The Royal Coat of Arms

30 August, 2009

The coat of arms above the main entrance to Immigration Museum, Old Customs House.
The coat of arms above the main entrance to Immigration Museum, Old Customs House.
Image: Kirsty Marshall
Source: Museum Victoria

Question: What is the meaning of the coat of arms above the entrance to Immigration Museum?

Answer: The Immigration Museum is located in the Old Customs House, the building in which the customs activities of Victoria took place. The role of customs was to regulate trade and immigration. Customs officers were responsible for recording all goods entering or leaving Victoria and the customs duties they collected formed the backbone of government revenue. Customs officers also controlled immigration, recording every arrival, and were in charge of censorship, determining what material might offend mainstream social values.

The first customs officer arrived in Melbourne in 1836, two years after the city’s founding. Customs activity was initially conducted from a tent, strategically pitched beside the Yarra River where the boats unloaded their stock and supplies. Three buildings have occupied the site of Old Customs House: the current building took over 20 years to complete, with construction beginning in 1855 and completed in 1876.

The Customs House was an important public building in colonial Victoria. Because it was built in the period of colonial rule, Customs House bore the Royal Coat of Arms of Great Britain. The function of the coat of arms is to identify the Head of State, signifying its authority and ownership. The arms are used in the administration and government of the country, appearing on coins, in churches and on public buildings.

The Royal Coat of Arms has evolved over many years and reflects the history of the monarchy and of the United Kingdom. In its design the shield shows the various royal emblems of different parts of the United Kingdom: the three lions of England in the first and fourth quarters, the lion of Scotland in the second and the harp of Ireland in the third. The shield is supported by the English lion and Scottish unicorn. The Royal crown is prominently positioned on top of the shield signifying the power and position of the Sovereign and below it appears the motto of the Sovereign, Dieu et mon droit ('God and my right').

Following the federation of Australia in 1901, Australia gained its own coat of arms. A warrant for the first official coat of arms was granted by King Edward VII in 1908. A second warrant was granted by King George V in 1912; these are the arms now adopted by the commonwealth government. The Australian coat of arms comprises a shield depicting the badges of Australia’s six states. It is supported by two native Australian animals, the red kangaroo and the emu. Australia’s floral emblem, the golden wattle, frames the depiction of the animals holding the shield.

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