On 26 January 1788 the First Fleet, a flotilla of eleven ships from Britain, anchored in Sydney Cove – named after Lord Sydney the British Home Secretary (now called Circular Quay). Captain Arthur Phillip, in charge, stepped ashore and, in a simple ceremony, hoisted the Union Flag (Jack), saluted it, and proclaimed the settlement of the colony of New South Wales for His Majesty King George III. The remainder of the continent was subsequently settled and claimed for Britain and today the 26th January, Australia Day, is a public holiday across Australia, marking the birthday of modern Australia.
It is worth noting that 1788 was not the first time the Union Jack had been raised in Australia. At Possession Island in the Torres Strait (Far North Queensland), Lieutenant James Cook raised the flag on 22 August 1770, claiming the entire eastern coastline of Australia as British territory. Australia was not settled at that time.
This flag on Loftus Street is a replica of the one that Phillip saluted in 1788 and was raised here, at the same location as the original flag was raised, on 26 January 1988 to mark the bicentenary of the founding of the colony of New South Wales and the birth of modern Australia.
How do we know this is the exact location where the original flag was raised? Well, it was determined by a Committee of Enquiry comprising no less than the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (NSW), the Surveyor General of NSW and the Director of Parks. Surely they would know and, after all, they had 25 years to work it out, the Committee having being appointed in 1963. Notwithstanding this, the actual location of the original flag raising ceremony is still disputed with some claiming a location closer to Cadman’s Cottage and The Rocks.
The observant will note, though it is hard to tell from my poor quality pictures, that the flag flying here today is not the current Union Jack of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (bottom flag in the picture below) but rather the 1606 version of the flag (top flag in the picture below). It lacks the red cross of St Patrick. This was added in 1801, to represent Ireland, following the Act of Union of that year.
I should also point out that the land on which the flag is located abutted the water’s edge in 1788 and that land reclamation since has ‘pushed’ it back to its current location, a couple of hundred metres from the water’s edge.
While Britain settled Australia in 1788 it wasn’t until 166 years later that a reigning British (and indeed Australian) Monarch set foot on Australia soil. Queen Elizabeth II was the first to do so in 1954. A sandstone wall in the Domain marks the point where Her Majesty came ashore. She too arrived by sea. For more detail on this landing please see my separate review – Queen Elizabeth IIs First Landing In Australia.
My main picture, “The Founding of Australia. By Capt. Arthur Phillip R.N. Sydney Cove, Jan. 26th 1788” was painted by Algernon Talmage in 1937. The picture is out of copyright – attached image from the State Library of New South Wales website.
Finding the Flag
From Circular Quay walk south into the northern end of Loftus Street. After a few metres on the left-hand pavement you come across a flag pole.