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Union Jack (historical usage)

1817 trial of Marinel Krans and others with reference to the Union Jack

Last modified: 2003-03-14 by rob raeside
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Some extracts, concerning flags, from the report of a trial at Admiralty Sessions, Old Bailey, Friday 25 April 1823. King versus Marinel Krans and Others.

H.M. Revenue Cutter 'Badger' in the service of the Customs Department encountered a vessel that was suspected of smuggling, and hoisted a red pendant and a Revenue Ensign as a signal to the vessel that it was to heave-to. When it did not, an unshotted gun was fired to draw attention to the signal. The vessel, which proved to be a cutter named 'Four Brothers', continued on its way and hoisted no colours. A shot was then fired into the 'Four Brothers', which returned the fire. After a three hour engagement, in the course of which one member of the crew of the Customs Cutter was killed, the 'Four Brothers' was captured.

At the trial the prosecution had to show that the signal requiring a vessel to heave-to, had been hoisted correctly. The relevant regulation was an Order in Council of 1 February 1817. Before opening fire, a Revenue Cutter should, "wear a pendant with a red field having a regal crown described thereon at the upper part next the mast", and, "for an ensign a red jack with a Union jack in a canton at the upper corner thereof next to the staff, with a regal crown described in the centre of the red jack."

The prosecution stated that before opening fire, a Revenue Pendant, red field with a crown next the mast, was hoisted at the masthead, and a Revenue Ensign, Union at the upper corner in a red field, at the peak-end.

Justice Park, and Mr Jervis, King's Advocate, questioning Lt.Henry Nazer, the Revenue Cutter's Commander.

Judge to Lt. Nazer.
Q. Describe what the field of the ensign was.

A. The field was red.

Q. Have you any technical term for that in the navy ?

A. No. I should call it the Revenue Ensign.

Q. Is there any such thing in your naval description as a jack ?

A. Yes.

Q. Had it a jack ?

A. Yes, at the corner.

Mr Jervis to Lt.Nazer.
Q. What was the Union jack in ?

A. In the ensign.

Q. Have you any word to describe that ?

A. No.

Q. Have you such a word as a 'canton' ?

A. No.

Q. At what corner was it ?

A. The upper corner next to the peak.

Q. Is that what you call the staff ?

A. Yes, it should be.

Judge. Tell us what it was, not what it should be.

A. It was next the peak; the upper corner of the ensign.

Q. What is the peak ?

A. The gaff of the main sail.

The actual pendant and ensign were produced in court.

Judge questioning First Mate of the Revenue Cutter.
Q. Is that the ensign ?

A. Yes.

Q. Which would go next the mast ?

A. This part (the end containing the Union jack).

Q. Is there any regal crown there ?

A. Yes, in the centre.

Q. Do you know the word 'jack' at all ?

A. Yes.

Q. Which is the 'jack' ?

A. This (pointing to it).

Q. Just open that part again where the crown is in the ensign; what is that chequered thing in the middle ?

A. That is what we call the Union.
This (pointing to the red part) is what we call the field.

Mr Jervis. He does not know the term 'canton'. It is a term of heraldry. Are those the usual signals ?

A. Yes, they are.

Q. And you put them up before you fired the unshotted gun ?

A. Yes.

Mr Gurney, prosecuting, questioning John Ferrier, Vice-Admiral of the Red, who seemed to be appearing as an expert witness.

Q. You saw the jack displayed just now ?

A. Yes.

Q. Is that a red jack with the Union jack in a canton at the upper corner ?

A. It is usually called a Red Ensign; the 'jack' is commonly called the 'canton'.

Judge. Is that an ensign; a red jack with a Union jack in a canton at the upper corner there, next the staff, and with a regal crown described in the centre of the red jack ?

A. It is what is usually called a red ensign.

Q. Does it bear that character ?

A. Yes it does. It is the usual way in which ensigns are made.

Mr Brougham, defending, questioning Ferrier.
Q. What is a canton ?

A. It is generally understood as the upper part of the ensign, next to the staff, where the Union jack is fixed, attached to the ensign.

Q. Is it not a part of the flag partitioned off by a separate division?

A. It is attached to it. It is what they call the Union jack, which forms the ensign, and is a quarter of the flag.

Q. Is it not enclosed in lines of some different colour ?

A. The Union jack is formed of different colours.

Q. You say, if I understand you, that on the ensign, the Union jack is in the canton ?

A. No, it is termed the canton.

Q. The Union jack is called a canton of itself ?

A. No, I do not mean to say that.

Q. Is it in a canton ?

A. Yes, it is in a canton.

Q. Is the Union jack in a canton; is that the nature of the thing ?

A. I do not exactly understand you.

Q. You tell me the Union jack is in a canton.

A. I tell you what is generally done.

Q. Does that not imply that the Union jack is in a part called the canton?

A. I did not exactly understand before. The ensign is to be considered as composed of four cantons.

Q. What do you understand by 'Union jack in a canton' ?

A. As forming one part of the ensign. Supposing it divided into four parts, that in the upper part of it; and it is generally hoisted next the mast or ensign staff.

Q. You would call those four parts the canton ?

A. I suppose so. I do not know that it is so.

Q. It appears that the jack is in one of the four cantons ?

A. Yes.

Part of Justice Park's summing up.
"On the subject of the canton, which is an heraldic phrase and, which every person acquainted with the subject knows forms a small district in that ensign separated from the rest and surrounded with crowns. That is the description in books of heraldry of what a canton is. Therefore I think upon that part of the case it is as well to relieve your minds from it at the outset."

Krans and the crew were acquitted by what the Judge described as "a merciful jury", because the ship was foreign owned and more than half the crew were foreign born. The seizure was made off Dieppe, which was within 'limit for natives', but beyond 'limit for foreigners'. Locally it was known, but not proved, that most of the crew were English, simulating ignorance of the English language, and that the vessel's owner lived in Folkestone. [Public Record Office CUST 143/12]

David Prothero, 14 February 2003

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