11th January 2024

Colonial Australian Navies: part 3


Apart from NSW, Victoria had the only other significant colonial navy, with the greatest number of vessels and dating from 1856. Note that this was well before the Colonial Naval Defence Act of 1865. Like NSW, Victoria was not prepared to await permission from ‘home’. The “Victorian Naval Brigade” had served in the “Maori” or “New Zealand Land Wars”, and returned in 1861, before they were officially approved! This was prompted by the great influx of vessels during the gold rush, with an awareness that foreign powers could arrive with little warning.

Although this may seem like paranoia, in 1865 the Confederate State of America ship, the CSS Shenandoah, arrived unexpectedly in Hobson’s Bay for urgent repairs. This was during the Civil War” and the arrival of an armed warship was concerning! Even more concerning was the recruitment (without permission) of some 40 men, and the presence of British prisoners.

Illustrated Sydney News, 16th February 1865 page 1.

The book “Kit Muster” notes that that regulations regarding their uniform were approved in 1873, and updated twice in the 1880s and again in 1893. It shows a button reputedly from the late 1800s (not listed in Cossum). However, it was noted in print that a distinctive button was worn as early as 1856. This may have been, as shown in Cossum, a simple “fouled anchor” surmounted by a crown, although he describes it as made of pewter, and the news article from 1856 as gold, to differentiate it from the Royal Navy uniform.

From https://www.navy.gov.au/customs-and-traditions/brief-history-australian-naval-uniforms-0   The button above is not dated, excepting that it was from “the late 1800s”.

Adelaide Times, 7th April 1856 page 2.

By the 1890s, if not before, the button appears to have been an upright fouled anchor, surmounted by a crown but without the letters VN.

The Year-book of Australia, 1887 page 682.

If anyone has better dating of the uniform buttons, please contact me via the Contact page.