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Gilbert and Ellice Islands

Last modified: 2011-02-18 by ian macdonald
Keywords: gilbert and ellice islands | ocean | bird: frigate | frigate bird | sun |
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Government Maritime flag 1937 - 1979

[ Gilbert and Ellice Islands flag ] by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 03 December 2002

The Government Maritime flag 1937 - 1979 was also the Civil Flag 1969 - 1979.

"Government-owned vessels of the Gilberts flew the British Blue Ensign defaced in the fly with a flag badge - in this case the shield of the arms - prior to independence. The custom arose in various British colonies of using this as the civil flag, representing the colony in international sport events, regional meetings, etc. That practice was given legal sanction in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands as of 28 August 1969."
Page 117, "Flags and Arms Across the World", Whitney Smith.
David Prothero, 30 August 2004

Presentation of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands

A British colony, the territory consisted of several island chains:

Gilbert Islands - 16 coral atolls, presently Kirabati. The Gilbert Islands were discovered by the British in 1764 and made a protectorate in 1892. In 1915, it was made a colony with the Ellice Islands. In 1975, the Gilbert and Ellice Islands were separated and given internal self government. These islands became the nation of Kiribati.

Phoenix Islands - these islands became a part of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands colony in 1937.

Ellice Islands - Sighted in 1568 by Alvaro de Mendenña de Neira, the Ellice Islands became a British protectorate in 1892 and annexed with the Gilbert Islands in 1915. These islands became Tuvalu.

Colonial Flags

[ Gilbert and Ellice Islands flag ] by Martin Grieve, 30 August 2004

The Gilbert and Ellice Islands did not have a governor until 1972, but the "governor's flag" was probably used by the Resident Commissioners. Earlier in the 1930s the Presidential Administrator of St Christopher and Nevis had not been allowed a Union Jack flag, but a Colonial Office minute of 28 April 1938 noted that a Union Flag for an Administrator was probably a precedent set by the Resident Commissioners of Gilbert and Ellice Islands.
[National Archives (PRO) CO 323/1575/13]
David Prothero, 30 August 2004

The flag used by Gilbert and Ellice Islands was the British Blue Ensign with the arms in the fly inside a white circle.

Those arms were different to the current Kiribatian arms just because of the motto.

After Tuvalu were separated from Gilbert Islands, It adopted a new flag, or said better, a new arms in the fly. Those arms were put into a white circle.
Juan Manuel Gabino, 05 January 2000

The Blue Ensign of the Gilbert and Ellice Islands from 1937 to 1976, was without the white circle. Source: Amendment 6 (1941) to 1930 Admiralty Flag Book.
David Prothero, 19 January 2000

British Resident's flag

[Gilbert and Ellice Islands British Resident's flag] by Clay Moss, 10 August 2004

Flag used on the Gilbert Islands (not Ellice Islands) from 1895 to 1916.
David Prothero, 10 August 2004

In 1895 a Blue Ensign defaced with a royal crown flanked by the initials B R on a white disc became the flag of the Resident Commissioners in the Cook Islands, Gilbert Islands and British Solomon Islands. Cook Islands were annexed to New Zealand in 1901, Solomon Islands had their own badge in 1910, but Gilbert Islands, which were combined with Ellice Islands in (probably) 1916, when the Protectorate became a Colony, still, in 1930, had the unspecific BR badge.
David Prothero, 28 August 2004

On this website in New Zealand, the role of a British Resident is described: "The principle [sic] task of the British Resident, outlined in instructions from Governor Richard Bourke in New South Wales, was to protect settlers and traders, prevent outrages by Europeans against Maori, and to apprehend escaped convicts. In short, he was to provide a British presence. However, the Resident had no legal powers, and was not entitled to troops. His role, in effect, was that of mediator only." This is, of course, in New Zealand. The details are different elsewhere.
Ole Andersen, 11 August 2004

Coat of Arms

[ Coat of Arms 1937-1979 ]
by Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 02 December 2002

The motto reads: 'Maaka te atua, karinea te uea; mataku i te atua, fakamamalu ki te tupu' (Fear God and Honour the King) in both Gilbertan (Kiribatian) and Tuvaluan languages.
Juan Manuel Gabino Villascán, 02 December 2002

The bureaucratic process, involving nine government departments or agencies, took nearly six years to agree on the design of arms and a flag badge for the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now Kiribati and Tuvalu). A further four years elapsed before the Admiralty Flag Book was amended.


