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Captain Kellett’s sledge flag (National Museum of the Royal Navy)
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Michael Palin backs ‘last ditch’ effort to save historic flag for Navy museum

Image: Captain Kellett’s sledge flag (National Museum of the Royal Navy)

The National Museum of the Royal Navy are leading the attempt to raise a final £30K to keep the 19th Century flag in the country

The National Museum of the Royal Navy has launched what it calls a ‘last-ditch’ attempt to keep a historic sledge flag from leaving the UK and being bought by a private buyer.

Between 1852 and 1854, the ‘Kellett sledge flag’ was flown by Captain Henry Kellett during the third of a series of expeditions in search of survivors of a quest to chart the Northwest Passage, the sea route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean.

A temporary export bar was placed on the flag in September 2022. The Museum said there are now two weeks left to raise a total of £120,000, a figure which has already been partially met by an Art Fund grant of £40K, and a further £10K from a number of private UK and US donors.

With the commitment from the museum’s ring-fenced Purchase of Exhibits fund, it is now turning to public donations to raise the remaining £30K.

If secured, the flag will go on display at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard later this year, as part of our ongoing programming strand on Wrecks which will include the objects from HMS Erebus and HMS Terror.

TV documentary presenter and actor Michael Palin has authored a book on HMS Erebus, one of the ships sought in the expedition.

He said of the efforts to save the flag: “I wish the campaign to save the Kellett polar sledge flag all the very best. It is an important reminder that men were prepared to put their own lives at risk to try and locate any evidence of the fate of Franklin’s expedition.

“The Kellett sledge flag is an emblem of survival and heroism in the most appalling circumstances. It 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.”

Dan Snow, a historian and broadcaster said the flag was “a part of our national story and it should be here for us all to learn from and be inspired by.”

“It’s a flag that’s been taken to some of the most remote places on earth, fluttering away above a hardy little team, reminding those men that no matter how lonely they felt they were part of something much bigger.

Chairman of The Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art and Objects of Cultural Interest (RCEWA), Sir Hayden Phillips said the flag was “of unique design, is redolent with our history and should live here.”

Professor Dominic Tweddle, Director General of The National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “With so few known to have survived and in public collections, the Kellett sledge flag takes on a greater significance, and will complement the objects we will soon be receiving from the wrecks of HMS Erebus and HMS Terror, from Parks Canada.”