Captain Kellett’s Polar Sledge Flag

In 2023, in association with Maggs Bros., and on behalf of the Kellett family, I handled the sale of the sledge flag used by Captain Henry Kellett during the 1852-4 arctic search to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the North West Passage.


White silk flag with applique embroidered crest and motto AUXILIUM AB ALTO for the Kellett family; an Hibernian harp and Union Jack,

Approx: 820mm x 560mm

Old folds, slightly creased, plaque beneath inscribed ARCTIC EXPEDITION 1852. SLEDGE FLAG OF CAPTAIN HENRY KELLETT. C.B. COMMANDING HMS RESOLUTE, framed and glazed.

By direct family descent.

Sold in 2023 by Martyn Downer Works of Art in association with Maggs Bros. to the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

This remarkable flag was used by Captain Henry Kellett (1806-1875), commanding HMS Resolute, during the 1852-4 arctic search to discover the fate of Sir John Franklin’s expedition to the North West Passage. Resolute sailed in company with Intrepid and during the summer of 1853 the crews sledged aboard in search of clues to Franklin’s whereabouts. They found nothing but did succeed in rescuing the officers and crew of HMS Investigator which had been frozen in ice since 1850 on an earlier Franklin rescue mission.  In May 1854, Resolute and Intrepid also became ice bound with Kellett forced to abandon ship and lead both crews―together with the crew of Investigatorin a hard march across the ice to the safety of Beechey Island.

“DEPARTURE OF TRAVELLING PARTIES FROM HMS RESOLUTE & INTREPID CAPTN KELLETT. CB IN SEARCH OF THE MISSING EXPEDITION UNDER SIR JOHN FRANKLIN. APRIL 4. 1853”. Contemporary watercolour attributed to George Frederick McDougall (c.1825-1871), the Resolute’s sailing master, showing Captain Kellett’s sledge flag on the ice.

Resolute continued to move in the ice floe and in September 1855 the ship was found adrift by an American whaler off Baffin Island, some 1200 miles from where she had been abandoned by Kellett. The United States Congress purchased Resolute for $40,000 and, in a gesture of goodwill, presented the ship to Queen Victoria in December 1856.

The Queen reciprocated the gift by ordering three desks to be made of Resolute’s timbers, one of which was presented to U.S President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1880 and remains in presidential use today in the Oval Office of the White House.