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Exploring the Past: A 19th century Polar Exploration Sledge Flag

Posted on Brian Goodison-Blanks's Blog

Amongst a number of items of Polar Exploration to be included in Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood’s next Specialist maritime auction, is a rare and well preserved Arctic exploration sledge flag for Admiral George Richards CB, Commander of HMS Assistance in Sir Edward Belcher's expedition of 1852/3/4 in search of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror of Sir John Franklins Lost Expedition of 1845. The silk flag with Admirals Richard's personal heraldry comprising a lamb and flag crest with motto 'Laus Deo' (Praise God) in white silk on a blue reserve, is mounted in a glazed frame with inscription,

arctic exploration sledge flag for admiral george richards cb, commander of hms assistance    

Arctic exploration sledge flag for Admiral George Richards CB, Commander of HMS Assistance   

'This Banner was carried to the Arctic Regions by Admiral Richards CB. when Commander of HMS Assistance, in Sir E Belcher's Expedition 1852.3.4 in search of the Erebus and Terror, under Sir J Franklin. After wintering at the Head of Wellington Channel in 76°55' N. Lat it was taken, in the Spring of 1853 to Melville Island and floated on every conspicuous height discovered, and having accomplished near 1000 miles, it was returned to HMS Assistance. Passing a second Winter it was again carried on a Sledge journey down the Channel westward and through Barrow Straits, and again returned after a sojourn of 73 days on the Sledge. On reaching England in 1854 it was presented to Mr Barrow. When the late Expedition of 1875 was fitted out under Capt now Sir George Nares KCB it was carried up Smiths Sound and hoisted on Cape Joseph Henry in Lat 83° N. On its return to England it was restored to Mr Barrow who bequeaths it to the family of Adml Richards'

 admiral george richards cb, commander of hms assistance in sir edward belcher's expedition of 1852/3/4 in search of hms erebus and hms terror of sir john franklins lost expedition of 1845.

Admiral George Richards CB, Commander of HMS Assistance in Sir Edward Belcher's expedition of 1852/3/4 in search of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror of Sir John Franklins Lost Expedition of 1845. 

Admiral George Henry Richards was captain of HMS Assistance under the command of Sir Edward Belcher on the Admiralty's last and largest Expedition to search for survivors of Sir John Franklin's Expedition of the Northwest Passage in 1845. In the early winter of 1850 the Assistance and the steam tender Pioneer became frozen in the ice off Northumberland Sound in the Wellington Channel forcing much of the searching to be undertaken by sledge. As sledges were man-hauled at this time by the men themselves they were treated in some degree as boats and each sledge named. The idea originated with Captain Horatio Austin who whilst leading a similar search in 1850 intended that sledge flags would "...retain esprit de corps, and a naval atmosphere,..' .The flags were usually the personal badge of the commanding officer who led the team on foot, carrying a gun ahead of the crew for protection. A similar sledge flag for Lieutenant Bedford Pim by Lady Franklin is held in the National Maritime Museum. A sledge flag used by Scott on his first Expedition of 1900-1904 made by his mother hangs in Exeter Cathedral.


This weblog is produced by Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood.

This article was originally published on Brian Goodison-Blanks's Blog on Wed, 05 Apr 2017 08:26:22 GMT.

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Brian Goodison-Blanks BA(Hons)Brian Goodison-Blanks BA(Hons)

Brian Goodison-Blanks is the Head of the Maritime and Sporting Department at Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood.

Originally from London, Brian Goodison-Blanks was educated in the South East and Hampshire obtaining an Honours degree in Archaeology, American Studies and Japanese culture from King Alfred’s College, Winchester.

Following a short spell working for Canterbury and Colchester Archaeological Trusts as well as The Ambel Project in Aragon, Northern Spain, he joined a well-respected local auction house in 1995 as a trainee general valuer, rising to Auction Room Manager.

In 2004 Brian joined Hampton & Littlewood with special responsibility for re-introducing the specialist Maritime Sale to the South West after a 15 Year absence. Brian’s interest in country sports has also led him to introduce the annual Sporting sale.


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