A mystery about Titanic's mast flags


J

Jason Smith

Guest
Just wanted to clear something up here. How is it that Ken Marshall adds the American Stars and Stripes to the top of the foremast on the Titanic in his paintings? Despite the fact that she was registered as a British ship and crewed by a British crew, with the exception of some foreigners.

Not only that, if you look at contemporary photographs, especially the starboard view of the Titanic passing the Isle of Wight with her anchor lowered to the waterline on 10th April, you can quite clearly see that the Titanic isn't flying the Stars and Stripes on either of her masts.

Do you think that this was just a little bit of wishful thinking by Ken Marshall? Why did he add the Stars and Stripes if it wasn't really flown on the Titanic? Did the Titanic fly any other flags except for the White Star Line pennant?

titanic-starboard.jpg

titanic-starboard.jpg
 
Jason,
the foremast depicted the country of destination, and in this case it was the USA. Ken Marschall depicts this accurately in his paintings. The main mast was reserved for the White Star burgee.
I will look further into this tonight when I can be in front of my books and Ken's paintings to see if perhaps the trip to Cherbourg would have found Titanic flying the France flag and from France to Ireland the Irish colors. It's been a long time since I researched the flag placement on the Titanic's foremast.

Dan
 
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Dan~
Your supposition is correct! I spoke with a Titanic flag expert not long ago when i was having replicas of Titanic's flags made and he echoed your words exactly! He said that Titanic would have been flying the US flag (46 stars I believe at that time) to signify the US as her place of destination in addition to the Blue Ensign, the Blue Peter, the union Jack and the White star burgee.
 
You'd better get another "expert". The Union Jack, so-called (properly the Union Flag), was not flown on merchant ships. The Blue Peter (International Code P) was only flown before sailing. Photos generally show Titanic flying (more correctly wearing) only the Blue Ensign and the White Star burgee.

If she flew the US flag at all she would do it in international waters but properly it should have been hoisted on arriving in US waters as a courtesy flag. I'm more inclined to think that it she flew it at all it was in her berth before leaving, to show her destination. At Queenstown she had some sort of flag at the foremast head but it could be anything. Maybe the pilot flag. (letter H) She's also got something on the foremast at Southampton but it could be anything.
 
Dave~
Well, I guess each person may well have a different opinion of exactly what was flown and when. Let me clarify a mistake in writing that I made. I spoke again to my friend who reinforced that the following were most likely flown:
The 46 Star US Flag
The Merchant Jack (which I incorrectly called the Union Jack)
The signal flag Blue Peter
The White Star Commodore Flag
The White Star House flag
The Royal Mail Pennant
The UK Blue Ensign

As for exactly what time frame they may have been flown during, I'm not sure that anyone knows for sure and the position of these flags could easily vary. But according to the man I spoke with these were flags that the Tianic would have been eligible to fly. You are right about the Blue Peter being flown only before sailing, not a point I was disputing, it was included merely for completeness. As for what Tianic actually flew throughout her voyage after leaving Europe, I'm afraid that will remain a mystery as no pictures exist that I am aware of. If you have a reason for your differing opinion I would be interested in hearing it. I always welcome new and varying opinions that may expand my knowledge base.
As for the White Star Commodore Flag and the Royal Navy Blue Ensign, those would have been in defference to E.J. Smith's rank in the Royal Naval Reserve and the White Star Line. The Royal Mail Pennant could have been flown owing to the Titanic being a RMS which was actively carrying mail.
I am not a flag "expert" and am only passing on information given to me by someone who has been recognized as one. Again, if you have information contrary to that above, please share, I would be interested in hearing it!
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Ahoy,
Diane
 
Just as addendum: Eaton & Haas fine book Titanic: A journey through time also speaks of Titanic's flags on page 140 & 228. Their writings pretty much echo my "expert's opinion" and they share valuable resources in their bibliography. Included in their list are the Titanic's signal letter flags, HVMP, assigned by the Registrar General of the General Registar & Record office of Shipping and Seamen.
According to Eaton & Haas research " Aboard Brittish merchant vessels prior to 1914, the national flag hoisted at the foremast of any vessel when the voyage began denoted the country to which she was ultimately bound. The colors were maintained, according to regulations, throughout the voyage, irrespective of how many other countries were visited. When the voyage neared it's end, the masthead ensign was replaced by that of the country from which the vessel had initially departed."
Titanic's Commander, Captain E.J. Smith, held the Admiralty's Blue Ensign Warrant No. 690. This gave him rights to fly the Blue Ensign.
Ahoy,
Diane
 
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Diane,

If your expert is Jim Ferrigan, he's a friend of mine and we worked together on Titanic's flags. Titanic flew the Stars & Stripes out of Southampton...that much is documented in original (not reprinted and cropped in books) photographs of the departure. Smith did not fly the Commodore flag, because the rank and flag were not reinstated in the White Star Line until 1922. Dave pretty much covered the Blue Peter. The Merchant Jack was only flown when a pilot was aboard; likewise, the Royal Mail pennant would have only flown while Titanic was waiting for her tugs in New York (to show her priority).

