The Bermuda Flag

This story began a few weeks back, my husband ordered a Bermuda flag for one of his recently constructed model ships.  Modelling supplies are hard to come by on the island and, perhaps surprisingly, so are small Bermuda flags suitable for the ship’s red ensign.  The flag was eventually sourced from UK suppliers at a cost of £4.88.

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Maybe a bit expensive, but in the grand scheme of things not too bad.  That was until we arrived at the post office to collect it:

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The tax was $1.76 (25%) and then a handling charge of $5.00.  That is almost 100% extra (£4.31).  What made it even more frustrating was that we had just a few days previously paid another $5 handling fee for something equally miniscule that could very well have been packaged in the one envelope!

Anyway, here it is:

IMG_0888Obviously this is the back side, it has not found its way onto the boat yet.

What is it called when you look for something everywhere and cannot get it then once you have finally tracked it down suddenly the item becomes uncommonly common? Well thats what happened – in the last week we have seen Bermuda flags just about everywhere.  That might in part be explained by the announcement that Bermuda will host the 2017 America’s Cup (more on that in the next post) and in celebration hundreds of paper flags were printed for the crowds to wave, but seriously, I even found one on a packet of sugar:

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The vexillologists among my readers will have noticed that the Bermuda flag is somewhat unusual in that it is actually a defaced red ensign and red ensign flags are really only supposed to go on ships at sea, not flown from land.  The British Admiralty did not exactly approve this but in 1955 they discussed the practice with the then Governor and decided that to prohibit what by then was a longstanding tradition would probably be unproductive and so retrospective permission was granted to continue with this as the country’s flag.

That is not the only controversy over the flag.  The coat of arms it bears is a red lion holding a shield with an image of the Sea Venture.  This coat of arms was granted to the island in 1910. It appears much much earlier however, on the title page of the 1624 publication by Admiral John Smith “The General History of Virginia, New England and The Summer Isles” .

image from wikipedia

image from wikipedia

It is at the bottom of the page with the lion carrying also a banner “Quo fata ferunt“, the motto “Whither the fates carry us”.  The Sommer Isles (also Somer’s, Summer’s, Sommer’s) was the earlier name for the Islands of Bermuda, named after Sir George Somers, the founding Admiral. The image was on the seal of the Somer’s Isles Company, the company that managed Bermuda on behalf of the Adventurers and Investors in the early 17th century.

Where’s the controversy? It is whether the ship is actually the Sea Venture or whether it represents an earlier wreck, a ship sailed in 1593, the wreck of which was reported by Henry May an English sailor. This argument is cleverly put together in a mini documentary, The Riddle of the Crest” to be found  on the Bermuda Conservation website.

Personally I think that although the image depicts a ship crashing on high cliffs and there are no such cliffs around the coast of Bermuda, it is probably artistic licence in that a ship crashing onto a hidden reef is probably not very easy to draw.  It is certainly the most popular view that the ship is the Sea Venture.

In my reading around this topic I found that the Governor is entitled to use a flag that is the Union Flag with a coat of arms in the centre of the crosses.  I also came across a page of rules connected to flying country flags – one I had previously learned when working at The Globe in St George’s: do not permit the flag to drag on the floor.  Of course I had learned by doing exactly that in front of the museum curator.  To make that situation worse a few weeks later I actually hung not just one but both of the flags on their poles upside down.  This, I am told, is an international distress sign – the vicar from the church opposite kindly called the BNT head office to see if I was alright! I guess it may not be random that I find myself at Verdmont now and not at The Globe Museum, responsible for the respect of the Bermuda flag.

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