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Maritime Image of the Day: The ensign from the San Ildefonso (1805)

PortandTerminal.com, July 7, 2020

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – Today’s Maritime Image of the Day is a photograph of the ensign from the San Ildefonso captured by the British in 1805 at the Battle of Trafalgar.

Measuring 33 feet x 48 feet and made of wool, this iconic flag hung at St Paul’s Cathedral during naval legend Admiral Nelson’s funeral service on January 9th, 1806.

The Battle of Trafalgar

The Battle of Trafalgar (October 21, 1805) was a naval engagement fought by the British Royal Navy against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish Navies during the War of the Third Coalition (August–December 1805) of the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

Drawing of the San Ildefonso was a 74 gun, Spanish Navy ship
San Ildefonso was a 74 gun, Spanish Navy ship that was launched in 1785. 

The British victory at the Battle of Trafalgar ensured that Napoleon would never invade Britain. Admiral Nelson, hailed as the savior of his nation, was given a magnificent funeral in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A column was erected to his memory in the newly named Trafalgar Square, and numerous streets were renamed in his honor.

Drawing of state funeral. Flags.
The 1,560 sq ft naval ensign that the San Ildefonso flew at the Battle of Trafalgar was hung in St Paul’s Cathedral at Admiral Nelson’s funeral on 9 January 1806.

The flag, damaged during the battle, was presented to the Royal Naval Museum by St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1907. It is rarely shown to the public due to its very fragile condition.

Damaged ensign hanging off of parapet of buidling.
In 1962 the ensign was draped over the parapet of the Queen’s House for photography
Damaged flag on museum floor
The naval ensign was displayed for one day only at the Museum, on 10 February 2005. This was probably the first (and last time) to see the object for many years.

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