Last modified: 2015-07-28 by rob raeside
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The flag was seen on a poster showing the SS. Great Britain. It has the red cross of
St. George on a white background, the top hoist has the British union flag and the lower
has the Stars and Stripes. Is this an original flag or is it an artist's impression?
Morgan, 13 March 2002
It's not an artist's impression. The SS Great
Britain, being restored in the dry dock in Bristol in which it was built, flies this
flag. Another way of describing it would be a White Ensign with the Stars and Stripes in the lower fly. The flag symbolises the link which the
ship provided between Britain and the U.S. I had assumed that it was a modern, invented flag, but I will try to check with the S.S. Great
Britain Trust. The ship also flies a red flag with 'GB' in gold. On the quay alongside the ship are flown the flags of the countries
which the ship visited while she was working - the U.K., the
U.S.A., Australia and the Falkland
André Coutanche, 14 March 2002
In a leaflet about the ship available here [in Bristol] the flag can be seen
indeed to have a ratio of 1:2. So far as the origin of the flag is concerned, there is an
often-reproduced picture of her launch in 1843 which shows her flying all sorts of flags, but not this one. However, a painting of her
arriving in New York for the first time in 1845 *does* show her flying the UK/US flag - but I don't know whether this is a contemporary
painting or whether it's a modern artist's impression which shows the
flag because the ship flies it now.
André Coutanche, 22 June 2002
It is my understanding that in flag protocol, the Royal Standard is supreme.
It must only be flown from buildings where the Queen is present and never lower
than any other flag. Looking out of my office window I can't help but notice
that the SS Great Britain flies the Royal Standard everyday without the Queen
being present. It is also flown below the US Stars and Stripes - surely this is
a serious deviation in protocol or is it just a reflection of the UK-US 'special
Jonathan Jones, 19 January 2006
Since 2002, restoration of the ship has continued and the flags flown on her
have changed and they now include the Royal Standard (I don't think the combined
UK/US flag is now flown, but I will check). The reason why the Royal Standard is
flown is because the SS Great Britain Trust are re-creating the launch of the
ship when she was floated out of the dry dock flying the flags of the United
States, (Imperial) Russia, the Royal Standard, France and (Royal) Italy. At the
bow she flew the Union Jack and at the stern the White Ensign. A well-known (in
Bristol) contemporary painting shows the
scene. I think the white pennant on the stern mast is
an onomast bearing her name.
Along with the four flags flying from flagpoles on the dockside by the ship which represent the four countries she is associated with - the U.K., the U.S., Australia and the Falkland Islands - it all makes a very fine vexillological sight, and I have been meaning to take a photo and send it to the List. Unfortunately, I haven't yet managed the necessary combination of me, my camera, sun and suitable wind, so you will have to make do with the painting for now. I can't bring to mind where the S&S is flown *above* the Royal Standard, as mentioned in Jonathan's original message.
We have noted before the absence of any flag law in the U.K. In 1843, it seems clear that no-one found it offensive that the ship flew the flags she did, and nothing has changed - legally - since then. Prince Albert launched her, and presumably (a) didn't of himself qualify for the Royal Standard, but (b) didn't object to its use. I'm pretty sure we have also noted in the past the use of the White Ensign as part of general street decorations along with the Union Jack on patriotic occasions. The (mis-)use of the Scottish Royal Banner is also widespread. So if it was acceptable in 1843, why not now? Especially as a historic reconstruction of a historic ship?
André Coutanche, 19 January 2006
An item in the "Answers" column of the August 2006 "Mariners' Mirror" (p.
342) sheds some interesting light on the combined US/UK ensign that was
displayed on the SS Great Britain. It refers to a painting by Francis Hustwick
(1797-1865) called "SS Great Britain off Liverpool on September 13th 1845, upon
returning from her maiden voyage to New York." The item says the following: "The
relevant feature here is the `blended flag' at the foremast corresponding
exactly with the report in the New York Herald of 11 August 1845 (which the
present-day official replica does not!). Basically, this is a white ensign with
four horizontal red stripes in the lower fly, and a central blue horizontal bar
bearing three stars defacing the Union flag in the upper canton." The item goes
on to say that the flag was probably created by the ship's master, LT James
Hosken RN, and evidentially gained "tacit official approval." This would
indicate that the version of this flag above doesn't match the historical
sources (and neither does the one currently flown on the SS Great Britain in
Bristol). It would be good to verify this by examining the Hustwick painting and
the New York Herald article.
Peter Ansoff, 3 January 2007