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50 Treasures: The Armorial Ensigns of James Cook University of North Queensland

Our seventeenth treasure is a central element of JCU's identity and is steeped in history and tradition. From the JCU Art Collection comes The Armorial Ensigns of James Cook University of North Queensland.

Judy Newman answers the question "why is this significant?"

Historically, Armorial Ensigns were coats of arms, crests, and other insignias such as badges and mottos which were borne on the shields of knights, and later granted by the Crown to individuals and institutions. The Armorial Ensigns of James Cook University represent a significant artefact in that they are unique to the institution, reflect the tropical location of the University, and mark the date of its evolution from dependent University College to an established autonomous identity.
The Armorial Ensigns of James Cook University of North Queensland. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
The Armorial Ensigns of the University were gifted by the legal firm of Roberts Leu and North. A senior partner, George Roberts (1915-2015), arranged for a crest to be designed by Mr Morris Juppenlatz and Dr F W Robinson in Brisbane. This armorial design was granted by the College of Heralds in London in 1972. Its central feature is the shield which is symbolic of the University’s mission which is the pursuit of learning in a tropical environment. The white and blue undulating bars represent the sea; the sun refers to both geography and enlightenment. The book, a traditional symbol of learning, has been opened at a fresh page, emphasising new knowledge and research. The cross is an allusion to the parent body, the University of Queensland.
Letters Patent from the Grant of Arms to the James Cook University of North Queensland from the College of Arms. Image from Symbols and Ceremonial: The arms, academic dress and mace of James Cook Univeristy, by B.J. Dalton, 1992.
The crest alludes to Captain James Cook, R.N., whose ship, the Endeavour, carried the first scientific expedition to work in this tropical region and whose name the University bears. The supporters, brolgas, further allude to the local environment, as they stand on ground which is parched for most of the year. The badge, an ancient privilege, appears twice and the motto of Cresente Luce means light ever increasing.

Detail of The Armorial Ensigns of the James Cook University of North Queensland. Photograph by Michael Marzik.
The original heraldic document now hangs in the Special Collections section of the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library, Townsville campus, and it was here in 2014, in his 100th year, that George Roberts was reacquainted with it, much to his great delight. However, George Roberts’s role in the life of the University extends far beyond the gift of Armorial Bearings. As a Townsville City Council alderman he championed the need for an independent university on a site that would serve the community for generations. He was responsible for the original purchase of land at the Douglas site and for decades was a member of the University Council and many other committees and foundations. George Roberts is recognised as a man of vision and a pioneer in regard to the University, and in a very long life of community service, his contribution to the University could be considered his greatest legacy to North Queensland.

Bronwyn McBurnie (Manager, Special Collections) with George Roberts and the Armorial Ensigns of JCU of NQ when he visited  Special Collections  in the Eddie Koiki Mabo Library in 2014.

Over the course of 2020, JCU Library's Special Collections will be unveiling 50 Treasures from the collections to celebrate 50 years of James Cook University. 

Author Biography
Judy Newman is a fourth generation Townsville resident with a keen interest in the natural environment and cultural history of north Queensland. A retired schoolteacher, she currently enjoys working as a volunteer in the Special Collections section of the Townsville Campus Library. Judy is the author of the 2014 publication George Roberts CBE – A Life in Townsville and a contributing writer to We Who Would Valiant Be – The Cathedral School's 2017 Centenary book.

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