[ Coat of Arms 1937-1979 ]     [ Coat of Arms 1937-1979 ] images by Martin Grieve

The proposals were never more than drawings, and where necessary the images have been given a background to represent paper.

In August 1931 G&E's Resident Commissioner submitted a sketch by Mr. Compton for a flag badge. It included the following explanation.

Sea. Represents spaces of ocean in which colony is isolated.
Sun. Close to 180 degree meridian. Sun is either rising or setting.
Bird. Fregat Aquilla. Symbol of power, poise and freedom. To natives is sign of sovereignty and kingly birth and highly regarded as such.
Crown. Position of crown over frigate bird is intended to convey idea that all power and freedom granted to people of the colony emanates from and are protected by the sovereign.
A.G. (Possibly Arthur Grimble who wrote a book 'A Pattern of Islands' about his time as a District Commissioner in G&E.)
This sketch is not in the archives. It was probably similar to the image above left, but with a crown on the shield above the bird, and a consequently smaller bird and sun over a shallower sea.

This was sent to the Governor of Fiji, in his capacity as Western Pacific High Commissioner (WPHC), who forwarded it to the Colonial Office in London. A little over two years later, in December 1933, the Royal Mint Advisory Committee (Mint) who were responsible for flag badges, had considered the sketch and suggested to the Colonial Office that a motto should be added, and the crown removed. This suggestion was sent to the WPHC, and finally reached G&E in March 1934. The second image (above right) is the revised badge without the motto. The Resident Commissioner, possibly a different person by now, replied to WPHC in June that he had no comment on the Mint's recommendations with which he was in entire agreement.

In August, WPHC returned the drawings and sent the Resident Commissioner's letter to the Colonial Office, suggesting that the design should be a Coat of Arms as well as a flag badge, and that the inscription should be retained in the arms, but omitted in the badge.

In December 1934 the drawings were returned to the Mint, with a request that George Kruger-Gray, an heraldic artist, should be commissioned to prepare a rendering that would be suitable as a Coat of Arms as well as a badge. It was noted that the Mint had queried the crown on the badge, but that the Colonial Office wanted it retained. A Colonial office minute pointed out that opting for a coat of arms meant that the College of Arms would have to be consulted, and that the cost might increase.

In February 1935 a Colonial Office representative attended a meeting of the Royal Mint Advisory Committee in the Tapestry Room at St James's Palace, where Kruger-Gray's designs for a full achievement of arms (image above, left), an ensign badge (below, left) <ki!geb.gif>, and a Union Jack badge <ki!geg.gif> (below, right), were considered. It was thought that the crown should be omitted, but that if it had to be included it would be better above the shield. It was suggested that the white circle on the Union Jack should be yellow to counteract the optical effect of the apparent interruption of the cross of St George by the shield.

[ Coat of Arms ]      [ Coat of Arms ] images by Martin Grieve

In March the Colonial Office told Col. Sir Robert A. Johnson, the Deputy Master and Comptroller of the Royal Mint, that the crown could be omitted, but that the circle on the Union Jack had to be white. It was suggested that the unwanted optical effect would be avoided if the shield did not touch the edge of the circle. The Colonial Office also contacted the Admiralty and Sir Gerald W. Wollaston, Garter King of Arms, for their comments.

In April, Garter wrote to the Colonial Office that the Arms should not be ensigned with a crown, which in any case was incorrectly drawn, and was not appropriate on a colony badge. Arms were assigned to a colony by warrant under the sign manual of the Sovereign addressed to the Earl Marshall, and counter-signed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The warrant was then recorded in the College of Arms. The last warrant had been for the Falkland Islands on 16th October 1925 when the fee was Twenty Pounds and Seventeen Shillings.

In the same month the Admiralty told the Colonial Office that a white circle was not necessary on the Blue Ensign and that a Red Ensign, if needed, would require a special warrant. In June the Colonial Office told the Admiralty that a Red Ensign was not necessary, and that they would be seeking the opinion of WPHC with regard to the white circle.

