Appeal to trace the flag which made Sunderland hero Jack Crawford famous

An etching of Jack Crawford up the mast.
An etching of Jack Crawford up the mast.

An appeal has been launched to bring a flag which helped to secure one of the Navy's greatest victories home to Wearside.

Young Sunderland sailor Jack Crawford nailed the flag to the mast of HMS Venerable during the battle of Camperdown, in 1797.

The dangerous action helped to change the course of the fight, and in honour of Jack - known as the Hero of Camperdown - a campaign has begun to bring the colours home.

It comes as Sunderland prepares to host The Tall Ships Races next year.

The last known sighting of the flag was in 1890, when a bronze statue commemorating Jack's deed was erected in Sunderland's Mowbray Park.

Michelle Daurat, project director for The Tall Ships Races Sunderland 2018, said: "As far as we are aware, they have never been seen again, and we believe the time has come to find them."

The Tall Ships Races will take place between July 11 and July 14 next year, with up to 80 vessels expected.

Michelle added: "They will be very similar indeed to the sort of ships on which Jack served during his time at sea.

“He died in poverty and his heroic actions – which turned the tide of war - have largely been forgotten.

"But we want to change that and I can’t think of a better tribute to him or to the huge role played by this city to the nation’s maritime heritage, than to return the colours to Wearside.

“If anyone, anywhere can help us track down the colours Jack nailed to the mast we desperately want to hear from them.”

Jack was born in Sunderland's East End on March 22, 1775, and became a keelman aged just 11, ferrying coal on the River Wear.

He joined the Royal Navy in 1796, and served on the gun ship HMS Venerable under Admiral Duncan, the Royal Navy commander-in-chief of the North Seas.

Great Britain was at war with France, Holland and Spain in 1797, and the British and Dutch navies met in battle off the coast of Norway, near Camperdown, on October 11.

Admiral Duncan split the British fleet into two groups, which broke through the Dutch ships, firing damaging broadsides and preventing the Dutch fleet from joining the French Navy.

During the fierce fighting, HMS Venerable was badly damaged and the main mast, bearing its flag – or colours - was felled.

As the Union Flag was the command flag of Admiral of the Fleet, its loss could have been interpreted as surrender, but under heavy fire, 22-year-old Jack climbed the mast and nailed the colours to the top, leading to victory for the British.

Jack was honoured at a victory procession in London, and the people of Sunderland presented him with a silver medal - now in Sunderland Museum - in March 1798.

Coun John Kelly, portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture at Sunderland City Council, said: “Jack Crawford is very much a local hero so it would be fantastic to find the colours after all this time and bring them home to Sunderland for The Tall Ships races 2018.”

Anyone who can shed light on the whereabouts of the colours is asked to contact 0191 265 6111 or email