THE Battle of Trafalgar took place 210 years ago on October 21 when Britain won a resounding victory over the French fleet but Admiral Lord Nelson died.
A union flag (often referred to as a union jack) flown by HMS Minotaur at the battle was unveiled on the anniversary day at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich after hanging in a Kent church for almost 85 years.
Before the battle, Nelson announced that in order to ensure easy identification of friendly ships, each vessel should display the union flag. The flag from HMS Victory was carried in his funeral procession and then pieces were given to sailors who took part. The last complete flag sold at an auction was from HMS Spartiate which sold for almost £400,000 in 2009.
Towards the end of the battle, the master of the Minotaur placed his vessel between the damaged Victory and an attacking French ship, which earned him a sword and a privately produced gold medal (no official medals were issued by the British government at that time), both of which are also in the National Maritime Museum.
This flag and an Austrian flag from a captured Spanish ship were brought to England, by the master’s mate, Stephen Hilton and it was his family who presented the flags to St Mary’s church, Selling a village in Kent in 1930.
Like many churches, St Mary’s needed funds and announced in 2011 that it wished to sell the flags which were in storage amidst much controversy as many were worried that they might end up in private hands.
In the event a conservation report on the flags concluded that they would not survive if displayed again in the church, where they were also vulnerable to thieves or souvenir hunters. As part of the acquisition agreement with the National Maritime Museum, a replica flag was made for St Mary’s.