From Igloos to Lobster Legs

The history of TCI’s flag is facinating indeed.

By Dr. Charlene Kozy

Turks & Caicos Islands flag

The idea of flying a flag originated with ancient warfare more than 4,000 years ago. The first type of flag was called a vexilloid, thus vexillology is the study of flags. Early flags were on poles with carvings on top, and a shield, or other devices, were attached to the poles. These emblems covered suits of armor and became Coats of Arms, and this led to the custom of carrying a flag in battle for warriors to know who and where their leaders were.

Reproductions of vexilloids are shown, for example, on ancient Greek coins and Egyptian tomb carvings and date before the Christian era. (William E. Dunning) In Psalm 20:1–9, David wrote, “ . . . in the name of our God we will set up our banners. Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God . . .” What David’s banner looked like is a mystery, but it was evidently “set up” in remembrance of victory over Goliath, the giant.

Flags are used to give information or to send a message which would otherwise take words. Also, they are used to show victory or domination of territory (the U.S. planted a flag on the moon) and sometimes a king or queen will have a personal flag that flies over any building when they are in residence. A red flag means danger; a white flag denotes peace, or surrender; an orange flag is for courage or sacrifice; green is for safety, or hope; yellow means caution and black is for mourning or death.
In the Caribbean, the Jolly Roger was used by pirates to frighten people. It had a black background which stood for “no mercy will be shown to those who resist.” The five circles of the Olympic flag are representative of the five continents coming together in peaceful competition. The flag of the United Nations brings peace as its message with olive branches holding the world.
Today, every country in the world has a flag. Divisions within a country or territories of that country have their flags. Flags are in different sizes, shapes and colors. Many have a basic pattern such as horizontal and vertical stripes and stars. The significant object on the ancient flags began as a carving that became a shield or Coat of Arms. Now, a Coat of Arms or some form of it is found as a badge on many of the European flags. A badge was used on the historical flags of the Turks & Caicos Islands and a revised version is on today’s Turks & Caicos flag.

Who started it?
To trace the jurisdictional history of the flags of the Turks & Caicos Islands is difficult because control of the Islands changed frequently between the Spanish, French and British, ending with Great Britain. There was not a defining government in control until the British annexed the Islands to the Bahamas. Despite the seeming struggle for control, the Islands did not have the desired elements of other Caribbean islands. They were not on the main sailing routes, had poor anchorages and did not have gold or sufficient rainfall for sugar plantations. Salt was the only revenue-bearing commodity countries wanted to control.
Ponce de Leon’s logs record that he reached the Caicos on March 9, 1513. The Spaniards left without making a permanent settlement but took with them the early Tanio settlers for slave labor. Archaeologists have determined that a Lucayan Arawak culture existed on the island of Middle Caicos between the approximate dates of 1000 and 1500 A.D. Two types of cultures have been identified. One was based on a trade center that reached the Arawaks of the Greater Antilles, and the other was a simpler, traditional Lucayan village. The Tanios or Lucayans left little evidence of their culture other than utensils and outlines of villages. They were not warlike people and had no use for a flag. (Shaun Sullivan)

The first dispute
The first jurisdictional dispute over control of the Islands was between Bermuda and the Bahamas. In 1678, a Bermudian sea captain rediscovered Turks Islands and reported them uninhabited. For the next hundred years, the salt-raking on Turks and the subsequent salt trade remained the hub of Bermuda’s commerce. A small permanent settlement existed at Grand Turk while hundreds of migrant workers would come during the raking season. Bermuda claimed jurisdiction and protested greatly when the governor of the Bahamas attempted to levy duties upon Bermudian salt rakers in the Turks & Caicos.
Bermuda further strengthened their claims by dispatching troops to the Islands for protection against Spanish raiders. Bermuda was a British territory and was settled in 1609 by a British ship Sea Venture. Bermuda undoubtedly flew the British flag but the Coat of Arms of Bermuda depicts a red lion, symbol of England, holding a shield that pictures a wrecked ship. It now appears on the official Bermuda flag. The Latin phrase means, “Whither the Fates Carry Us.”
The prosperity of the salt trade attracted the attention of the Spanish and Bahamian governments. In 1766, the Bahamas extended its jurisdiction to Turks & Caicos. Like the northern islands, Turks & Caicos became a base for pirates who robbed and pillaged salt merchants’ homes. These events set off a series of attempts by the French to claim the Islands.

