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Zimbabwe: British South Africa Company

Last modified: 2002-09-14 by jarig bakker
Keywords: british south africa company | southern africa | rhodesia | rhodes (cecil) | cape to cairo | lion holding tusk |
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[Flag of the British South Africa Company] by Martin Grieve, 4 Sep 2002

See also:

BSAC: introduction

The British South Africa Company was a mercantile company incorporated in 1889 under a Royal Charter at the instigation of Cecil Rhodes. By 1900 the Company administered both Southern and Northern Rhodesia. Company Rule ended in Southern Rhodesia in 1923 and in Northern Rhodesia in 1924.
Bruce Berry, 19 June 1998

While based on the BSAC lion, the lion on the BSAC flag is taken from the BSAC arms and is as shown in on the BSAC flags
drawn by Martin Grieve. There is no official description of the BSAC flag, and it appears that several variants of the basic design were used. Most illustrations of this flag show a red ring around the white circle containing the crest, but original flags in versions with and without the red ring are to be found in various museums in Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Bruce Berry, 4 Sep 2002

BSAC flag - fimbriated disk

[BSAC flag - fimbriated disk] by Martin Grieve, 4 Dep 2002

The image at our website is faulty and ought to have been corrected long ago, see the comments on that page.
In Burger's "Souvereign Flags of Southern Africa", 1997 are two images and text:
"After an Ndebele uprising in 1893, the Company annexed Matabeleland and hoisted the Company flag over Bulawayo. This flag was a Union Jack with in the center on a white roundel, the crest from the Company coat of arms. This was a lion passant gardent <or> holding upright in his dexter fore-paw, an ivory tusk and there beneath the letters B. S. A. C. Later a red circle was added around a white disc."
Jarig Bakker, 28 Feb 2002

For years charts and books showed red and blue ensigns of the British South Africa Company.  These were warranted in 1902 for ships in the service of the Company.  Alas, the Company never had any ships, as its sphere of operations was entirely
Michael Faul, 23 Jul 2002

According to a letter of 11 November 1902 the defaced ensigns were authorised for boats and vessels that the company operated on the lakes and waterways of North Eastern Rhodesia; the Blue Ensign for company vessels not being trading vessels, and the Red Ensign for trading vessels.  The defaced Union Jack was for the Administrator when embarked in vessels belonging to the company.
Source: Public Record Office ADM 116/1063D.
David Prothero, 23 Jul 2002

Blue Ensign

[Blue ensign of the British South Africa Company] by Bruce Berry, 19 June 1998

The first flag of sovereignty flown in what is now Zimbabwe was the British Union Flag (Union Jack) raised at Fort Salisbury on 13 September 1890, which marked the beginning of prolonged British influence in the region. Instrumental in bringing European pioneers to the area was the 19th century British imperialist and financier, Cecil John Rhodes, whose British South African Company (BSACo) was later given prospecting and mining rights by the Matabele king, Lobengula. The company's own flag had not been received from England when the Pioneer Column set out from South Africa, so a Union Jack was carried instead, the first company flag only arriving in Fort Salisbury in 1892.
The flag of the BSACo was raised in the Matabele capital of Bulawayo on 4 November 1893 after the Company's forces led by Major Patrick Forbes drove the native Ndebele from the town. The flag consisted of a Union Jack emblazoned with the BSACo badge in the centre. The badge comprised a yellow lion holding an elephant's tusk and standing on a red and yellow wreath or torse; under the wreath were the letters B.S.A.C. in black. The badge was derived from the crest of the arms granted to the British South Africa Company twenty years after it received its royal charter. The blazon (10 May 1909) read:
Gules, the chief semee of besants, the base semee of ears of wheat Or, a fesse wavy argent between two bulls passant in chief and an elephant passant in base all proper; the fesse charged with three galleys sable, for the crest, a lion guardant passant Or, supporting with its dexter fore paw an ivory tusk erect proper.
The supporters (added 25 May 1909) were two springbok.
The company flag hoisted at the occupation of Bulawayo, and presumably used elsewhere in the area under company jurisdiction, was not described in detail in the royal charter and the lack of such a description probably accounts for the discrepancies and different versions of the company flag which exist. The most important anomaly in the flag design relates to the incorporation of a red ring surrounding the crest in some instances and being absent in others. From the drawing of the hoisting of the company flag in Bulawayo, it is not clear whether a red ring is present or not although actual examples of both can be found in museums today.
At about the same time as the creation of the Union Flag with BSACo badge, two other company flags were designed. They were the British Blue and Red Ensigns with the company crest in the fly. In the case of the Red Ensign the crest is depicted above the black initials of the company in the centre of a white disk while in the Blue Ensign the disk is omitted and the lettering is in gold and imprinted directly on the flag. Ensigns are primarily intended for use as maritime flags and although the company's possessions never included a coastline, it was empowered in terms of its charter to own or operate ships. In all probability these ensigns were never used although they do appear on flag charts from that period.
The Company Administrator who, in terms of the royal charter, was the Crown's representative in the territories under the control of the company, was also entitled to a distinctive flag for his personal use in common with British Governors in other parts of the world. The flag of the Administrator would have had the company crest in the centre of a Union Jack within a green laurel garland. There is no record of the Administrator's flag actually being used nor are any on display in local museums, so it is doubtful whether such a flag ever existed.
Bruce Berry, 18 June 1998

BSAC seal

[BSAC seal] by Bruce Berry, 5 Sep 2002 (!Click on the image for a better view!)

