Descendent of Jack Crawford visits Sunderland to pay tribute to his hero ancestor

Brian Franklin, the great-great-great-grandson of Jack Crawford with an original idea for the Jack Crawford statue which is now in Mowbray Park.
Brian Franklin, the great-great-great-grandson of Jack Crawford with an original idea for the Jack Crawford statue which is now in Mowbray Park.
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A DIRECT descendent of a famous son of Wearside has made his first visit to the city – to pay tribute to the national hero.

Sailor Jack Crawford won the admiration of the nation after nailing a flag to the broken mast of HMS Venerable during the Battle of Camperdown in 1797.

Now, 216 years on from Jack’s heroic deed, his great-great-great-grandson Brian Franklin has been visiting Sunderland to find out more about his ancestor.

“I’m proud of my grandad Jack, who wouldn’t be?” said Brian, a Buckinghamshire-based heating engineer. “He was an ordinary guy, who did an extraordinary thing.

“As far as I’m aware, my children and I are Jack’s only direct descendents. I come from a long line of only children – which makes tracing the family line very easy!”

Jack Crawford, the son of a Scottish keelman, was born in Pottery Bank in March 1775 and sent to work on the keels as a cabin boy while still a young child.

He went on to serve a Royal Navy apprenticeship from the age of 11 and later enlisted on HMS Venerable – the ship commanded by Dundee-born Admiral Adam Duncan.

It was on October 11, 1797, that Duncan led a fleet of 15 British ships into battle against the Dutch, in an attempt to prevent them from joining the enemy French fleet.

“At the height of the conflict, just off the coast of Holland near Camperdown, the Venerable’s colours were shot down,” said Pam Tate, of Sunderland Maritime Heritage.

“Young Jack scaled the rigging to nail the colours back on to the broken mast. He was shot through the cheek during the brave deed, a wound that proved hard to heal.”

The driver of a Durham mail coach brought the first news of the British victory at Camperdown to Sunderland at 11am on a Sunday morning – to great delight.

Indeed, such was the joy felt by townsfolk that one man disrupted the service at Sunderland’s Old Parish Church to shout out the victory to the congregation.

“Jack was hailed as a hero and his bravery was rewarded with a silver medal from the people of Sunderland, as well as an annual pension from King George III,” said Pam.

“But he was to sadly die a poor man. On November 10, 1831, he became the second victim of a Sunderland cholera epidemic and was buried in an unmarked grave.”

Despite having been the nation’s hero, it took more than 50 years before a headstone was placed on Jack’s plot. Later, in 1890, a statue was also erected in Mowbray Park.

“I believe the ceremony to unveil the statue of Jack was the last time a member of my Crawford family visited Sunderland – and that was 123 years ago,” said Brian, 61.

“By the end of the 19th century, the family had moved down south. My great-great-grandad, John Crawford, travelled from London to attend the event on April 7, 1890.”

Brian, a keen sailor like Jack, made his own trip to Sunderland after taking part in an International Yachting Fellowship of Rotarians event at Sedgefield earlier this week.

A whirlwind tour of the Old Parish Church, Jack’s statue in Park Mowbray and Sunderland Maritime Heritage – where a model of Venerable is being built – left him exhausted and elated.

“I’d always fancied paying a visit to Sunderland, but it just never happened. Then my wife, Vanessa, looked on the map and realised how close Sunderland was to Sedgefield,” said Brian.

“The trip has been fascinating. I suppose I knew as much about Jack as most people before I came, but now I can picture much more clearly what his life must have been like.

“I can’t thank Pam enough for taking the time to show us around, and everyone else we met too. They all helped us fill in more pieces in our family history jigsaw puzzle.”