Sunderland folks have launched a nationwide appeal to find the flag that young Sunderland sailor Jack Crawford famously nailed to the mast of HMS Venerable during the battle of Camperdown in 1797.
The illustration is courtesy of Sunderland Antiquarian Society.
His a dangerous action is said to have changed the course of the battle, which the British Navy went on to win. It’s also claimed that this event is the source of the saying ‘to nail your colours to the mast’.
Born in Sunderland’s East End on 22 March 1775, Jack became a keelman ferrying coal on the River Wear at the age of just 11.
After being press ganged into the Royal Navy in 1796, he served on the gun ship HMS Venerable under Admiral Duncan, the Royal Navy Commander-in-Chief of the North Seas.
In 1797, Britain was at war with France, Holland and Spain and, on 11 October, the British and Dutch Navies met in battle off the coast of Norway, near Camperdown, close to Bergen.
In a daring but successful move, Admiral Duncan divided the British fleet into two groups, which firing broadsides broke through the Dutch ships. The strategy prevented the Dutch fleet from joining the French Navy, and scuppered plans to first invade Ireland and then to attack Britain.
During the fierce fighting, HMS Venerable was badly damaged and the main mast, bearing its flag – or colours – was brought down. As the Union Flag (the original Union Jack without the red saltire of St Patrick) was the command flag of Admiral of the Fleet, its loss could have been interpreted as surrender.
Under heavy fire, 22-year-old Jack climbed the mast and nailed the colours to the top to ensure no-one imagined there had been a surrender.
He was later hailed a hero for his action and honoured at a great victory procession in London, and the people of Sunderland presented him with a silver medal. Later he was formally presented to King George III and granted a pension of £30 a year.
In 1890 a bronze statue commemorating his deed was erected in a Sunderland park and unveiled by the Earl of Camperdown, the grandson of Admiral Duncan. At this ceremony, it is said, the colours Jack nailed to the mast were on display.
Since that time, however, they have been lost and Sunderland is now anxious to find them ahead of the Tall Ships race which will be in the town’s harbour in July next year.
Anyone who can shed light on the whereabouts of the colours is asked to ring 0191 2656111 or email email@example.com.
For more on Jack Crawford, click here.
Portsmouth Naval Base volunteers are to sail the schooner Pickle from Hull to the Solent to attend a celebration of the original HMS Pickle’s voyage to Falmouth carrying the news of the victory at Trafalgar and the death of Admiral Lord Nelson.
The battle took place off Cape Trafalgar (not far from the Southern tip of the country) and the journey took ten days – and then it took another 37 hours for captain Lieutenant John Lapenotiere to reach the Admiralty in London.
On arrival, it’s recorded that he announced: ‘Sir, we have gained a great victory but we have lost Lord Nelson.’
The accomplishments of Lapenotiere and his small boat are celebrated each November 4 – the anniversary of Pickle’s arrival in Falmouth – with Pickle Night, an evening for naval ratings to remember the heroes of 1805 and generally let their hair down, often dressed in the uniform of the day.
HMS Victory hosts a special Pickle Night event on the great ship’s lower gun deck with 104 specially-nominated ratings dining with Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Jonathan Woodcock.
HMS Victory executive officer WO1 Dickie Henderson along with some senior ratings serving aboard Nelson’s flagship thought this year the presence of a replica (the original Pickle was wrecked more than two centuries ago) berthed next to Victory, would add to the proceedings.
The current Pickle was built 20 years ago in the Baltic, has a hull similar to the original and was adapted to look more like the original HMS Pickle to mark the 200th anniversary of Trafalgar.
The crew will live in more comfort than sailors of Nelson’s era but he sailing gear would have been recognisable to old time sailors. On her planned way south from the 25th-30th October, she is to call at Harwich, Dover and Eastbourne, and reach Portsmouth on the 30th.
Thanks to support from long-time Navy supporter Sir Donald Gosling and his foundation, and the RN RM Charity, up to six sailors, at a time, from HMS Victory and Portsmouth Flotilla will be able to crew the Pickle on each leg (the longest is 36 hours)… I gather there has been no shortage of volunteers.