I  have attached images of the BSAC seal and the arms for you (Source: SAVA Journal: SJ: 5/96, Flags and Symbols of Rhodesia, 1890 -1980 by R Allport - ISBN: 0-620-21797-9).
Bruce Berry, 5 Sep 2002

BSAC arms

[BSAC coat of arms] by Bruce Berry, 5 Sep 2002

Other information: Royal Charter establishing the BSAC approved on 29 October 1889 by Queen Victoria.
Blazon: Gules, the chief semee of besants, the base semee of ears of wheat Or, a fesse wavy Argent between two bull passant in chief and an elephant passant in base all proper; the fesse charged with three galleys Sable.
Crest: A lion guardant passant Or, supporting with its dexter paw an ivory tusk erect proper.
Supporters: Two Springboks proper.
Motto: Justice, Commerce, Freedom.

The colour of the field is red, the same as that in the Arms of England.  The besants (gold discs), in chief, refer to the gold
abounding in Matebeleland, and the ears of wheat on the lower part of the shield refers to the rich agricultural potential of the area.
The oxen refer to the beasts of burden employed there and to the abundance of cattle.  The fesse wavy refers to the Zambezi,
Limpopo and other rivers flowing through the territory administered by the Company.  The galleys refer to shipping which can
traverse the rivers.  The supporters and the crest indicate the wild animals found in the area.  The Lion also forms an allusion to
the heraldic emblem of England, and the three galleys sable are from the Arms of the second Duke of Abercorn, the first President of the Company. (Source: National Archives of Zimbabwe as quoted by Berry, B, 1993: The Flags of the British South Africa Company, 1890 1923, paper presented at the XV International Congress of Vexillology, Zurich, 1993).
Bruce Berry, 5 Sep 2002

The 'Cape-to-Cairo' flag of Cecil Rhodes

[Cape to Cairo Flag of Cecil Rhodes] by Bruce Berry, 19 June 1998

Cecil John Rhodes, the man who was ultimately to have a country named after him, was born on 5 July 1853 at the small town of Bishop's Stortford in England, where he attended school. Plagued by ill health during his youth, he went to South Africa in 1870 and soon established himself as an astute businessman, laying the foundations for the fortune he would eventually amass by investing in the gold and diamond industries. His great dream, however, was to expand the British Empire throughout Africa, and he dedicated the major part of his life to realising this goal. A flag symbolising this ambition is known as the "Cape-to-Cairo" flag. The flag unites the Eqyptain flag of the time (a white crescent and star on a red field) with a gold anchor (heraldic symbol of the Cape Colony) on a green field. Linking these two elements, which symbolise the temini of the railway Rhodes intended to have built, is the British Union Flag. The "Cape-to-Cairo" flag was never officially used and the railway of Rhodes' dream was begun in southern Africa but never completed. This flag is preserved at Genadendal (formerly Groote Schuur), an official residence of the South African President, in Cape Town. Through negotiations with Lobengula, King of the Matabele, Rhodes was able to gain access to the lands north of the Limpopo and formed the British South Africa Company (BSACo) in 1889 under a Royal Charter for the purpose of settling the territory and bringing it under British rule. The Pioneer Column was formed and the territory of Mashonaland subsequently peacefully occupied. By 1890 Rhodes had become Prime Minister of the Cape, but continued to steer events in his new country to the north, adding Matabeleland to the BSACo's territory after the Matabele had been defeated in 1893. The name "Rhodesia" was first used in public by Mr. F.J. Dormer of the Argus Company in 1891. Dr. Jameson, friend and assistant to Rhodes, proposed adopting this name for the new country in 1894 at a banquet in Cape Town. On 23 April 1895 it was officially adopted. Joseph Chamberlain, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, issued a proclamation confirming the name to be official in 1897. Rhodes's political career survived the ill-fated Jameson Raid, an attempt to depose the Boer Government in the Transvaal by sending troops from Rhodesia into the Transvaal to support the rebels in Johannesburg in 1895. In 1896 Rhodes displayed his courage by riding unarmed and alone into the Matopo Hills to talk to rebellious Matabele chiefs, successfully avoiding another war. By 1902 Rhodes's health was failing and he died on 26 March at Muizenberg in the Cape. He was buried at World's View in the Matopo Hills (near Bulawayo in Matabeleland). The arms of the Rhodes family date back to the 18th Century and are described in "Burke's Armory" of 1884 as displaying a lion between two acorns, the main colour of the arms being blue. In Rhodes's personal arms the main colour used was changed to red and the acorns were replaced by two thistles on either side of the lion. This charge was later adopted for the arms of the colony of Rhodesia.
Bruce Berry, 19 June 1998


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