7th January 2024

Colonial Australian Navies: part 1

I recommend the book ‘Kit Muster. Uniforms, badges and Categories of the Australian Navy 1865-1953’ by John Perryman, published 2011, for collectors and those otherwise interested in Australian naval history. I have selected  information from his book to complement that already to be found on the Pre-federation page.

The Colonial Naval Defence Act of 1865 entitled the colonies to acquire warships and raise a force to man these, which is amusing as in Sydney the wooden ketch Spitfire was completed in 1855, and in Victoria the steamer ‘Victoria’, built in England, arrived in Hobson’s Bay on 31st May 1856, years before the Act. The colonies obviously weren’t prepared to rely on the  Royal Navy for protection from the perceived threat of Russia. There were six old, RN ships of inferior gun-power at the time. The Spitfire, armed with one gun, would have made all the difference against the reputed 60 and 80 gun Russian vessels feared to be in the Pacific!

The ACT required the colonial navies to be distinguishable from those of the Royal Navy, so small changes were made to marks of rank, buttons, and other details. They were to were blue cloth caps with black ribbons marked ‘R.N.R.’ for Royal Naval reserve, and were encouraged to wear ‘dark blue suitable for drill’.

N.S.W. Naval Brigade and Naval Artillery Volunteers.

For most of its history from 1863, the Brigade was partially paid. In 1875 regulations stipulated the uniform “shall be of such naval description as may be approved by the Governor.’ It wasn’t until 1882, with the acquisition of the corvette Wolverine that dress and other regulations were promulgated. Included in this was the directive that the uniforms of officers be like that of the RN excepting buttons bearing H.M.C.N. for her Majesty’s Colonial Navy.  John Perryman includes on page 27 a picture of a button identical to that used in South Australia (see Cossum page 55), whilst on page 28 is a button as on page 55 Cossum of the NSW Naval Brigade. See http://www.austbuttonhistory.com/22nd-november-2023/ I have not been able to find out if both buttons were used in NSW, and if so, in which eras. Please contact me if you have further information.

Was this Used in NSW from 1882?

Used in NSW, but from what date?








From the 1882 regulations in the New South Wales Government Gazette. Note that the seamen and officers had to buy their own kit.

The Naval Artillery Volunteers were raised in 1882, becoming partially paid from 1892. It was modelled on the Naval Volunteer Artillery of England. They had buttons similar to that of the Brigade, except marked N.A.V.

The Temore Star (NSW), 19th July 1882 page 2.

Members were enrolled in November, and “went out” in the Wolverine in December, although it was not an auspicious start …

Temora Herald and Mining Journal (NSW), 12th December 1882 page 2.

Regulations for the NSW Naval Artillery were gazetted in 1884, so presumable their buttons date after that.

The Year-book of Australia 1887, page 680.

The NAV were disbanded in 1902.  Around Australia the former colonial reservists continued as State based organisations until finally disbanded in 1907, and were replaced by a Commonwealth Naval Militia in 1908, which in turn became, with compulsory service introduced in 1911, the Citizen Naval Forces. In September that year the King gave consent for it to be called the Royal Australian Naval Reserves.

The Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser , 29th March 1905. Naval brigade training aboard the H.M.A.S. Protector in Jervis Bay.

For any comments or questions, please use the Contact page.