Culture and heritage


The Sixth Great Seal 1870 - 1905

The Sixth Great Seal adopted in 1870 discarded all references to NSW's convict past and represented a fundamental break in the colony's official symbols. In place of the convict emblems, the self-governing, gold-enriched colony was represented by a golden fleece between two Prince of Wales' feathers on a background of nine stars beneath the Royal Arms. This was the first use of the golden fleece in the official symbols of NSW, and the first direct symbolic association with old Wales.

The new design followed the `Newfoundland pattern', and had been requested by Colonial Secretary Charles Cowper in 1869 (Gullick, 1907:29). Cowper had been a leading figure in the colony's anti-transportation movement. At one level the golden fleece represented the colony's wealth in gold and wool, and the feathers a pun on its namesake. However, the combination also alludes to an ancient order of Pan-European chivalry and the even more ancient Principality of Wales.

The design of the Sixth Seal gave the colony an allegorical new history: beneath starry skies, freed of the stains of convictism and imbued with mythical and noble Celtic origins, almost alluding to a pre-colonial (or pre-English) lineage and a status under the Crown that was separate rather than subordinate.

Gullick attributed a cardinal importance to the Sixth Seal: it was the first time the convict emblems were not included, and the colonial seals had evolved to reflect this (1914: 19). The convict emblems were finally omitted, and with them went all reminders of the convict stain (1907: 10). The Sixth Seal shows a NSW that is culturally distinctive, if still politically subordinate. Analogies with the constitutional position and cultural separateness of old Wales are strongly suggested: the seal symbolises a direct relationship between the Crown and NSW that was reinforced everytime it was used. However, whether all references to convictism had been removed depends upon how deeply one reads the layers of allusion.

Some questions to research:

  1. What evidence is there for tensions in NSW society of the 1860s and 70s between those of convict descent and the free settlers?
  2. Are there allusions to old Wales in any other symbols or emblems of NSW? Why might this be so?

Image Source: State Library of NSW, GPO 1 - 35182 State Library of NSW, Picman

Page last updated: 01 September 2012