The three main devices (symbols) in the Cairns blazon are the martlet, anchor and acorn. The two main tinctures (colors) are or and gules.
The bright yellow colour frequently found in coats of arms is known to heralds as Or, or sometimes simply as Gold.1. Along with, argent, or silver it forms the two “metals” of heraldry – one of the guidelines of heraldic design is that silver objects should not be placed upon gold fields and vice versa 2. The yellow colour is often associated with the Sun, and the zodiacal sign of Leo.3.
The bold red colour on a heraldic shield is known as gules. It has a long history within heraldry, it is known that one of those who besieged the scottish castle of Carlaverock in 1300 was the French knight Euremions de la Brette who had as his arms a simple red shield.4. The word gules is thought to come from the Arabic gule, or “red rose” 5. Later writers associated it with the precious stone ruby and the metal iron 6, perhaps because of the red glow of iron in the heat of the blacksmith’s forge.
The martlett is by far the most common bird to appear in British Heraldry, perhaps only equalled by the eagle, however it is not a species ever to be found in an ornithologists handbook! The word itself is though to have come from the French word merlette, the female blackbird and itself a similar type of charge used in French Heraldry. 7. Over time the image has become quite stylised, without visible legs or distinctive feathers. Wade suggests that this representation arises from “the appearance of the bird of paradise to ancient travellers” 8. Other bird species may be named in coats of arms (cornish chough is a frequent example) but in actual execution their appearance is often indistinguishable from the martlet.
A wide variety of inanimate objects 9 appear in coats of arms, so of them still recognisable today, others now rather obscure. The images used are often simplified and stylised, the anchor is a typical case. For any meaning, we need look no further than a nautical or sea-faring heritage. Indeed, some arms go into great detail of the colours and arrangement of the stock, stem, cables and flutes of the anchor reflecting a detailed knowledge of the form and use of this device. 10.
Amongst the natural objects depicted on a coat of arms, trees feature frequently, either in whole or as individual branches and leaves or fruit. 11. The acorn, often represented in its early state as vert (green) 12 can be associated of course with the mighty oak, signifying, according to Wade, “antiquity and strength”, for obvious reasons.