Hoist the flag!
THIS summer, hearts of oak will throb at the opportunity to view a rarely seen trophy captured in an engagement, the anniversary of which falls on February 18. This was the capture of the French ship Le Généreux in 1800; its huge Tricolour ensign was immediately sent to the City of Norwich, where it has spent the past century in storage.
Now, this important icon has been unfurled for the first time in more than 100 years, allowing conservation work to be carried out before it’s shown in the exhibition ‘Nelson and Norfolk’ at the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery (July 29 to October 8).
Nelson was off Sicily when the French ship was first sighted. ‘I pray God it may be Le Généreux,’ he exclaimed. He then urged the captain of his flagship HMS Foudroyant to beat the other ships of the squadron for the chance to fight her. However, it was to be the surprise appearance of the much smaller HMS Success that gallantly cut off Le Généreux’s flight. The French Rear-admiral Jean-baptiste Perrée died after having one of his legs shot off. The ensign, measuring 52½ft by 27ft, was hauled down as a sign of surrender.
Enormous flags were necessary to distinguish the nationality of ships in the smoke of battle. This one has a special historical importance, having possibly flown at the Battle of the Nile. It could also be the oldest surviving Tricolour, the red, white and blue having officially been adopted by the French in 1794.
‘The ensign is remarkable for its survival in such a complete state, given its age and inherent fragility,’ says Ruth Battersby-tooke, curator of costume and textiles at the Norfolk Museum Service.
Norfolk Museums Service is raising funds for its full conservation and permanent display as part of a Nelson gallery and has set up an online fundraising campaign page at www.ctacostume.org.uk. The work is likely to cost in the region of £40,000.
The Tricolour in Norwich may be the oldest in the world