Flag flown on HMS Beagle?

Discussion in 'Other Flags' started by mattsaccount, Jan 21, 2009.

  1. mattsaccount

    mattsaccount Member

    The other day I saw a documentary on the Galapagos Islands. Included in their footage was a replica of the HMS Beagle flying a "red ensign" style flag. This flag design uses the Union Flag as a canton, and a solid red field for the remainder.

    Information about this flag from Ship's Badges and Flags : The RN Today : Training and People : Royal Navy reads as follows:

    Worn by all British registered merchant ships and civil craft. Merchant ships under charter to the Navy normally continue to use the Red Ensign. Some defaced Red Ensigns have been granted to yacht clubs by Admiralty warrant.

    These guidelines suggest that this flag would not have been used on the HMS Beagle, because that ship was part of the Royal Navy. However, other information suggests that this use only came about since 1864. My question is did the documentary get it right? I suspect they did, but I'm still curious :)
  2. Hi there

    In origin there were three naval squadrons, of the Red, White and Blue, and they took these colours from those of the Union Jack. The division was made in the 1680s, if I remember correctly. Because the Red Ensigns of England and Scotland had already been established as merchant flags a Red Ensign with the Union in the canton became the merchant flag of Great Britain upon Union in 1707. This led to potential confusion - was that ship a merchantman or a member of the red squadron?
    In 1864 it was decided to end this anomaly. Henceforth the White Ensign was reserved to the Royal Navy; the Blue Ensign undefaced to the Royal Naval Reserve and defaced with the appropriate departmental or territorial badge to government service; and the Red Ensign to the 'merchant navy' (as the term is in Britain).

    Does that help?
  3. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    To expand on af_uk's post: The original idea behind the colored ensigns was that the fleet would be divided into three squadrons, each commanded by an admiral. The respective admirals flew plain flags of a different color (red, white or blue), and all the ships under their command flew a red, white, or blue ensign. This was supposed to make it easier for the squadrons to coordinate their movements in battle.

    Over time, the colors became part of the rank structure. For example, the rank of Rear-Admiral was divided into three groups, corresponding to the three colors. A junior Rear-Admiral would "Rear Admiral of the Blue" [Squadron], and all the ships under his command would fly the blue version of the ensign. When he was promoted to "Rear Admiral of the White," all his ships would replace their blue ensigns with white ensigns. And so on.

    In practice, admirals sometimes overrode the squadron-flag system for practical reasons. For example, at the time of the Battle of the Nile in 1799, Nelson was a Rear Admiral of the Blue. However, he directed all the ships in his command to fly white ensigns during the battle, because he was afraid that the blue ensign might be confused with the French flag.

    The squadron color system was abolished in 1864, and the white ensign was designated as the one to be used by all Royal Navy ships. The red ensign has always been the ensign of the merchant fleet. Before 1864, therefore, both the merchant fleet and ships commanded by Admirals of the Red flew the red ensign.

    The Beagle was a bit of a special case, because she was on an independent mission and not attached to any squadron. Naval ships in that category flew the red ensign. The same was true, for the same reason, of HMS Bounty and of the ships commanded by Captain Cook on his voyages. The movie "Master and Commander" showed HMS Surprise flying the red ensign, for the same reason.

    Peter Ansoff
  4. mattsaccount

    mattsaccount Member

    Interesting, thank you both for the insights, I appreciate it!
  5. Paulhudds

    Paulhudds New Member

    Another side note. Ships with the red ensign where actually a lot safer than any other, especially if they where about 100ft long, and 360tons. This put them at a similar size to Cook's HMS Endeavour. Apparently, Napoleon had ordered the French fleets to leave it alone, since he also believed Cooks work was too important. That, and he wanted to get his hands on the maps of all the new territories that Cook was busily discovering!
  6. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    This put them at a similar size to Cook's HMS Endeavour. Apparently, Napoleon had ordered the French fleets to leave it alone,

    This seems rather unlikely. Cook's voyage in the Endeavour took place between 1768 and 1771. Napoleon was born in 1769, so he would have been a bit too young to give such orders.

    Cook's third voyage, in Resolution and Discovery, took place in 1776 through 1780, during the American Revolutionary War. Benjamin Franklin, the American minister to France, issued a directive "To All Captains and Commanders acting by Commission from the Congress of the United States of America" to allow free passage for Cook's ships. Unfortunately, Franklin was too late; he wrote the directive in March 1779, and Cook was killed in Hawaii a month earlier.

    Peter Ansoff
  7. Paulhudds

    Paulhudds New Member

    OK, maybe not Napoleon then. BUT the Endeavour was ordered left alone by the French. That much I do remember. Did a whole bunch of research some time ago, and found a fantastic book on the history of the Royal Navy. Unfortunately, I cannot remember the title of the book, nor do I have it with me, and I cannot easily go and get it, since its in my parents house in Manchester, and I now live in Japan.

    I am sure on the fact it was ordered alone, though, as I remember reading about it, and thinking that it was a really cool little nugget of information that really surprised me, so filed it away for later use in a pub quiz should the need arise...
  8. Peter Ansoff

    Peter Ansoff USA Flag Site Admin

    BUT the Endeavour was ordered left alone by the French.

    Hmm. This is puzzling, because Britain and France were at peace during the period of the Endeavour's voyage, and there would have been no obvious need for such orders. I wonder if the author was actually referring to Cook's third voyage and to the orders of the American minister to France rather than the French government.

    Where are you located in Japan? The International Congress of Vexillology will be meeting in Yokohama this summer. Unfortunately I won't be able to make it . . . I started a new job this year and won't have enough leave.


    Peter Ansoff
  9. Paulhudds

    Paulhudds New Member

    I am in a small town called Kashiwazaki famous for hosting the worlds biggest nuclear power plant. It was a surprise to find out that was a neighbour. However, they pay me an extra bonus every year, so its not all bad! I am about 3 hours from Yokohama, on the opposite coast.

    Hm. Will have to get my father to thumb through my book to check it out, make sure what I remember is right! He wont mind. He likes history books, and will thus read the thing from cover to cover before replying to me!

    May have to see if I can get over to the Vexi-thingy. Flags are interesting, no matter what people say. A flag, after all, is a relatively useless piece of cloth flapping in the wind all dressed in pretty colours. What allways fascinates me is how we imbue them with such significance, and importance.

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