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Friday, May 21, 2010


(Continued from the blog post of April 26, 2010) 


View of Surat (Gujarat) from the sea (1670). (National Maritime Museum, London)

Near the close of Queen Elizabeth-I’s reign on December 31,1600 a royal charter was granted to a Joint Stock Company described as “ The Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies” popularly known as East India Company or John Company. The Hector, a British galleon of the third voyage chartered by the John Company under William HawkinsTapati, near Surat. This was the first ship to fly an English flag off the coast of India. arrived on August 24, 1608 at the entrance to the River

The all over ‘water-marked paper’ used for the production of the first Indian Postage Stamps in 1854 has the East India Company’s ‘Coat-of -Arms’ comprising England’s Red Cross flags of St.George.

 The East India Company's original headquarters on Leadenhall Street in London(1648-1726). Formerly the mansion house of Sir William Craven, this structure was rebuilt in 1726 and then replaced in 1799-1800 by a much larger building designed by the architect Richard Jupp.

In 1687, Elihu Yale the second Governor of Madras, hoisted the Union Jack for the first time on the flag-mast at Fort St. George, Madras (now Chennai), replacing that of the East India Company’s flag. The 47. 5 meter (156 feet)mast is the oldest and tallest flag-mast ever built in India. On August 15, 1947, it was on this flag-mast that the Indian Tricolour was hoisted for the first time and since then it has become the venue of the Independence Day Flag hoisting ceremony at Chennai.(The original wooden-mast was replaced by a steel-mast of equal height in 1994).

Red Ensign was established as the proper colours for the British ships by a proclamation in 1674. The Merchant Shipping Act of 1894 brought up to date the law concerning the wearing of ensigns by British ships. Prior to this many ensigns of various designs were in use.

Interestingly, East India Company (John Company) was allowed to have its own special Ensigns.

View of Bombay (East India men flying Company’s Ensigns). - by Edward Barlow (Collection; National Maritime Museum, London).When Edward Barlow - a seaman made a voyage to India in 1670, he kept a journal and illustrated it with coloured sketches. The sketches show ships at Bombay, Calicut and near Surat that carry flags with red and white stripes and the St. George’s Cross. The number of stripes is usually nine, eleven or thirteen. Edward Barlow made another voyage and additional sketches in 1683. The later sketches show flags with seven and even one with nineteen stripes. Barlow’s pictures also indicate that in addition to the Company’s Flag, the ships carried a Red Ensign with the Cross of St. George in a white canton.

Continental or Grand Union Flag (1707-1801) of the U.S. was identical to East India Company’s Ensign.

The badge of St.Helena has a vivid green sea against blue sky is an East Indiaman, flying the Red Cross of St. George from the stern, sailing between two cliffs.
In 1676 the Admiralty called to the Company’s attention the proclamation of King Charles II of two years previously that forbade Merchant Ships to wear more than two flags, the Red Ensign and the Red Cross of St. George as Jack.The result was a compromise formula whereby the Company was forbidden to fly its Ensign north of St. Helena Island.

The stamps depict S. S. Hindoostan - a British Mail Ship of P& O line on her maiden voyage from Southampton to Calcutta via Galle (Sri Lanka) in 1842 wearing the British ‘Red Ensign’.
Note; The Indian stamp shows the ship flying ‘Blue Ensign’- an incorrect depiction, also the Ship’s name is mis-spelt (not styled as per P&O adopted spelling) Hindosthan’.

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