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Berkshire Family Historian
June 2002

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Waving the flag

by Carolyn Boulton

In 1998 an unmarked grave of the co-designer of the Australian National Flag, Annie Whistler Dorrington, was discovered in Karrakatta Cemetery in Western Australia. Within a year a monument to her contribution to Australia's heritage was erected. Annie was a gifted artist, one of the five winners of the 1901 competition to design a flag to celebrate the new Federal government of Australia. Almost 33,000 designs were submitted to the competition sponsored by the government and the Havelock Tobacco Co. Annie received a substantial prize of 40, about a year's salary.

The memorial stone erected in 1999 gives her birthplace as Winkfield, Windsor, in i866. After carrying out some research into her family background I discovered that she was not born in Berkshire. Indeed Annie was born on March 19, 1866 at Litchfield Grange, near Ashe, in Hampshire to Richard and Sarah Mills Whistler (nee Vines). The mistake over her birthplace has been perpetuated not only on her memorial plaque but also in print in a book on Winkfield.1

After Annie's birth the family moved around Hampshire and eventually when she was four her father, Richard Whistler, took up the tenancy of Lower Farm, Winkfield Park. Her formative

The 'flag'

years were spent at the farm, then about 430 acres, which belonged to Foliejon Park. The Park's history goes back to the King's manor of Foliejon in 1385 and adjoins Windsor Great Park. At the time of Henry VIII, Sir William Norreys held it until the sixteenth century. William Blane, a Scotsman who had made his fortune from the East India Company, owned the estate in the early nineteenth century. His older brother, Sir Gilbert Blane, a naval doctor, advocated the use of limejuice for sailors to eliminate scurvy.

When Annie was living at the farm, the occupant of Foliejon Park was Thomas Blane, a retired Civil Servant who had served in India. In his household was his nephew, a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, his niece, wife of a Captain, her six children and a governess from Sierra Leone. The huge workforce of butler, servants and grooms numbered 19. At the farm Richard Whistler employed nine men and four boys, including an old farmhand who was said to have fought at the battle of Waterloo. The Whistler family consisted of Annie's six sisters, Mary, Rosa, Ellen (also born in Hampshire), Flora, Jessie and Carrie and her two brothers Frank and Charles (all born at Winkfield, Berkshire), who all enjoyed living in the beautiful setting on the banks of the River Thames. Annie and her sisters are said to have spent their childhood painting, riding a donkey and in winter skating on the lake. She did spend some time, in her teens, with the family of her mother's cousin, John Charles Vines, who was an auctioneer and valuer at Odiham, Hampshire.

Annie Whistler Dorrington

Annie Whistler Dorrington

Her idyllic world was to change dramatically when in 1887 her father Richard Whistler died. His family from Old Basing, Hampshire and he was believed, but not proven, to be related to James McNeill Whistler, the American artist. Certainly Annie was a capable artist and taught others in later life. Her widowed mother Sarah Whistler found the farm, which had grown by then to 457 acres, too much to cope with and a bailiff was employed -Charles Dorrington. 'The sisters were all agog, and wanting to know his name, to which their mother tersely replied, 'It could be Ahasuerus (King of Ancient Persia) for all I know'. From then on Charles Dorrington was known as Asu and Annie used this nom de plume for her entry in the Flag competition.' 2

For whatever reason the Whistler family bravely decided to emigrate and in about 1890, they travelled on the steamship Britannia to Melbourne closely followed by Charles and Harry Dorrington. Charles and his older brother Harry were believed to be from Sawbridgeworth, Hertfordshire, and sons of a farmer. Annie and Charles were married at St Albans Church, Armadale, Melbourne, Victoria, in 1892. They moved to Perth in 1895 when Charles was made manager of the Swan River Shipping Company. About 50 of Annie's paintings were exhibited in London in 1908. Annie's brother Frank went across to the Western Australian goldfields to the pioneered land in Merriden where Harry Dorrington joined him later. Charles and Annie had no children of their own and none of her sisters married, as their mother did not approve of the 'wild colonial boys'. Miles from her family and separated from Charles, who was now a Shire Clerk in Mundijong, she found solace in her paintings of Western Australian wildflowers. The Art Gallery of Western Australia holds 124 of the watercolour paintings she produced. Suffering from bouts of depression Annie, died of cancer aged 60 in 1926 and was laid to rest in an unmarked grave.

In April 1999, 100 people, including many relatives, attended a dedication ceremony to mark her grave with a monument and a bronze plaque. The Australian Prime Minister John Howard sent a letter of commendation.3

1 The Winkfield Chronicles by the Winkfield History Project Group

2 The Flag and Annie Dorrington by Dorothy Cooper

3 The Annie Dorrington Story by Rr. Adm. PGN Kennedy


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updated 30th June 2002