Coat of arms

Coat of arms

Sydney's herald

Adopted in 1996, the City of Sydney's coat of arms adapts elements of an earlier design granted by the College of Arms in 1908.

A seal is born

In 1842 one of the first duties of the newly declared city was to acquire a seal to authenticate documents. The first example was simply inscribed with the Council's name and the date it was incorporated. Fifteen years later, a draughtsman in the City Surveyor's Department, Monsieur de St Remy, designed a new seal using heraldic symbols denoting aspects of the City's history.

The shield featured, as its main charge, a ship reflecting Sydney's maritime history. Above this, in the upper third of the shield (known as the chief) was a rising sun - later replaced by a beehive, the symbol of industry. The shield was supported on one side by an Aboriginal man, and on the other by a British sailor. The motto "I take but I surrender" was inscribed on a scroll beneath the shield.

Although de St Remy's original design was never formally submitted to the English Kings of Arms for a formal grant, it was the basis for subsequent developments and was used with slight variations throughout the 19th century.

In 1902 the City was granted a Royal Warrant, which created the Lord Mayoralty as a "mark of respect for the standing of the city in the Empire". Sydney’s first Lord Mayor, Thomas Hughes recommended the City commission a new coat of arms and submit a petition to be granted by the English Kings of Arms in London.

The new design created by Sydney heraldic designer, William Frederic Ward, used some of de St Remy's features. In place of the rising sun, the chief now honoured individuals significant in the history of Sydney. It featured the arms of Thomas Townshend (Viscount Sydney), after whom the city was named.

It also included the Naval Flag of England in the centre, denoting the contribution of Arthur Phillip in the foundation of the colony, overlaid with a globe and two stars, the principal features of the posthumous arms of James Cook. The final version, which was granted by the English Kings of Arms in 1908, included the arms of Lord Mayor Hughes.

Modern version

The modern version of the coat of arms features a shield charged with a crown and anchor, both traditional heraldic symbols that have long been the images associated with the City. The anchor represents the fact a naval officer claimed Australia for the Crown, with Sydney Harbour the site for settlement.

The mural crown denotes the power and authority of a city. The upper third of the shield, remains divided vertically into thirds and features simplified versions of the arms of Thomas Townshend; Captain Cook and Sir Thomas Hughes.

Together, these symbols represent the naming of Sydney, the British contribution to the establishment of Sydney, and Sydney's emergence as a great maritime port city. The six pointed star, or "mullet", above the shield is a traditional motif derived from European heraldry. The human figures have been removed, along with the motto, and replaced by a serpent and a coiled rope flanking the shield.

The new Coat of Arms introduced in 1996, which retains some of the elements from the previous Coat of Arms design

The serpent represents the Rainbow Serpent, a creator-being said to have formed the landscape in the Dreamtime as it travelled through the country. It bears the markings used by the Eora people, who lived in the area on which Sydney was founded. The maritime imagery of the rope and anchor highlights the diverse cultural origins of the people of Sydney, while the entwined rope and serpent suggest cultural harmony.


The design is used on the the City's seal, which authenticates documents and deeds with a clearly recognisable "corporate signature".

Its use is based on a medieval English tradition. It has no effect unless accompanied by the signatures of those members of Council who are present when the seal is applied.

The original seal comprised text which read "Seal of the Mayor, Aldermen, Councillors and Citizens of the City of Sydney, Incorporated 1842" . Following the official recognition of the Council’s coat of arms by the College of Heralds in 1908, a new seal was made that incorporated the coat of arms.

Last updated: Tuesday, 4 December 2012