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The area north of the Orange river of South Africa was first visited by Europeans towards the close of the 18th century. Between 1817 and 1831, the region was devastated by the Zulu chief Mzilikazi and large areas were depopulated.

In 1824 farmers of Dutch, French Huguenot and German descent called Trekboers arrived from the Cape Colony, seeking pasture for their flocks. They were followed in 1836 by the first parties of the Great Trek. The emigrants soon came into collision with Mzilikazi. In November 1837 Mzilikazi was decisively defeated by the Boers.

In December 1836 the emigrants beyond the Orange River drew up in general assembly an elementary republican form of government. After the defeat of Mzilikazi the town of Winburg was founded and Piet Retief chosen as governor and commandant-general.

In 1846 the British Major Warden occupied Winburg for a short time, and the relations between the Boers and the British were in a continual state of tension. Sir Harry Smith, who became governor of the Cape at the end of 1847, issued a proclamation declaring British sovereignty over the country between the Orange and the Vaal eastward to the Drakensberg. The republican party headed by Andries Pretorius, did not submit without a struggle but they were defeated by Sir Harry Smith in an engagement at Boomplaats and Andries Pretorius crossed the Vaal in retreat. In 1851 the Basutho king Moshoeshoe joined the republican party in the Sovereignty in an invitation to Pretorius to recross the Vaal.

A convention allowing the independence of the country was signed at Bloemfontein in 1854 and the Boer government assumed office and the republican flag was hoisted. On the abandonment of British rule representatives of the people were elected and met at Bloemfontein on 28 March 1854, and between then and 18 April were engaged in framing a constitution. The country was declared a republic and named the Orange Free State.

The relations between the British and the Free State, remained perfectly amicable down to the outbreak of the Second Boer War in 1899.

In 1900, after British forces had occupied Bloemfontein, the Orange Free State was annexed by Britain as the Orange River Colony. On 31 May 1902 the Peace of Vereeniging was signed and the Orange Free State and the South African Republic were placed under British rule. Self-government was restored to the Free State region in 1907, and in 1910 the colony became the Orange Free State Province within the Union of South Africa. The province remained unchanged when the Union of South Africa became the Republic of South Africa in 1961; but, after apartheid was abolished and the provincial governments were reorganized in 1993–94, the Orange Free State was renamed simply Free State.




In 1854 the State Secretary, Jacob Groenendaal, and later President Hoffman himself, wrote to the Netherlands and asked King William III to give the OFS a coat of arms and a flag. After much deliberation this request was granted and on 12 January 1856 the King’s special envoy, Cornelis Hiddingh, arrived in Bloemfontein with the royal gifts. The arms showed an orange fess wavy  between three bugle-horns and the shield was surrounded by two flags. Buglehorns were an old emblem of the House of Orange and the fess wavy indicated the Orange River.

            In the meantime a new government had taken office in the OFS and a great seal for the new republic had been made in Cape Town. The matrices of this seal arrived in Bloemfontein at the same time as Hiddingh. When the Volksraad (House of Assembly) met on 28 February 1856 the coat of arms was accepted, with the provision that the orange fess would fall away and the new great seal be added. This combined coat of arms was officially taken into use on the OFS’s third anniversary. In the centre of the seal stands a tree and sheltering under it to the left are a number of sheep and to the right a lion; an ox-wagon stands in the base. The meaning of each symbol is indicated  by words: above the tree vrijheid (liberty), on a ribbon underneath the sheep geduld (patience) and under the lion moed (courage). The meaning of the ox-wagon is indicated by the word immigratie (immigration). Behind the shield two national flags are crossed. [1]


First design of an achievement for Oranje Vrijstaat

as designed by J.Z. Mazel, Secretary of Foreign Affairs  and Jhr. F.A. Ridder van Rappard  [2]. The fess wavy is for the Orange River. The motto means: “Ultimately the small with will become a tree”.

(Embellished drawing of  C. Woltman)


Second design of an achievement for Oranje Vrijstaat

by Willem Jan Baron d’ Ablaing van Giessenburg, member of the Hooge Raad van Adel and drawn by T. van der Laars. The bugle horn is from the arms of the mediaeval principality of Orange. [3] This design was rejected amongst others because if the savages would be taken for Bushmen, that would imply that Oranje Vrijstaat existed by the grace of the Bushmen. [4]



Third design of an achievement for Oranje Vrijstaat.

This design was accepted by the Dutch Minister of External Affairs: Argent, a fess wavy Orange between three buglehorns. The shield placed on two national flags being of seven stripes white and orange with a canton of red, white and blue. It was not adopted unchanged because at the same time a design for a seal was made by the British Government in Cape Town. (Photo O.F.S. Archives)


Great Seal of Oranje Vrijstaat

engraved in Cape Town at the request of President Boshof to Sir George Grey, governor of the Cape. Presented to the Volksraad on 4 February 1856. [5]

The seal shows an Orange tree, sheep, a lion and a wagon, the words VRYHEID and IMMIGRATIE and the motto GEDULD EN MOED on a ribbon. The legend reads: GROOT ZEGEL VAN DEN ORANJE VRIJSTAAT. (Photo O.F.S. Archives)



Finally adopted achievement of Oranje Vrijstaat

cut by C. Spruyt for the Raadsaal in Bloemfontein, 1857.


The arms are a combination of the design of the achievement from the Netherlands and the seal from Cape Town, to spare the sensibilities both of the King of the Netherlands as well as of the British Governor of the Cape. The achievement was accepted by the Volksraad on 28 February 1856 and came into official use on 23 February 1857, the third anniversary of the Freestate. [6] (Photo O.F.S. Archives)



Arms of Oranje Vrijstaat

as on the Government Gazette from 1863 until 1866  (Photo O.F.S. Archives)

The second Great Seal of Oranje Vrijstaat, 1891.

