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Governor's Ensign and Naval Jack 1882-1948 (British North Borneo, Malaysia)

Also Governor's Flag ca.1910-1948

Last modified: 2023-06-03 by zachary harden
Keywords: british north borneo | governor | canton (union flag) | blue ensign | red ensign | union flag | lion (red) | disc (yellow |
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1882-1903 Jack and Governor's flag

[Governor's Ensign and Naval Jack 1882-1948, also Governor's Flag ca.1910-1948 (North Borneo, Malaysia)] 1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 7 June 2008

1903-c1915 Jack and Governor's flag

[Governor's Ensign and Naval Jack 1882-1948, also Governor's Flag ca.1910-1948 (North Borneo, Malaysia)] 1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 7 June 2008

Governor's Yellow Flag. Company red lion badge on a yellow flag with a dark yellow border. I assume that it was the land equivalent of the defaced Union Flag that was only used afloat. "The flag for the Governor of Sabah not resembling in any way any flag in use in Her Majesty's Navy, My Lords have no objection to its being adopted as proposed." 5th January 1882.

23rd March 1923. In answer to an enquiry the Company Secretary wrote:

"Pale yellow flag is old flag of Governor of Sabah. Is no longer used. 'Governor of Sabah' was term originally used when territory first acquired from Sultans of Brunei and Sulu. Term long since fallen into disuse. Now designated "Governor and Commander in Chief, North Borneo."
Answering a further enquiry on 16th August 1928 the Secretary replied that:
"the pale yellow flag has not been in use for a great many years."
(...) Compiled from Public Record Office documents, ADM 1/21259, ADM 1/24010, ADM 116/213, ADM 116/300, ADM 116/898B, CO 874/204 and CO 874/778.
David Prothero
, 4 January 2001

c1915-c1941 Governor's flag

[Governor's Ensign and Naval Jack 1882-1948, also Governor's Flag ca.1910-1948 (North Borneo, Malaysia)] 1:2 image by Martin Grieve, 7 June 2008

According to Flaggenbuch 1939, the Governor's flag was also the national flag of the territory known as (British) North Borneo (Company). Flaggenbuch 1939 adds (Priv.) — does this mean that the territory was a private property of the British North Borneo Company?
Ivan Sache, 2 January 2001

From: Cumberland Clark, The crown colonies and their history, London, 1939:

In 1938 the British North Borneo Company still continued to exercise its administrative powers. It did so under North Borneo's own flag, which consists of the Union Jack, with the Borneo badge —that is, a red lion on a yellow ground— in the centre.

Jarig Bakker, 2 January 2001

The governor was appointed by the Court of Directors and not by the Crown, so the badge on the Union Flag did not have the usual garland of laurel leaves. (...) In the Admiralty Flag Book 1889 the lion faces the fly but is changed to face the hoist in a 1902 amendment. I think that this was probably to correct an error in the book and not a change in the design of the flag.
David Prothero, 4 January 2001

The original Brunei Royal flag was plain yellow and the basic flag of Sulu was plain red. Those colors may have inspired the very distinctive flag flown by the governor of Sabah at the time British authority was first established in the area, a design featured in its 1882-1948 and 1948-1963 coats of arms as well as the flag badge derived from the latter. The gubernatorial flag in question was yellow with a red lion in the center(1);this may have been conceived as a combination of the Brunei royal color and the lion of England.  It is described as the flag of the governor of Sabah, although as the Principal Representative of the British North Borneo(Chartered) Company he was also entitled to fly the Union Jack and the British Blue Ensign at sea, each emblazoned with the company badge - a yellow disk with a red lion.(2) It may be surmised that the yellow flag with the lion was used only on land, where it presumably flew over the governor's residence. Further research, however, might indicate that more generally it was considered the flag of the Company - which had sovereign jurisdiction over  North Borneo - and that it was thus a surrogate state flag until replaced by the Union Jack.(3) The flag seems to have been abolished, since an amendment from c1927 to "Flags of all Nations" dealing with North Borneo does not mention it and and it is not illustrated in the 1930 edition of the book. Nevertheless the symbol in that flag, the red lion on yellow(4), continued to be prominent until the end of the British colonial regime in North Borneo. As a badge it appeared on the Blue Ensign for use by government armed and unarmed vessels; moreover it was one of the few colonial badges allowed to be used on the Red Ensign. Local chiefs, both afloat and ashore, displayed the badge in the center of a blue flag.

Source:  Flag Bulletin XXIII:2/104 (March-April 1984)

(1)The original illustration of the flag and the revised illustration of 1903, appearing respectively on plate 7 and the amendment sheet to that plate in the Admiralty's 1889 edition of  "Flags of all Nations", both show a very narrow border around the four edges of the field. The background of the flag in both cases is a  pale yellow and the border is a very dark golden yellow or ochre. This border is omitted from the flag badges of that era and 1948-1963, as well as from the representations of the flag appearing in the colonial era coats of arms of North Borneo. It may be speculated that this border was derived from the light orange shading included in the artistic rendition of the arms of 1882-1948, where the chief of the shield bears the flag design - i.e. a red lion on yellow. Since it was the practice of flag makers as well as Heralds  in the late 19th century in Britain to embellish arms and flags with highlights and shadings in situations which today would be rendered with a solid color, it is quite possible that this border, although armorially non-existent, appeared on actual flags, particularly if the Admiralty's artwork was used as a basis for their manufacture. It does appear in publications showing this flag, such as The 1926 "Flaggenbuch"  published by the State War Ministry of Germany (p. 43) and in the October 1917 "National Geographic Magazine" (p. 363).
(2)The latter flew on his yacht as an ensign, while the former was hoisted as a rank flag on any other vessel he visited. In the Union Jack version the usual laurel wreath surrounding the central badge was omitted, presumably to indicate the fact that he did not - unlike colonial governors and others entitled to a flag of similar design - hold his title directly from the crown (although the Secretary of State for colonies did have to approve his appointment). The earliest editions of the Admiralty's "Flags of all Nations" do not indicate one way or the other whether the wreath is to be included; an amendment to the 1915 edition specifically states that the badge is to be used without the garland and it is possible that it had been hitherto permitted. It is indeed shown with the wreath in the 1917 "National Geographic Magazine". According to V. Wheeler-Holohan (A Manual of Flags [London : Warne, 1933], p.67) this flag was known as the "Sabah Jack"; indeed one of its official uses was as a jack for vessels of the British North Borneo Company.
(3)The charter of the British North Borneo (Chartered) Company, based on grants by the Sultans of Brunei and Sulu, was dated 1 November 1881; a British Protectorate was extended over the territory on 12 May 1888. Nevertheless the usage ot the Union Jack may in practice have been indistinguishable under different constitutional arrangements.
(4)In the blazon of the 1882 arms the chief of the shield is described as "Or thereon a Lion passant guardant Gules" and the flag in the crest is described as "Or charged with a Lion guardant Gules". Nevertheless there were two distinct versions of this design represented in "Flags of all Nations", each being used in the flag of the governor of Sabah and as a badge for use on the Union Jack, Red Ensign and Blue Ensign. The earlier form (established on 5 January 1882) shows the lion rampant to the sinister, while in the other (notification of which was made through Admiralty letter on 30 January 1903) the lion moves to the dexter and faces the viewer rather than looking straight ahead. Its position is neither passant nor rampant, but rather as if the lion were climbing an invisible staircase. This may have been due to the fact that the flag in the crest of the arms is not flying straight out from the pole but is rather on a diagonal bias, such that the lion - presumably intended to be passant - appears to be semi-rampant.

Martin Grieve, 7 June 2008