Published 26th May 2017
Amongst a number of items of Polar Exploration to be included in Bearnes Hampton & Littlewood’s next specialist Maritime Auction to be held on Wednesday, 14th June 2017, is a rare and well preserved Arctic exploration sledge flag (Estimate £6,000-£8,000) 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 Franklin's Lost Expedition of 1845.
The silk flag with Admiral 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 the following inscription:-
"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 1,000 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 bequeathed it to the family of Adml Richards".
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 North West 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.