If you take a walk through Mowbray Park in Sunderland, it won’t be long before you find a strange statue of someone climbing what looks like a tree, with an old flintlock pistol reversed in their hand. The man depicted by the statue is Jack Crawford.
Jack Crawford, a Sunderland lad, joined the Royal Navy and served on HMS Venerable, the fleet’s flagship. Serving under the command of Admiral Duncan, Crawford was a member of one of many crews that engaged the Dutch Navy at the Battle of Camperdown.
One of the tactics of the day was to turn your ship’s canon on the mast of your opponent’s flagship to give the impression that commander’s personal flag was being lowered. This was the signal for the fleet to retreat from the battle, which handed the enemy the victory. Instead of just using canon balls, the canon crews of both sides would put anything they could down the muzzle of their canon, the most deadly of which was known as “chain shot” that would hit their target and wrap around it, slicing through.
Whilst in the heat of battle the Dutch managed to hit the mast of HMS Venerable several times. Each time the flag would fall to the deck and the mast having been snapped, would become shorter. Jack Crawford saw the tactic the Dutch were using and quickly grabbed the flag, climbed what was left of the mast and used the butt of his pistol to reattach the flag to the mast by hammering nails through the flag into the mast. This prevented the fleet from retreating and they stayed engaging the enemy.
The English Fleet finally prevailed in the battle after Jack Crawford had reattached the flag several times.
Following the battle Jack was declared as the “Hero of Camperdown” and was summoned to London by the King and a victory procession was held. He was personally awarded a pension of £30 per year as a reward for his bravery and initiative.
However, the story does not end there.
Today the actions of Jack Crawford are enshrined in that most modern of English phrases. We say when someone is really determined to succeed they “nailed their colours to their mast”.