Early inhabitants of Sierra Leone included the Sherbro, Temne and Limba peoples, and later the Mende, who knew the country as Romarong, and the Kono who settled in the East of the country. In 1462, it was visited by the Portuguese explorer Pedro da Cintra, who mapped the hills surrounding what is now Freetown Harbour and gave it its name Serra de Leão, meaning ‘Lion Mountains’. Its Italian rendering is Sierra Leone, which became the country's name. Soon after Portuguese traders arrived at the harbour and by 1495 a fort that acted as a trading post had been built. The Portuguese were joined by the Dutch and French, all of them using Sierra Leone as a trading point for slaves. In 1562 the English joined the trade in slaves when Sir John Hawkins bought 300 slaves.

Sierra Leone became an important centre of the transatlantic slave trade, until 1787 when Freetown was founded by the Sierra Leone Company as a home for formerly enslaved African American and West Indians. In 1808, Freetown became a British Crown Colony, and in 1896, the interior of the country became a British Protectorate.

On 27th of April 1961, the two combined and gained independence as a sovereign member of  the British Commonwealth.

A republic was proclaimed on the 19th of April 1971.




A coat of arms was granted by Queen Elizabeth II even before the gaining of independence on the first of December 1960.

It is:


Arms: Vert a lion passant Or, langued and clawed Gules, standing on a base Argent, two bars wavy Azure, and a chief indented of four points Argent, three flaming torches Sable, its flames proper.

Supporters: Two lions Or, langued and clawed Gules, each supporting a palm-tree proper.

Compartment: A grassy ground Vert.

Motto: UNITY FREEDOM JUSTICE  in green lettering on a white ribbon.


The three torches symbolize the African population and their ambition for liberty and knowledge. The chief indented symbolizes the green mountains which, together with the lion passant,  gave the country its name. The waves in the base symbolize the coast and the maritime trade, so important for the development of the country. The palm-trees are for the main trade-crop.


Maybe not by a wry coincidence, the lower part of the arms reminds us of the lower part of the coat of arms of Sir John Hawkins. (see below)

It may be known that  Sir John Hawkins (1532-1595) was the founder of the British slave trade in this part of the African coast.




The flag

was adopted on the 27th of April 1961 and consists of three breadths of green, white and blue. The colors symbolize respectively agriculture, peace and justice and the Atlantic.




The Royal Flag

The personal flag of Queen Elizabeth II for Sierra Leone showed the arms of Sierra Leone augmented with the royal cypher in the middle.



The presidential flag

 is dark blue with a white square in the middle on which is the achievement of the Republic.[1]



The Emblem of the Armed forces of Sierra Leone

is inspired by the former badge on the flag of the Protectrorate. It is:

Arms: Gules, an elephant statant on a grassy ground before a palm-tree proper; and a bordure Or charged with the words: REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE ARMED FORCES.

Garland: branches of laurel proper

Crest: The achievement of Sierra Leone.[2]


Ancient Emblems


The seal of the Sierra Leone Company showed a lion assaulting and the name of the company in orle. It was printed on coins of the Company



The badge of the Crown Colony showed a landscape with hills in the distance and an elephant before a palmtree. This badge, adopted in the fourth quarter of the 19th century was common for the British West African Settlements. In the case of Sierra Leone the letters ‘S.L.’ were added in base.



At the end  of the 19th century a coat of arms for the Protectorate seems to have been adopted. This showed a palm-tree on a silver field below a chief indented Azure, charged with a lion passant guardant Or. [3]







A new  coat of arms  was granted on the 30th of July 1914. This was:

Arms: Per pale, the dexter a seascape, a windjammer in the distance, a sitting African warrior on the shore, all proper; the sinister Or, a palm-tree proper. And a chief of the first Union Jack.

Motto: AUSPICE • BRITANNIA • LIBER. (Free under British (rule))





John Hawkins' Coat of Arms


Initially the coat of arms of Sir John Hawkins was:


Arms: Sable, a lion passant Or, standing on a base barry wavy of four pieces Azure and Argent, in chief three balls Or.

Crest: On a helmet to the dexter, lambrequined sable and Gules, a wreath Sable and Argent, a bound negro issuant proper.









In 1568, six years after his succesfull transaction of an odd threehundred black slaves, the coat of arms was augmented  by Robert Cooke Clarenceux, with a canton Or, a shell of St. James Azure between two daggers, points downwards Sable.




This is a sketch for the arms and crest granted to John Hawkins, 'Canton geven by Rob[er]t Cooke Clar[enceux] King of Arms 1568'. The bound African slave on the crest reflects the trade that Hawkins pioneered.

By permission of The College of Arms, London (1568)



© Hubert de Vries 2008-10-08

Updated 2010-02-24


[1] ) There seems to be some confusion about the right color of the flag, as no decree about it is known. A picture of President Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabbah (1996-‘97/ 1998-2007) however shows the color clearly to be dark-blue.

[2] ) This coat of arms was displayed during the handing over of some army trucks to the S.L. Armed Forces in 2005 (Photo Ministry of  Defence of U.K.). My reconstruction.

[3] ) The W’lls Cigarettes picture is the one and only documentation of this coat of arms available.