Later that month the Colonial Office sent a dispatch to WPHC reporting the latest developments. This was passed on to G&E in August. In September S.G. Clarke, Acting Resident Commissioner G&E wrote to WPHC, "Agree crown and smaller shield. Join Your Excellency in condemning the portrayal of the frigate bird. Its inclusion in present form seems pointless since the bird illustration is in no way symbolic of the colony. If the bird is to be symbolic of G&E it should be an accurate representation of the bird, or another symbol should be found. Original drawing of bird submitted by Mr. Compton possess a poise and gracefulness lacking in the design submitted. Gray may have taken liberties with the form of the bird so as to present a concave lower surface to accord with the convexity of the sun's rays. Suggest this is not necessary."

In November WPHC wrote to the Colonial Office, agreeing to all suggested changes, but requesting alterations to the bird.

It was not until February 1936 that this was passed on to the Mint. In March, Kruger-Gray wrote to the Mint that he had copied Mr. Compton's sketch, and the bird was now difficult to see. "The frigate bird in the Natural History Museum in no way resembles the sketch. It is a long thin bird with a pronounced swallow-tail. Have tried to make drawing resemble bird and also be as heraldic as possible. It never seems to strike authorities that the sun and sea are purely convention. Have made bird yellow but it would be better white as in my first sketch."

In April the Mint sent the new drawings to the Colonial Office, who passed them on to WPHC in May. A reply, "Adopt drawing 'B' " was written by WPHC in October, and passed on to the Mint in December. The Mint replied that the fee would be Twenty-Five Guineas (Twenty-Six Pounds Five Shillings). A Colonial Office minute noted that the fee was very reasonable. Aden's badge, N. Rhodesia's badge, and St Lucia's badge and seal had each cost Fifty Pounds.

In January 1937, five and a half years after the original sketch had been submitted, the Colonial Office sent the design to the Admiralty, who agreed to its adoption. At the end of the month the Colonial Office were notified from Sandringham that the badge had been approved by King George VI.

In February the Colonial Office wrote to Garter that drawing 'B' and the inscription had been selected as the Coat of Arms of G&E, and asked him to prepare the necessary documents. They also wrote to WPHC informing him that the badge had been adopted, that they were proceeding with the Coat of Arms, and that Twenty-Five Guineas was being paid to the Mint by the Crown Agents from G&E funds.

In March the Colonial Office received a draft of the warrant for the arms from Garter. It was returned to him for the correction of two spelling mistakes, and for the bird to be described as 'a frigate bird' and not 'a sea-gull'.

Blazon: Gules issuant from water barry wavy in base proper a sun in splendour Or, in chief a frigate bird volant of the last with motto "Fear God Honour the King" in Gilbert and Ellice equivalent.

The final warrant went back to the Colonial Office who sent it to the King's Private Secretary. It was signed by George VI on 1st May 1937. The warrant then went back to the Colonial Office who sent it to Garter for him to produce two certified copies of the warrant, which he did on 28th June 1937. These were sent to the Colonial Office at the beginning of July with a statement of the fees due. At the end of July Garter was told that the Crown Agents had been instructed to pay him Twenty-Five Pounds and One Shilling. One copy of the certified warrant was retained in the Colonial Office, and one sent to WPHC.

By 1938 the amendment plates for the Colonial Office's 'Flags, Badges and Arms' had been produced. In March that year one copy of the flag badge and one copy of the arms was sent to WPHC, and six copies of each sent to Resident Commissioner G&E. In May 1938 a Colonial Office Circular Dispatch distributed reprints of pages vii and viii to be substituted for original pages, and Plates of "Flag of Governor General of Australia; Flag Badge Gilbert and Ellice Colony, and Arms Gilbert and Ellice Colony."

The amendment to the Admiralty Flag Book did not appear until 1941, two years after the start of World War 2, by which time colour printing had been discontinued, and amendments were printed only in black and white.

"NL 108/37. Plate 27a. Insert after plate 27, and delete reference to Resident Commissioner in Gilbert and Ellice Colony thereon.
Badge :
On Union Flag as shown with garland.
On Blue Ensign without the white ground.

[National Archives (PRO) CO 323/1272/20, CO 323/1333/3, CO 323/1377/13, CO 323/1468/18,
CO 323/1575/22, MINT 25/2]

David Prothero, 29 August 2004

Coat of Arms on a first day cover

[Gilbert and Ellice Islands COA on stamp]
by Roger Moyer

I came across the following item at a stamp show recently. The Coat of Arms seems to differ from the badge as depicted on the defaced blue ensign.
Roger Moyer, 31 October 2000