There is no real mystery about the flags, because the information has always been there in the original source materials.

Parks
 
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Parks~
Thanks for clearing up when the flags were flown! Jim had told me they all were and you must have been the "expert" he was referring to when he said he had to check before he made the replicas for me! It's fun to find you here! I thought he said the commodore flag was flown, though I may have copied his words down in wrong my notes(I have several pages and there's alot of info there)! Where are the "original source materials" you refer to? I would love to go and read more about the flags. I don't remember him mentioning the tidbit about the commodore flag and rank not being reinstated till 1922. When were they discontinued? Look out now, I'm going to pick up any info on this I can from you because it truly interests me!
I read in an old thread somewhere that the Titanic was only dressed in all her flags on a few days before sailing, is this true? If you don't want to regurgitate written material please just give links and I will go read it myself!
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Jim and Eniko are wonderful and a rare find for anyone interested in flags. They gave me so much information that I didn't know and I love talking to them!
Ahoy,
Diane
 
I should also add, since the information on my now-defunct website regarding this subject is no longer available, that the signal flags you referred to were only used when Titanic needed to resort to visual signaling (day) to establish her identity. Eric Sauder pointed out, and I would agree with him, that Titanic probably hauled down both flags flying from the masts at sunset on the 11th, never to raise them again until she reached the coastal waters of North America. The only flag probably flying from the ship in open ocean would have been the Blue Duster at the stern.

Parks

P.S. With this post, I am leaving the Web-based world of Titanic for a while. It's been fun, but exhausting, and I need a rest.
 
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What might the "Merchant Jack" be?

Diane, the dressing overall was done on Good Friday, April 5th. That is an old custom that is done on festive occasions. One story is that it was done on Titanic by way of putting on a show instead of opening the ship for public inspection as was often done.

I'm damned if I can see the US flag in any photos and I've got quite a few. For me, photos beat speculation any day. I wouldn't trust Ken Marschall's drawings. I've got one of his showing Lusitania wearing the Union Flag. That was illegal because the Union Flag was reserved for the Royal Navy and the Royal Yacht.
 
Dave~
Thanks for the "dressing day" info! As for the Merchant Jack I will gladly defer to Parks who I am sure can explain it much better than I since he has done all the flag work with Jim. I believe the Merchant Jack and Union Jack are similar so maybe this is the one Marshall has on his pic of the Lusitania? The Lusitania is not a ship I'm at all familiar with, so it's truly a guess.
If Parks has some links about the flags we could both look there as to the US flag.
Ahoy,
Diane
 
Hello there,

Hope you don't mind my joining in, but I'm finding this such an interesting thread. None of my books offer a clear definition for 'merchant jack' but I found some information on-line. Basically, it seems to be an elongated Union Jack (or rather Union Flag) with a white border. It's also known as the Civil Jack, although The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea calls it a Pilot Jack as well…

Diane - I found James Ferrigan's Titanic flag information: Flags of RMS Titanic by James T Liston and James Ferrigan (http://www.nava.org/articles/titanic.htm). There's quite a bit of detail and pictures although not - unfortunately - of the Civil/Merchant/Pilot Jack). Their information on the WSL commodore flag is potentially misleading, but they do say 'possibly' flown, based on later WSL information (ie Captain Hayes in 1922?)

"From the middle of the nineteenth century, British merchantmen adopted the Merchant Jack. This flag had been introduced in 1823 as a signal for calling a pilot and so often also goes by the name of the Pilot Jack, but when it is used in this capacity it is hoisted on the mainmast rather than the jackstaff. Although apparently used widely as a jack on merchant vessels, the flag had no legal status in this capacity." (http://fraser.cc/FlagsCan/Nation/Union.html The Royal Union Flag, from The Flags of Canada by Alastair B Fraser- several paragraphs on the Merchant Jack, lots of references, etc)

(Lest anyone be wondering why a chapter from a history of Canadian flags is relevant, it's because: "...the Union Flag is the National Flag of Canada as of all other parts of His Majesty's dominions, and may be flown on land by all British subjects..." Lewis Harcourt, Secretary of State for the Colonies, London, 1911. Sorry if you didn't need/want to know but I thought I'd answer that one before I was asked - although I would be happier with a UK reference.)

Incidentally, does anyone know when the 'rank' of WSL commodore fell into disuse? Sir Bertram Hayes' memoirs provide information on the honour of its revival being bestowed upon him in 1922, but are vague as to who his predecessor was back in the mid-1800s. Skimming through The Ismay Line hasn't yet turned up a mention of the WSL ex-commodore who annoyed TH Ismay so much.

Thanks Jason, Dan, Diane, Dave and Parks (although you won't see this) - great stuff.

