Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The Red Ensign is a flag which originated as an ensign by merchant ships and other private vessels of the United Kingdom and subsequently became a model, along with the blue ensign, for flags used by a number of colonies and former colonies in the British Empire. The red ensign has a Union Flag in the canton and may be defaced by a badge or shield in the fly. Prior to the reorganisation of the Royal Navy in 1864, the plain red ensign was the ensign of the "Red Squadron" of the Royal Navy which tended to patrol the Caribbean and north Atlantic Ocean excluding the waters around Great Britain. Subsequently, the red ensign was re-assigned to British merchant and civilian vessels. For more information see British ensigns.
The Red Ensign originated in the 1500s with the St. George's cross (see Flag of England) in the canton and with a red field background (top right). Red Ensigns denoted commerical colonies established by Royal Charter and supplied by commerical ships while the Blue Ensigns was used by crown colonies supplied by state-owned ships.
The Act of Union of 1707 united Scotland, England and Wales in the Kingdom of Great Britain and produced a new red ensign which utilised the new British flag. With the Act of Union of 1801, Ireland joined the United Kingdom and the St Patrick's Cross was added to the Union Flag of the United Kingdom and, accordingly, to the cantons of the British ensigns.
The Australian Red Ensign, is a red version of the Australian Flag and is a reserved civil ensign. From 1901 to 1954 the flag was used as a civil flag, to be flown by private citizens on land, while the government used the Blue Ensign reflecting British practice. In 1941, Prime Minister Robert Menzies stated that there should be no restrictions on private citizens using the Blue Ensign on land and, in 1947, Prime Minister Ben Chifley reaffirmed this position but it wasn't until the passage of the Flags Act 1953 that the restriction on civillians flying the Blue Ensign was officially lifted after which use of the Red Ensign on land became a rarity. Under the Navigation and Shipping Act 1912 and the Shipping Registration Act 1981 the Red Ensign remains only flag permitted for use by merchant ships registered in Australia. Pleasure craft may use either the Red Ensign or the national flag.
- External link: Australia's forgotten flag: The Red Ensign
Bermuda, uniquely among British overseas territories, also uses the Red Ensign as its flag, again with the shield of its coat of arms in the fly. The flag has been used unofficially since the granting of Bermuda's coat of arms in 1910 and has been the territory's official flag since 1967. The white and green shield has a red lion holding a scrolled shield showing the sinking of the ship Sea Venture one mile off the coast of Bermuda in 1609. The ship struck a reef after being caught in a hurricane. The Red Ensign is thought to have become the basis for Bermuda's flag as, prior to the naval reorganziation of 1864, the red squadron of the Royal Navy (which flew a Red Ensign) tended to patrol the Caribbean and north Atlantic. The flag has been unofficially in use since 1910 when Bermuda was granted its coat of arms and has been the territory's official flag since October 1967.
The term Red Ensign is often used in particular to refer to the Canadian Red Ensign, the former de facto national flag of Canada. It was informally adopted following Canadian Confederation in 1867 and, from 1892, it was the official flag for use on Canadian merchant ships, but on land the official national flag was the Union Jack. Despite its lack of official status the Red Ensign was widely used on land as well. In 1924 it was approved for use on Canadian government buildings outside Canada, and in 1945 for those inside Canada as well.
Canada's Red Ensign bore various forms of the shield from the Canadian coat of arms in its fly during the period of its use. The picture shows the official form between 1957 and 1965. Canada also used a blue ensign for ships operated by the Canadian government and for the Royal Canadian Navy.
The New Zealand Red Ensign with the Union Jack in the first quarter, and the Southern Cross, represented by four five-pointed white stars featured in the fly became the official flag in New Zealand for merchant vessels in 1901. Previously a plain red ensign was used.
The red ensign may continue to be flown on land in Maori areas or during Maori events under the Flags, Emblems, and Names Protection Act 1981 in recognition of long held Maori preference for red flags. New Zealand law allows the defacement of the flag in accordance to Maori custom in which white capital letters identifying a particular family or Maori tribe are added. In the case of the flag on the left, TAKITIMU refers to a grouping of Maori tribes descended from the crew of the ancestral canoe of that name .
Today, private and merchant craft can choose to fly the Flag of New Zealand (which is a blue ensign) or the Southern Cross red ensign.
The Union of South Africa used a Red Ensign as its de facto national flag from 1910 until 1928, with the shield of its coat of arms in the fly. There was also a Blue Ensign which was mostly used on overseas offices. Both ensigns were changed slightly in 1912 when the shield of the coat of arms was placed on a white roundel. The most notable usage of the flag was when General Louis Botha flew the flag over Windhoek in what was then German South West Africa after the town's capture by South African troops in 1915.
Neither the red nor blue ensign enjoyed public support, particularly not from the Afrikaans speaking portion of the white population.
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