SYDNEY (Reuters Life!) - The last known surviving Union Jack to have been flown at the Battle of Trafalgar has sold to an American flag collector for 384,000 pounds ($636,300), more than 20 times its estimated price, media reported on Thursday.
The flag, riddled with holes and with a faint scent of gunpowder, was sold by an Australia-based descendent of Lieutenant James Clephan who was presented with the flag by the crew of the HMS Spartiate that fought in the 1805 battle.
The flag, which spent years in a drawer of a Sydney house, had been expected to fetch up to 15,000 pounds at an auction in London on Trafalgar Day, the anniversary of the battle when Admiral Nelson’s warships destroyed the French fleet off the Spanish coast.
The American collector, who won the bid, told Australia’s ABC Radio that relics like this flag were fascinating as they were items that people would not only die for but also kill for.
“It’s one of the most historical flags, certainly in the western world that’s well documented from a historical event and we’re familiar with the history of the Lieutenant who was given the flag,” said the collector, who wished to remain anonymous.
“I think his story himself is very intriguing and I think that’s what really attracted me to it, is that this is a man who worked himself up through the ranks of the British Navy and became one of only 16 captains to do that in the history of the Royal Navy.”
Clephan, a Scotsman, began life as a weaver but was press-ganged in 1794 at the age of 26 into the Royal Navy.
After the Battle of Trafalgar he went on to command his own ship and retired as a captain in 1840. He is thought to be one of only 16 men in naval history to have risen so high after being press-ganged.
The collector said he was working on a plan with the British government to keep the 3.5 meter by 2.1 meter (11 ft by 7 ft) flag in England.
“If we’re not able to work something out with the British Government, we, of course, will give it a good home in the U.S. and I’m sure it will be on view in the U.S. for people to see,” he said.
Auctioneer Charles Miller of Charles Miller Ltd, that specializes in maritime antiquities, said the flag was likely suspended from the bow of HMS Spartiate, the last ship in Nelson’s column during the momentous battle.
Miller said the Spartiate was also the ship that fired the shot whose splinter caused Nelson to lose or damage his eye.
The flag was believed to have been sewn on board the ship, made from 31 pieces of bunting, and given by the 540-strong crew to their popular officer, Lieutenant James Clepham.
The flag was handed down through generations of Clepham’s descendants after his death in 1851.
Writing by Belinda Goldsmith, Editing by Sugita Katyal