The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag), Unknown makers
  • Artist
    Unknown makers
  • Title
    The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag)
  • Date of Production
    1854
  • Medium
    Wool, cotton
  • Dimensions
    260 x 324 cm (irregular)
  • Credit Details
    Gift of the King family, 2001

Unknown makers

The flag of the Southern Cross (Eureka Flag)

The flag of the Southern Cross, known as the Eureka Flag, came to the Gallery from the family of Trooper John King, who was a member of the Victoria Police when he tore it down from its flagpole at the Stockade on Sunday 3 December 1854.

The flag was the symbol of the Ballarat Reform League, formed by Ballarat diggers to make representations to the Colonial Government about serious grievances about the treatment they were receiving at the hands of the Government and its officals on the goldfields.

The Flag is reputed to have been designed by a Canadian member of the League, Captain Henry Ross. Local legend claims that the Flag was sewn by three local women - Anastasia Withers, Anne Duke and Anastasia Hayes.

The Flag was first flown at a 'monster meeting' held by the League at Bakery Hill on 29 November 1854, at which up to 12,000 diggers swore allegiance to it. At that meeting, the miners decided to take a path of armed resistance to the Government. The Flag was then flown at the Stockade which the resisting miners erected at the Eureka diggings, beside the Melbourne road.

After battle and the removal of the Flag by John King, it was taken back to the Ballarat Government Camp, where it was shown to the curious and pieces cut from it as souvenirs. King presented it at the Eureka trials in 1855, after which he was allowed to keep it.

James Oddie, founder of the Ballarat Fine Art Gallery, heard about its ownership after attempts by the King family to sell it to the Melbourne Public Library and the City of Ballaarat. In 1895, Oddie asked the Gallery Secretary James Powell to write to Trooper King's widow asking her 'for the very interesting relic as a gift… or failing your family's willingness to part with it altogether, to lend it for a specified term..' Mrs King agreed to lend the flag to the Gallery on the condition that she or her son Arthur could get it at any time.

Even after its arrival at the Gallery, there was a debate as to whether it was the original flag or a replica. Comparisons of the fibres of the Flag itself with those of a significant fragment, known to have been cut from the flag on the 3 December 1854, put the authenticity of the flag in the Gallery beyond doubt as they were found to be identical. 

As was common practice for interesting 'relics' of this kind before museums properly understood their role as preservers of heritage items, mementoes continued to be taken from the Flag in the early part of the 20th century. It was not until the late 1940s that serious attempts were made to protect the Flag were made, led by Communist jourmalist Len Fox, who mounted a 20-year long personal campaign to have its importance recognised.

The Flag was first put on public display at the Gallery on 3 December 1973, when it was conserved by local fabric conservator Val D'Angri and unveiled on the Gallery stairwell by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. It remained on display at the Gallery, except for a brief period in the late 1980s when it was lent to to the Gold Museum while the Gallery was closed for extensions. Its latest home at the Gallery was a purpose-built exhibition space, the Selkirk Family Room. 

The Flag was finally and formally gifted to the Gallery by the King family in 2001. It was the centrepiece of a major exhibition, Eureka Revisited: the contest of memories, which the Gallery presented in 2004, during the Eureka 150 celebrations.

In 2010-11, specialist art conservators, ArtLab, were commissioned to undertake a new conservation treatment, which involved repositioning the flag on a new support and the construction of a purpose-built movable case, prior to its going on long-term loan to the Museum of Australian Democracy at Eureka (M.A.D.E) in 2013.

As part of the Gallery Collection, the Flag remains under the care and custodianship of the Gallery. The Gallery continues to collect works of art which relate to the events of Eureka and which reinterpret the Flag's imagery.