The influence of France
Prior to 1766, there had been attempts by the French to settle Turks & Caicos. An early abortive attempt was made in 1625 to start a French settlement to produce salt. Again in 1709, the French occupied Turks & Caicos and most of the other Bahamian islands. The governor of Virginia appealed to London for “speedy, effectual care taken to suppress them, if not, there will be no trading from the northern parts, Carolina nor Bermuda to Jamaica without running great hazards of being taken.” He continues pledging the support of the North American colonies and ends by expressing the need for salt and mentioned the “French having also taken Turks Islands.”
In 1753, the French had landed men on Grand Turk, erecting monuments that recorded on copper plates the ownership of the Islands by France. In 1764, French marines brought from Hispaniola invaded, seized Bermudian sloops, and destroyed the homes of the salt rakers. They erected two “pillories” 80 feet tall that rested on large stone bases. One was on Sand Cay and the other at Saunders Pond Beach on Grand Turk. Each had the name of the French Prime Minister and displayed an iron Fleur de Lis. The British did not hesitate to retaliate.
A Captain Weller was sent on the H.M.S. Venus to remove the signs. The French had also forced the Bermudian salt-rakers to swear allegiance to the French Crown. Pressure from the British government resulted in Count D’Estaing alleging that the pillories had been set up for navigational aids only. The Saunders Pond pillory was completely demolished in 1820 and used for local building purposes. (H.E. Sadler) The Bohio Dive Resort is currently located on “Pillory Beach” on Grand Turk.
The last claim by the French was made on February 13, 1783 when French forces seized the Turks Islands and left a garrison at Grand Turk. Aware of the French desire, British frigates maintained a constant patrol. Captain Horatio Nelson of the H.M.S. Albemarle received news that the Turks Islands had been captured by 150 regular soldiers and three vessels of war. Nelson, with three other vessels of war, immediately proceeded to Grand Turk. Heavy fire from both sides ensued and Nelson was obliged to pull out, realizing he could entail severe casualties. Peace negotiations were on their way and it is speculated that Nelson sensed this when he withdrew without launching a further assault at Grand Turk. The French were obliged to evacuate the Turks Islands after a stay of only a few months. (H.E. Sadler)
By today’s standards of jurisdiction, the French did not control or own the Islands but it is only strictly accurate to say the French flag flew demonstrating domination. This ensign or badge was used from 1638 to October 1790. It was displayed on plain white on most ships and sometimes with the fleurs-de-lis. (Pierre Gay and Ivan Sache, 2001)

Let the Bahamas take over!
The French incidents alerted the British to the need for protecting the Islands. That task was given to the Bahamas in 1799, nullifying Bermuda’s claim to Turks & Caicos. The Turks & Caicos Islands were recognized by an Act of Parliament as meeting the requirements for voting and holding membership in the Bahamian Assembly. London ordered the royal governor to see that all Bahamian laws be observed in the Turks & Caicos. Officially, Turks & Caicos remained under the jurisdiction of the Bahamian government until 1848.

On the garter of the early badge used by the Bahamas are words which tell us that the pirates have been expelled and that business has been resumed. This badge is the basis of the Coat of Arms the country adopted upon independence. Through the reigns in England, the crown has been replaced. (Image by Martin Grieve. Information from Roy Stilling.)

Jamaica’s turn to rule
In 1848, “Her Majesty the Queen ordered the Annexation Act that annexed the Turks & Caicos to Jamaica.” The Islands remained a dependency of Jamaica until 1959 when Turks & Caicos became a separate colony; however, until 1962 the governor of Jamaica was also the governor of Turks & Caicos. After the separation from Jamaica and until 1973, the administration was subordinate to the governor of the Bahamas and the Bahamian governor was also governor of Turks & Caicos. The Bahamas became independent in 1973 and Turks & Caicos’ administrator was given the title of governor. (David Prothero). This Jamaican badge (at left) was used on the Union Jack and Blue Ensign from 1875–1906.

These early Turks & Caicos badges show the mis-drawing of the salt piles as igloos.

Igloos in the Islands
While a dependency of Jamaica (1869), Turks & Caicos was told to submit a sketch of a badge of the colony. This was unusual because other dependencies had no badge until much later. Suggested was a sketch of a Union Jack with the arms of Turks & Caicos in the center. It was rejected because the expense of “emblazoning them on standards would be excessive.” A simple one was suggested such as a crescent and star on a blue badge.
The Executive Council rejected the Commissioner’s proposal saying the standard should correspond with the seal of the colony. The seal or badge had a foreground representing salt heaps with raking implement and measures (vessels) and an individual filling the vessel. A ship was in the background ready to move the freight.
Again, the complaint was that this was too elaborate and the crescent and star suggested. The council changed its mind and proposed, “In lieu of the former device proposed, (salt heaps, raker, and a ship) it thinks that a crescent and three white stars on blue be suitable. The crescent emblematic of name of islands, and three stars of the principle islands in the settlement; Grand Turk, Salt Cay and Caicos Group.”
However, the Colonial Office realized that authorizing the flags required the use of the seal of the colony. A dispatch went back to Jamaica stating “ . . . it appears on further consideration desirable to follow practice in most colonies and emblazon flag with distinctive part of seal of colony.” The Colonial Office sent the Admiralty a drawing much like the one eventually published with the message, “If you concur, words Turks and Caicos Islands, which appear on the seal, will be inserted under device and within the wreath.” The reply was, “Words should be inserted.”
In 1881, the Colonial Office Book badges were re-drawn by a “heraldic artist” for publication in the Admiralty Flag Book of 1889. The two white semi-circles were to represent piles of salt raked on salt pans and ready to ship on the vessel pictured. The artist mistakenly thought they were buildings (or igloos) and inserted a doorway into one of the heaps! A tongue-in-cheek suggestion was a question for a quiz show: “What tropical island used to have an igloo on its flag?” (National Archives (PRO) CO 301/55 and CO 323/321) (David Prothero)
Two flags, one dated 1875–1889, and the other dated 1889–1968, do not show two different flags, but one and the same with only the artistic difference. The second image actually shows the erroneous “igloo” depiction from the Admiralty book. (Zeliko Heimer, 2004)
A close look will show that both badges are quite different. The masts and sails are different and clouds or billows behind the ship are on the second badge and the door on the one salt pile.
The Bahamas became independent in 1973 and the Turks & Caicos administrator was given the new title of governor. That is the probable date when the Union Jack was defaced with the present badge. The defacement with the shield of the arms in 1965 received Royal approval through the College of Arms. It was recorded at College of Arms in “Standards” Volume 3, page 113; 7 November 1968. (David Prothero, July 2003)

