhodesia - Governor (1924-1951)

[Southern Rhodesia - Governor (1924-'51)] image by Clay Moss, 25 Mar 2005

In most of the British colonies the flags used by the Sovereign's representative usually followed the same general design. In Southern Rhodesia, the Governor was appointed by the Crown and acted as the local head of state, receiving instructions from the British Government.  The Governor was also Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces and as such, in theory at least, exercised considerable influence over the running of the colony and its government.  In practice, however, the Governor's main function was to maintain a satisfactory relationship between the British and Southern Rhodesian Governments and acted in an advisory capacity most of the time.

In Southern Rhodesia the Governor initially flew a Union Flag with a white roundel in the centre charged with the shield from the colony's arms granted on 11 August 1924, namely "Vert, a Pick Or, on a Chief Argent a Lion Passant Gules between two Thistles leaved and slipped proper".

The lion and thistles were taken from the Arms of Cecil John Rhodes, whose British South Africa Company had been responsible for the initial colonisation of the territory and the gold pick symbolised mining.

Unique among the flags of the Governors of British Colonies, this shield of Arms was not surrounded by the customary wreath. Southern Rhodesia became a British Colony on 12 September 1923 and according to a typed manuscript by TW Baxter entitled "Flags and Arms of Rhodesia" held by the National Archives of Zimbabwe, this flag was taken into use on 1 October 1924 and was flown until 30 July 1951.
Bruce Berry, 15 Jan 2003

Southern Rhodesia - Governor (1951-1965)

[Southern Rhodesia - Governor (1951-'65)] image by Martin Grieve, 15 Jan 2003

On 31 July 1951 a new flag was taken into use for the Governor of Southern Rhodesia.  This was dark blue, in proportion 7:9, charged in the centre with a Royal Crown, its height being four-sevenths of the hoist.    Initially the Tudor Crown would have been used, but after her accession to the throne in 1952, Queen Elizabeth II indicated her preference for St Edward's Crown and this version would have been used thereafter.
Bruce Berry, 15 Jan 2003

Southern Rhodesia 1951-1965+ (Large crown instead of the crest, no scroll, no inscription) 7:9
Željko Heimer, 25 Mar 2003

Southern Rhodesia - Governor (1951-1970) - variant

[Southern Rhodesia - Governor (1951-'65) - var] image by Martin Grieve, 15 Jan 2003

Despite these unusual proportions, the National Archives of Zimbabwe has in its possession one of these flags in the standard proportions of 1:2, suggesting that it was in the standard proportions that it was actually manufactured and flown.

The unusual design, compared to the flags used by the Governors of other British Colonies, was presumably to indicate Southern Rhodesia's unique status as a self-governing colony with internal Responsible Government.
This flag continued to be used by the Governor of Southern Rhodesia during the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953 - 1963) and continued in use after the break-up of the Federation when Southern Rhodesia became simply Rhodesia.  When Rhodesia unilaterally declared its independence (UDI) on 11 November 1965 the Governor, Sir Humphrey Gibbs, refused to relinquish his post and thus the flag continued in use after UDI, possibly even until Rhodesia declared itself a republic on 2 March 1970.
Bruce Berry, 15 Jan 2003

Governor's "house-hold" flag

[Southern Rhodesia -Governor's house-hold flag] image by Martin Grieve, 2 May 2003

In common with the Governor-General of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia also had a "personal" or house-hold flag as well.  Documents in the Public Records Office by found by David Prothero show correspondence between Sir Percival Liesching, Permanent Under-Secretary of State (PUS) at Commonwealth Relations Office (CRO) to Sir John Kennedy, Governor Southern Rhodesia asking about origin of red flag with yellow crown for car of guests at Government House, that had come to light when blue flag with yellow crown had replaced defaced Union Jack as flag of Governor (DO 35/3281. 22 Nov 1950).  The reply from the PUS to the Governor was to the effect that the flag had appeared about ten years previously and was used on a Government House cars when conveying the Governor's wife or other distinguished visitors who are entitled to a flag in their own country in order to help the police and guards to recognize car.

It was later suggested (23 Jan 1951) in a letter from the PUS to Governor that the Crown on red flag should be discontinued when the Governor's flag of a Crown on a blue background is brought into use in order to avoid complications, although there was no reason for not adopting a red flag containing another symbol instead of the Crown.  The Southern Rhodesian Prime Minister (Godfrey Huggins) suggested a lion symbol to replace the Crown and a letter to the PUS on 2 February 1951 requested the Garter Principal King of Arms for painting showing the lion.  However, in reply to a letter from the Commonwealth Relations Office to this request, the Lord Chamberlain's Office (LCO) responded on 2 March 1951 as follows:

(a)  A flag should not be flown on a car except when the holder of that office is in the car.
(b)  No regulation permits such a flag; undesirable to have flag on cars carrying unqualified persons as it detracts from significance of flag properly flown by holders of important office.
(c)  Crown or Imperial Lion or other traditional symbols of Royal authority on locally authorised flag is wrong.

Understand need for cars to be recognized, but should not be by means of flag.
The Governor was informed of the Lord Chamberlain's objections to the use of the flag and in particular, the lion symbol.  The Governor replied to the PUS on 23 April 1951, stating that the system of using such a flag would continue but that: "a square flag could be authorised, bearing as a symbol the Zimbabwe Bird which is part of the badge of S.Rhodesia."

The Garter Principal King of Arms suggested that a green flag with golden pick and with an upper compartment of white charged with a red lion and thistles might be more heraldically acceptable but both the Governor and Prime Minister preferred the Zimbabwe Bird since it was more distinctive.  The Garter originally sent a painting of the flag showing the Zimbabwe Bird on a blue field, but on 28 November 1951, the Governor indicated to Lord Ismay (Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations) that he preferred the bird on a red background  as this would be less likely to be confused with the flag of Governor.

In February 1952 Lord Ismay informed the Governor that it was not necessary for the Queen to approve the design as it was a local symbol intended for domestic purposes and as such the Governor could the authorise flag for Government House cars. On 12 March 1952, the Governor of Southern Rhodesia informed the PUS that the "Flag will be flown only on cars conveying my wife and distinguished visitors".

The existence of this flag is also confirmed by the National Archives of Zimbabwe which states that the "household" flag for Governor's car was red with a Zimbabwe Bird!

A reconstruction of this flag has been made using the Zimbabwe Bird as found on the Arms of Southern Rhodesia and placed in the centre of a red square field as illustrated above.
Bruce Berry, 02 May 2003

The red flag, with royal crown, was also used (on a car) by the wife of the General Governor of Jamaica. I don't know if it is still in use.
Jaume Ollé, 13 May 2003