Cheers,

Fiona
 
Hi, Dave:

"I wouldn't trust Ken Marschall's drawings. I've got one of his showing Lusitania wearing the Union Flag. That was illegal because the Union Flag was reserved for the Royal Navy and the Royal Yacht."

Which Lusitania painting do you mean?

While I have the floor, I'd like to remind everyone that Ken is a commercial artist above all. I have never known Ken to claim that his paintings should be taken as gospel or used as a historical reference since details in his published works are very often dictated by commercial concerns. Almost every painting that Ken has ever done has been a commission. He paints what the customer tells him to paint. Publishers especially demand a little extra panache in Ken's renditions to appeal to a larger audience and increase book sales. Flags, in particular, can be easily used to add an extra splash of colour or interest to a painting. It's called artistic license.

So no, Ken's paintings aren't perfect, but keep in mind they are not supposed to be used as historical references. That's what archival photos are for.

Eric Sauder
 
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Eric, it's in Ballard's Lost Liners. My point is really the same as yours. People take Marschall and others as experts instead of getting back to primary sources or really authoritative texts on the practices of the time and preferably from the time.
 
Dave,
just as a side note, I for one do not take Ken's paintings as gospel or as an 'expert' through and through. I do consider his works carefully researched, but even the best cannot get it perfect 100% of the time.
Always in my historical writings, I refer to original sources, artifacts and period pieces and texts, sometimes to the chagrin of people from the time I am referring to, who "don't remember it that way!" (One lady insisted up and down a major historical event in our area occurred in the summer of 1927 and I was wrong-wrong wrong that I had placed it 3 years earlier, interesting since it was common knowledge as sure as the sun rises the event occurred in the winter of 1924, well-recounted by many individuals and carefully recorded in many period publications in 1924. It muse have been the best fiction she ever read, because after this argument, she purchased 3 copies of my research on the matter).

Have a good one, Dave! :)

Regards,
Dan C.
 
Fiona~
Thanks for joining in! I plan to go scour the sites you posted right after I finish this!
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Looking back at notes from my conversations with Jim (somewhat illegibly written
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) he did tell me that the Merchant Jack was used for calling pilots.
" Their information on the WSL commodore flag is potentially misleading, but they do say 'possibly' flown, based on later WSL information"
I thought he had said this so it's good to know I wasn't going crazy!
Thanks for offering so much info and please, anything more that you find share it!
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This subject has really gotten me interested (enough to have full size replicas of all the flags made
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)!
Ahoy,
Diane
 
J

Jason Smith

Guest
On Friday, 15th June, Parks Stephenson said that he believed the Titanic flew the Stars & Stripes out of Southampton.

As Dave Gittins pointed out, you can clearly see very good views of the Titanic on her sailing day at Southampton, from many different angles.

An especially good view is provided by the photographer who took picture of the Titanic's starboard side as she approached the Isle of Wight with her anchor lowered.

It's easy to see, easier with the blown up one I've got, that she WASN'T flying any flags from here masts, only what looks like a couple of small pennants or some sort...
 
Hi, Jason:

You wrote: "It's easy to see...that she WASN'T flying any flags from here masts, only what looks like a couple of small pennants or some sort ...."

Then I'm not sure what I see flying from her foremast in the photo on page 34 of Titanic: An Illustrated History. It looks like a flag to me -- and fairly large one, too, not just a pennant.

Eric Sauder
 
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J

Jason Smith

Guest
As I haven't go the book to hand I can't check. The reason I said that 'It's easy to see, easier with the blown up one I've got, that she WASN'T flying any flags from here masts, only what looks like a couple of small pennants or some sort...', is because if you look at the picture closely, you can quite clearly see the stern flag of the Titanic.

The flags, if they are that, on her masts look like some kind of thin, long pennant of some description in comparison to the full sized stern flag. See what you think...
 

Mark Baber

Moderator
Member
Fiona asked, a long, long time ago:
Incidentally, does anyone know when the 'rank' of WSL commodore fell into disuse?

The New York Times, 5 July 1920

HAYES TO BE COMMODORE
---
Olympic's Captain First to Receive White Star Title Since 1882
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In recognition of his valuable services rendered during the war, including sinking two enemy submarines and transporting 310,000 troops safely across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the White Star Line will confer the title of Commodore upon Captain Bertram Fox Hayes, D.S.O., R.D., R.N.R., A.D.C., of the liner Olympic, which arrived at her pier from Southampton and Cherbourg Saturday.

The title of Commodore of the White Star fleet, which carries an allowance of $1,000 a year in addition to the pay, has been in abeyance since 1882, when it was held by Commodore Hamilton Perry, who commanded the Britannic when she was in collision with the Celtic of the same company and afterward resigned.

His successor, Sir Bertram Fox Hayes, who prefers to be addressed as Captain Hayes, is a Captain in the Royal Naval Reserve, has the Distinguished Service Order for sinking the two submarines on May 12, 1918, off Portsmouth, England, and is A.D.C. to the King.

-30-

MAB
 
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