How many legs does a lobster have?

Coat of arms of the Turks & Caicos Islands

The flag of Turks & Caicos Islands today is similar to other British colonies. It has the Union Flag in the top inner quarter of the flag and the badge was replaced by the current shield. The shield is taken from the territory’s coat of arms and contains a conch shell, a lobster and a cactus. The arms were granted 28 September 1965 and the shield from the arms replaced the circular badge on the flag in l968. (David Prothero, 1997).
While the term Coat of Arms is applied to the shield, helmet, mantling, crest and supporters, in a strict sense the term applies to the shield only. It is correct to say that the arms are displayed on the current flag. The plant in the base is a Turk’s head cactus. It was named because its red fruit resembles a Turkish fez. It is clearer in the shield of the arms than on the flag. (Mike Oettle, 2004)
Martin Grieve notes that the shield on the flag differs from the shield of the full achievement of arms. The conch shell is all pink on the drawing of the shield as opposed to white and pink patches shown on the coat of arms. Album 2000 displays an enlarged detail of the shield which corresponds more with the shield from the arms. Grieve makes the case that the Turks & Caicos Islands have modified their arms at some point (2004).

Notice the difference in these two Turks & Caicos shields, including the number of legs on the lobster.

Writers differ on the number of legs the lobster should have. G. Evans, 2008, writes, “The representation of the lobster in the flag and badge seem to have ten legs in your artwork. I believe the correct number would be eight legs.” Grieve, 2008, answers with, “The official BR20 image has 10 legs (5 on each side), but it is more likely a mistake on the original (Pederson) shows 8 legs in the International Flag Book in Colour, published in 1970. It is noted that the Coat of Arms of Turks and Caicos Islands are displayed there and not the badge defacement. There is no getting away from it — 4 legs either side of the lobster is the correct way to go.” (Grieve, 2008)
James Dignam, 2008, states “Lobsters have ten legs normally (they’re decapods). Wonder why the official badge has only eight.” Marcus Schmoger, 2008, clarifies, “The animal on the Turks and Caicos arms, badge, and flag is a spiny lobster, not a lobster . . . this one is most probably the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. They belong (as do “true” lobsters) to the Decapoda, i.e. ten-legged crustaceans. I suggest that indeed 10 legs should be drawn. And I further suggest, that most probably, the original drawing shows ten legs, but perhaps the first pair of legs, being smaller than the others, might be hidden under the huge antennae; and further redrawings missed the small ones.”
Martin Grieve, in an attempt to designate the most accurate badge, believes that copies lead to a duplication of errors. He states, “The shield from the Turks and Caicos coat of arms (adopted 1965) should be the badge emblazoned on her blue ensign. The version from BR20 –change 8 is in agreement with the one shown in Album 2000 with a few minor differences — the most notable being the Turks head cactus which is positioned in the bottom of the shield. The present flag of the Turks and Caicos Islands would seem to have been altered ca 1999 — when the badge height was increased to approximately 1/2 of the hoist width.”

Where did the name come from?
The origin of the Islands’ name takes two versions. It is often suggested that the name Turks was taken from the indigenous cactus that sports the “fez” of Turkey. That would possibly connect with the story that reflects the Islands’ history. Pirates lived on the Islands and preyed upon the passing ships. The term “Turk” for a pirate was used when the Ottoman Empire dominated the Mediterranean, and Turkish corsairs (pirates) raided European shipping, thus “Turks Islands” became “Pirate Islands.” The easily found cactus indeed wears a red hat! The name Caicos means “string of islands” and came from a Lucayan term cava hico.
The Turks & Caicos Islands’ history is unique in so many ways, that it is not surprising that the history of the flag is convoluted from igloos to lobster legs. The current flag, with the yellow shield, the conch, lobster, and cactus emblazoned on the deep water blue with the Union Jack in the far corner, certainly brings pride and stirs the national spirit.

Many thanks to the writers mentioned for their knowledge and effort to seek the steps accurately in the formation of the flag of Turks & Islands. Forgiveness is asked for some incidental error you may find.

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South Caicos was once a major exporter of salt harvested from its extensive salinas. Award-winning Master and Craftsman Photographer James Roy of Paradise Photography (myparadisephoto.com) created this vertical composition by assembling a series of six images captured by a high-definition drone which was a half a mile away from his position.

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