The seal shows the arms of the state within the legend GROOT ZEGEL VAN DEN ORANJE VRY STAAT (Photo O.F.S. Archives)




Seal of the Orange River Colony, 1903.

The seal shows the royal achievement of the United Kingdom and a landscape with springboks. The legend reads: EDWARDVS VII D : G: BRITT : ET TERRARVM TRANSMAR : QVÆ IN DIT: SVNT BRITT: REX F: D: IND: IMP: • ORANGE RIVER COLONY •. (Photo O.F.S. Archives)



Arms of Orange River Colony

The Orange River Colony obtained a coat of arms by Royal Warrant of 10 December 1904. They are blazoned: Argent, on a Mound a Springbuck, and on a Chief Azure the Imperial crown all proper. It was the first time a springbuck (Antidorcas marsupialis - Bovidæ) officially entered into South African heraldry.




Badge of self-governing Orange River Colony, 1907.

The badge shows the springbok from the arms. [7]





On the arms of the Union of South Africa, adopted in 1910, the Orange River colony was represented by the orange tree from the fist seal of the Oranje Vrijstaat. As there arose a problem with the design of the Great Seal of the Union, the quarters of the U.S.A.-arms were explicitly assigned to the four provinces by Royal Warrant of 4 May 1911. The arms for the Orange River officially became Or, upon an island and Orange tree Vert fructed proper. The provisions of this Warrant however were never implemented. [8]




Achievement of Orange Free State Province, july 1955.

This achievement was only slightly different from the arms of 1857 in that the ornamental frame on which the arms were mounted was left out.


On 25 May 1937 the Orange Free State Provincial Council resolved that the arms of the Oranje Vrijstaat be officially recognised as the arms of the Province of the Orange Free State. The decision was forwarded to the Secretary of the Interior, who in reply pointed out the Royal Warrant of 1911.

In 1950 the Secretary for the Interior took up the question of provincial arms with the Prime Minister and each of the Provinces was asked to indicate which arms they desired to adopt. The Free State had reached their decision in 1937, and stuck to it.

In 1954 the Administrators of the four provinces were notified: “. . . Her Majesty the Queen has approved, formally, the withdrawal, with effect from the 22nd June, 1954, of the Royal Warrant of the 4th May 1911, in terms of which certain Coats of Arms were granted to the Provinces. Those Provinces which have not, as yet, done so, are now, at liberty to use the Coat of Arms which they desire to adopt.”

Following the withdrawal of the Warrant of 1911, the Orange Free State applied to have its arms recorded in the College of Arms, which was done in July 1955. [9]





The provincial coat of arms for the Free State province were registered with the Bureau of Heraldry on 7 May 1999. The arms are described as follows :


Arms: Per chevron inverted, Or and Vert, the head of an Orange River Lily (Crinum bulbispermum) with three blossoms and four buds slipped proper and a chief dancetty, the peaks terminating in merlons, Azure; the shield ensigned of a circlet Or, embellished with representations of cut diamonds Argent, enamelled Azure against the upper and Vert against the lower facets, heightened of four heads of maize Argent, leaved Or, alternating with as many ears of wheat of the last.

Supporters: Two cheetahs proper

Special Compartment: A representation of the Free State plains proper

Motto: KATLEHO KA KOPANO (Success through Unity)


ð see illustration in the head of this essay


More details about the arms of Oranje Vrijstaat / Orange Free State


© Hubert de Vries, 2009.03.10

[1]  Kieser, A.: Die Wapen van die Vrystaatse Republiek. In: Die Skoolblad, febr. 1936. Van Schoor, M.C.E.: Die wapen van die Oranje Vrystaat. In: Historia. v. 6, Sept. 1961, pp. 171-198. Pama, C.: Lions and Virgins. Heraldic state symbols, coats of arms, flags, seals and other symbols of authority in South Africa, 1487-1962. Human & Rousseau. Cape Town, 1965. Pp. 30- 32, 61- 74.. Brownell, F.G.: National and Provincial Symbols and flora and fauna emblems of the Republic of South Africa. Johannesburg, 1993. Ch. 10.

[2]  Reconstruction in Pama, C, op. cit 1965, Fig. 62 The next few illustrations are also  from this book.

[3]  On the seals of Raymond II and William II de Baux dated  1.8.1256.  On the arms of William of Orange, the Silent, the bugle horn blazon is found on an escutcheon from 1545 on. On the arms of his successors in the Netherlands until the  present it is also on an escutcheon or in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.  

[4]  Picture from Godée Molsbergen, E.C.  & J. Visscher:  South African History told in Pictures, Amsterdam 1913.  p. 87.

[5] The task of arranging for the great seal was originally requested from H.J. Halske. When he failed to comply with this request, President Boshof approached  Sir George Grey personally. Notule van die Volksraad 3.9.1855. In S.A. Arch. Records, Orange Free State. Mentioned both by Pama note 42, and Brownell Ch. 10 note 6.

[6]  The resolution of  28.2.1856 was confirmed  16.5.1877 and recorded in 1891 in Ch. XXXVIII of the Codified Laws of the Free State. The ornamental frame was suggested by the Dutch designers to avoid difficulties with a helmet or crown.

[7]  From: Drawings of the flags in use at the present time by various nations. Admiralty, 1915.  http://www.archive.org/details/drawingsofflagsi00grea

[8]  Brownell, F.G. op. cit. 1993  p. 74 . Picture also from Brownell, n° 2.4.3.

[9]  Brownell, F.G.:op cit. 1993 Ch. 10.


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