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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more on Jack Crawford, click here.