Waterford’s green ensign

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, General, Issue 3 (May/June 2011), Letters, Volume 19

Sir,—In response to the news item on the national flag and the city of Waterford (HI, March/April 2011), the following account might be of interest.


In a letter written aboard HMS Lucifer at Waterford on 19 July 1845, to Rear Admiral Sir Hugh Pigot at Cove, her captain, Commander George Alexander Frazier, reported that he had sighted a schooner, the Nora Craina, at anchor off Passage East flying a green ensign ‘at the peak’ in contravention of the royal proclamation of 1801. He immediately dispatched one of his officers in a boat to have it hauled down. Upon confiscation of the flag the Nora Craina, bound for St Johns, Newfoundland, with a general cargo, was allowed to proceed on her voyage.


This was the first in a series of seizures of green flags being flown by various Irish merchant ships and boats. The Repeal movement seems to have been the motivation for these demonstrations of national fervour. It is also noteworthy that this activity was centred only in Waterford. Apart from the political significance of such flags, there was also a legal maritime implication—vessels were required by law to display their ‘correct’ ensigns.


The incident with the highest profile, and possibly designed to be the most provocative, occurred in Cork harbour on 8 April 1844. William Bowles was then the admiral at Cove, aboard the Volage. On that morning a steamship, the Mermaid, arrived with the mayor and corporation of Waterford aboard on their way to a dinner in honour of Daniel O’Connell in Cork. She was flying a ‘green ensign’ from her ensign staff and a green flag with the word ‘Repeal’ on it from the fore masthead. Before she came abreast of the Volage, presumably anchored off Cove, she fired two or three guns and dipped her ensign to the men-of-war as she passed. The officers in the Volage prevented their signalman from returning the salute, but other naval ships did so. She had passed the naval ships so unexpectedly and quickly and disappeared round the bend at Black Point that there was no time for any action to be taken. As she passed Cove, people cheered and the cheering was returned by those on the Mermaid. She had also been sighted by the naval ship Pluto anchored at Passage East the previous evening, but again had been going so fast, on an ebb tide, that she was gone before any action could be taken. A similar outfit of flags was noted by the Pluto.


The following morning the Mermaid appeared again, outward bound. She was flying a red ensign (the correct one for a merchant ship) at her ensign staff, but a green flag with ‘some device and a motto in it’ at her mainmast head. She fired one gun on coming into sight of the naval ships in Cove and another on approaching the Volage. Captain Dixon of the Volage ordered Lt Chapman in the ship’s pinnace to board the Mermaid and seize the green flag. As she passed the Volage a band was playing. There was some difficulty in getting her to slow down to allow the boarding party aboard, and Dixon ordered a gun to be fired to get her to heave to, which she did and Chapman was able to board. When he ordered the green flag to be lowered and handed over, the master complied immediately but said that it was the Waterford arms. Chapman replied that he had instructions to confiscate it, but that if it was a proper flag it would be returned to them.


The various flags that were confiscated were given into the stores at Haulbowline. On 18 October 1845 the admiralty wrote to Admiral Pigot at Cove that they had decided that the ‘green ensign’ seized from the Mermaid was to be returned to Benjamin Morris Wall, mayor of Waterford, on the undertaking that it would not be flown from any vessel again. On 31 December 1845 Mayor Wall wrote to the admiralty to say that he still had not received the flag, the property of the corporation of Waterford. In January 1846 Lt Wentworth, the naval storekeeper, was instructed by Admiral Pigot to write to the mayor and make arrangements for the handover of the flag. Presumably this was done. I wonder whether this flag is still in Waterford?—Yours etc.,




Co. Cork


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