Scott's Fourth Union Flag A New Historical Conundrum

It is seldom remembered that Queen Alexandra presented Scott with a second Union Flag in 1910, before he left London to join the Terra Nova in South Africa.

The first, according to the London Daily Telegraph on 21 April, had been presented in March "to be placed on the farthest point south reached by the expedition, if possible on the Pole itself."

The second, recorded by Scott's biographer Reginald Pound as "a Union Jack to be hoisted at the South Pole", had been presented on 1 June, after the Terra Nova had sailed from London for Cardiff, landing Scott at Greenwich, from where he went straight to the Palace. 1

One of the Queen Mother's flags, the Union Flag in Bowers' photos taken at the Pole, was left there. According to Scott "We built a cairn, put up our poor slighted Union Jack, and photographed ourselves .... [and then] carried the Union Jack about _ of a mile north with us and left it on a piece of stick as near the Point as we could fix it."2 Wilson wrote of flying "the Queen Mother's Union Jack" and going on to "the actual final spot [where] we left the Union Jack flying."3

The most striking feature of that flag is the wide binding at the hoist edge nearest the flagpole, and just such a flag can be seen in Ponting's photo of the 1911 Midwinter Day dinner. It appears behind Tryggve Gran, wrapped around what must have been a sack suspended from the hut's roof timbers.4

Could the second of Queen Alexandra's flags be the one on the table in Ponting's photo of Scott's Last Birthday Dinner? Hardly so. Apart from such unlikely treatment of a prestigious royal gift, the design of the flag hanging in the ballroom at Sandringham House, which must be the Queen Mother's second flag carried to the Pole, in no way resembles that of the birthday dinner flag.

The design of the flag at Sandringham closely resembles that of the one behind Gran in the Midwinter Day photo, although the hoist binding cannot be seen because the flag, along with those carried south by Shackleton, is kept well away from the light, high up in the alcove at the left„hand end of the main windows.5 Presented scarcely more than two months after the first, there is little reason to suppose it would have been different in design.

The obviously larger Birthday Dinner table flag has strikingly different design proportions, the most pronounced of which is the unusually wide white border to its St. George's Cross. In Ponting's photo, a bottle of sherry stands on the flag beside the box of chocolates. Some sherry bottles 6 changed little to this day, so the one on the table serves to establish the width of that border as approximately 80mm (3.15 inches), and that of the cross itself as some 145mm (5.7 inches); so the border is more than half the width of the cross.Could that flag be the large (l2ft x6 ft) silk Union Flag sold as lot 202 at Christie's 17 September 1999 Exploration and Travel Sale, as was surmised in their catalogue? Again, no, because the border of the St. George's Cross on that flag is markedly less than a third of the width of the cross.

The flag sold at Christie's is undoubtedly the one seen hanging behind Scott, and draped over a pile of cases, in the Midwinter Day Dinner photo, which has the same design proportions and size, as well as the same narrow binding at the hoist.

Clearly, al~o, it is identical to the silk Union Jack flown at Hut Point on 8 November 1902, which was photographed by Reginald Ford that day. His photo in the original expedition albums at the Royal Geographical Society7 shows a flag with the same design proportions, although the binding is not visible, because the flag had been wrapped around the flagstaff by the stiff breeze.

Sir George Nares KCB, acting on behalf of the officers of the 1875-6 National Arctic Expedition, had sent that flag to Scott on 29 July 1901, the day the Discovery had sailed from London for Cowes.8

The conclusion must be that the flag on the Birthday Dinner table, Scott's fourth Union Flag, was the expedition flag. In all the contemporary diaries and published accounts of the expedition, there is only one reference to it being flown. Griffith Taylor. describing the installation of the hut and its surroundings, wrote of it being hoisted "on the highest portion of Cape Evans . . . Nearby is the meteorological screen."9

The 1977 survey plan prepared for the Department of Lands and Survey, reproduced in David Harrowfield's Sledging into History, 10 contains no indication of a flagstaff on Wind Vane Hill, and the orientation and scaling of Taylor's makes it an unreliable source for positioning the flagstaff.

The DLS plan shows only a "flag pole" positioned behind the North Beach, some 55 yards north east of the hut at Cape Evans. That can be seen in Ponting's well-known photo, entitled "Winter Quarters at Cape Evans. 12

Three questions remain. Where is that flag today? Was it ever photographed flying at Cape Evans? Was the flagstaff moved from Wind Vane Hill to North Beach?

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