Rare naval expedition flag saved from overseas purchase

A rare naval expedition flag has been saved from overseas purchase by a last-ditch fundraising campaign.

The National Museum of the Royal Navy raised £120,000 to save the Kellet sledge flag from being sold to a private collector outside of the UK.

The flag is one of the oldest in existence and belonged to Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Kellett, a 19th century Royal Navy officer and explorer.

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of the National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Kellett’s sledge flag and Franklin’s expedition represent courage and fortitude in the face of adversity – core elements of our national identity that echo through our history.

“The National Museum is proud to have stepped forward to save the Kellett flag from being exported overseas and to continue our work linking navy to nation.” 

Grants from The National Lottery Heritage Fund (£98,170) and the Art Fund (£40,000) were essential to the camapign, as well as a temporary export bar placed by Arts and Heritage Minister Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay.

Documentary presenter, actor and author Michael Palin and historian and broadcaster Dan Snow publicly backed the campaign, generating additional support.

Stuart McLeod, Director, England, London & South at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “It’s fantastic news that the Heritage Fund have been able to support the acquisition of Vice-Admiral Sir Henry Kellett’s sledge flag and ensure that it is saved for the UK.

“The flag represents a fascinating time in the UK’s maritime history in which explorers sought to chart the Northwest Passage, in order to advance science, trade, and geographical exploration.”

The flag was made from a rich green silk but has faded over time due to light exposure; the museum’s conservation team says the flag is fragile, but in good overall condition.

It is decorated with an Irish harp, embroidered in golden thread, reflecting Kellett’s Irish heritage; the Latin motto “Auxilium Ab Alto” translates as “Help From Above”.

Several places have been named after Kellet, such as : Kellett IslandKellett Bay and Mount Kellett in Hong Kong, as well as Cape Kellett and the Kellett River in the Canadian Arctic.

The naval expedition flag flown during the third of several expeditions between 1852 and 1854 to track down the doomed expedition of Captain Sir John Franklin.

Sir John, along with 129 crew, died after their ships became icebound off King William Island (now part of Nunavut, Canada), whilst attempting to traverse the Northwest Passage in 1845.

After decades of debate and intrigue, the two ships used in the expedition, HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, were discovered in 2014 and 2016 respectively.

Sir John has a memorial in St John the Evangelist’s chapel in Westminster Abbey as well as a statue in Waterloo Place.

Credit: The National Museum of The Royal Navy

Related Articles