Culture and heritage


Burns Philp Building, Sydney, 1901

Badge of NSW on a shield surrounded by thistles

Burns Philp was a powerful mercantile company that operated throughout the South Pacific. Its corporate prestige is suggested by the impressive façade of the company's head office in Sydney, while the company's use of the Badge of NSW suggests close links with the State's establishment.

The Burns Philp Company was incorporated in 1882 by James Burns and Robert Philp, both Scottish immigrants, in Townsville, Queensland. The company traded extensively with the Pacific Islands through its shipping and retailing interests, and was also involved in the copra trade. It was also reputed to be involved in blackbirding, or the transporting of unwilling Pacific Island labourers to the cane fields of Queensland. From the mid-1870s Burns lived in Sydney managing the NSW operations of the company, and by about 1900, when this building was constructed, the firm had a fleet of about 60 ships trading throughout the Pacific. By the 1920s the company was known as the Hudson's Bay Company of the South Pacific. Always closely identified with the corporate establishment in NSW and Queensland, many of the company's ships played an important role in the Pacific War and formed part of Australia's Merchant Navy.

The Badge of NSW is shown on a shield, flanked by the company's ensigns that flew from its ships and properties. Both of the flags illustrate the Scottish origins of the company's founders - one of which is a lion in the same position as the 'Lion in the South', the other being a single Scotch thistle, which is further reinforced by the background motif of Scotch thistles, the floral emblem of Scotland.

Some questions to research:

  1. How common is the use of the Badge of NSW in private company emblems during this period?
  2. What associations are suggested in this imagery between Burns Philp Co. Ltd. and the Colony/State of NSW by the company's use of the official badge?

Image Source: Stephen Szabo, Heraldry Australia, 21st September 2002; SHR item Burns Philp Building

Page last updated: 01 September 2012