Trafalgar's last Union Jack

2009-10-08 22:17

London - The last known surviving Union Jack to have been flown at the Battle of Trafalgar is expected to fetch up to £15 000 later this month after having spent years folded away in a draw in Australia.

The battle-scarred flag was likely suspended from the bow of HMS Spartiate, one of Admiral Nelson's victorious warships that destroyed the French fleet off the Spanish coast in 1805.

The delicate 3.5 x 2.2 metre flag, riddled with holes from shot and shell, was believed to have been sewn on board the ship.

It was given by its 540-strong crew as a token of their gratitude to Lieutenant James Clepham after the battle.

Clepham was a popular officer who served aboard the warship. He was recognised for his bravery at Trafalgar and later went on to command his own ship.

Handed down

The flag, which has been handed down through generations of Clepham's descendants since his death in 1851, is being sold by one of his distant relatives now living in Australia.

"It is a pretty important artefact," said Charles Miller, director of Charles Miller Ltd, a company that specialises in maritime antiquities, which will offer the flag at its annual Trafalgar Day sale in London on October 21.

"You mustn't underestimate the impact of Trafalgar - it's very easy to brush it off as a bit of jingoistic nonsense ..," he told Reuters.

"But don't forget this effectively ended Napoleon's conquest of Europe. Having finally smashed his combined fleet, there was no prospect of him invading this country. That was it, the end of Napoleon's sea power," Miller said.

The flag is expected to fetch between £10 000 to £15 000 pounds.


The Spartiate was the last ship in Nelson's column during the momentous battle - his warships all sailed in a line to engage the French fleet.

She began life as a 74-gun French ship that was captured at the battle of the Nile in 1798, another famous Nelson action, and was later absorbed into the English navy.

"The interesting thing about that is that she was also the ship that fired the shot whose splinter caused Nelson to lose or damage his eye," Miller said.

"So the famous images of him in a patch, which are bit exaggerated - he wore a shade actually - all that nonsense is down to Spartiate."