For centuries past flags have played an important part in naval customs and traditions. Flags used by ships help identify nationality, the individual importance or rank of a senior officer and they provide a means of relaying messages. The accolade of reaching flag rank remains one of the greatest privileges bestowed upon a naval officer, especially when this authority is proudly displayed by the holder’s flag flown at the masthead of a flagship. In this context we might explore the origins of the flag and emblem now used by the Chief of Navy. As black and white images do little justice in describing their characteristics coloured images are found on the inside of the back cover of this magazine.
John Forrest, who had been Premier of the Colony of Western Australia, became the second Minister for Defence and introduced the first Commonwealth Defence Bill in 1901 but with much opposition and the advent of the Boer War this was held in abeyance. An amended draft of the Defence Bill was not approved until 25 July 1903 which had the effect of placing the administration of the six colonial forces under central control. The Defence Act was not finally proclaimed until March 1904 giving rise to a Military Board and a Naval Board to advise the Minister.
The Naval Board was constituted on 12 January 1905 comprising the Minister for Defence The Hon. James W McKay as President, the Director of Naval Forces Captain W R Creswell and J A Thompson Esq as Civil and Finance Member. Commander F H C Brownlow, Officer Commanding the Naval Forces of New South Wales, was named as Consultative Member. This Board had its headquarters on the first floor of the Coventry Street frontage of Melbourne’s Victoria Barracks.
A revision was later made through the 1910 Naval Defence Act which allowed a separation of Navy from Defence with its own Minister but reference to the Naval Board seems to have been taken from the wording of the 1904 Act. Events quickened from December 1910 with the arrival in Melbourne of the first two ships of the newly created force, HMA Ships Parramatta and Yarra, and in March 1911 the promotion of William Creswell to Rear Admiral in command of the Commonwealth Naval Forces. In June Creswell was knighted and on 10 July 1911 the Permanent and Reserve Commonwealth Naval Forces were granted the title of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) and Royal Australian Naval Reserve (RANR) respectively.
In accordance with an agreement in 1911 arrived at between the Imperial Government and those of the Dominions ships or vessels of the Dominion of Canada and the Commonwealth of Australia shall wear at the stem the white ensign as the symbol of the authority of the Crown, a white pendant at the masthead, and at the jack-staff the distinctive flag of the Dominion, namely, the blue ensign with the badge or emblem of the Dominion in the fly. As no Admiralty Warrant was issued to implement this change the instrumentation of change was by promulgation of Commonwealth Navy Order No 77 dated 5 October 1911. It is unclear if this agreement also extended to the use of individual Dominion Naval Board Flags.
In late 1910 the recently retired Royal Naval Admiral Sir Reginald Henderson arrived by invitation to conduct a detailed inspection of Australia’s naval arrangements and make recommendations for future developments. Henderson was accompanied by his influential secretary Staff Paymaster Eldon Manisty. Included in the Henderson Plan were recommendations for remodelling the Naval Board along the same lines as the Admiralty. These were immediately taken up by Minister Pearce and largely agreed with those of the Naval Defence Act 1910, the implementation of which had been postponed until Henderson had completed his inquiry. The Boards new structure was announced by the Governor-General on 11 March 1911 when the Board comprised:
The Minister of State for Defence Senator The Hon. George Forster Pearce – President
Rear Admiral William R Creswell – First Naval Member
Captain Bertram M Chambers, RN – Second Naval Member
Engineer-Captain William Clarkson – Third Naval Member
Staff Paymaster H W Eldon Manisty, RN – Civil and Finance Member and as Naval Secretary
The previous harmony of the Naval Board began to unravel firstly with the appointment in October 1912 of Captain C H Hughes-Onslow, RN as a replacement Second Naval Member. His was a disruptive force which in part led to a breakdown in the previously friendly relationship between Creswell and Clarkson. So corrosive was the situation that Hughes-Onslow was dismissed from his post by an Order-in-Council in November 1913. The second important change occurred in March 1914 when the influential Manisty returned to England with the critical position of financial control and key secretarial and legal responsibilities remained vacant for over four years (Manisty was also a lawyer). Finally in July 1915 a separate Naval Department was created and given its own minister with the Hon. Jens Jensen filling this role. Jensen was an imposing figure but poorly educated and clearly unsuitable. From July 1916 the Minister ceased attending Naval Board meetings and the following year he was moved to another ministry.