Kellett sledge flag

The Kellett sledge flag is made from silk. The motto translates to Help From Above.

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The flag had been barred from export in the hope £120,000 can be raised to keep it in the UK. Now the final £30,000 is required to secure it.

The museum has a commitment from its ring-fenced Purchase of Exhibits fund, the Art Fund has donated £40,000 and £10,000 has come from a number of private UK and US donors leaving £30,000 to raise.

If successful the flag will go on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard later this year.

The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) issued the temporary export block last year to give UK institutions the chance to raise the recommended price of £120,000 (plus VAT of £24,000 which can be reclaimed by an eligible institution).

Arctic explorer

Irishman Captain Henry Kellett was a famous arctic explorer involved in expeditions charting the Northwest Passage – the sea route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean – which had become a focus for science, trade and geographical exploration.

During the search for HMS Erebus and HMS Terror – Sir John Franklin’s expedition ships lost in 1845 – Captain Kellett’s voyages helped map out the northern extremes of North America for Britain. The sledge flag serves as an important reminder of the tragedy of Franklin’s failed voyage.

One of the earliest known flags still in existence (dating to c.1851-52), the silk sledging flag passed by continuous descent through the Kellett family but its current owner is not known. 

Professor Dominic Tweddle, director general of The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “Sledge flags were a peculiarly British phenomenon, grounded in medieval chivalry, where these officers were new knights in a new field of combat. Sledge flags contain a lot of iconography, telling the viewer what was felt to be important in the imagery used about that person’s life. With so few known to have survived and in public collections, the Kellett sledge flag takes on a greater significance.”

Ship wrecks discovered

The wrecks of HMS Terror and HMS Erebus were discovered in 2014 and 2016 and the museum is due to receive some items from managers of the wrecks: Inuit and Parks Canada.

The museum’s fundraising project also has support from TV personalities including actor Michael Palin and TV historian Dan Snow.

Presenter and actor Michael Palin, author of Erebus, The Story of a Ship, said: “The Kellett sledge flag is an inspirational piece of naval history and should be kept for all to see so that the story of the brave men who flew it is never forgotten.”

The National Museum of the Royal Navy raised funding in 2020 to keep a group of hand-drawn Armada maps in the UK.