Jack Crawford was born in Sunderland on 22nd March 1775 and worked as a keelman transfering cargo from the banks of the river to waiting cargo ships.
By the age of 11 he had set his sights beyond the river and joined the crew of the Peggy at South Sheilds and served initially as an apprentice.
In 1796 he fell victim to the vicious press gangs who roamed the streets kidnapping people to serve in His Majesty’s Royal Navy. Anyone who accepted the King’s shilling ended up serving in the Royal Navy, often until the end of their days.
Crawford served on HMS Venerable under the command Admiral Duncan and in 1797 he took part in the battle of Camperdown. During naval battles of the day, there were no advanced radio communications or encrypted signaling. All communications for the battle group were through the use of flags on the admiral’s ship, hence the term flagship. A signal for the battle group to retreat and disengage the enemy was the lowering of the national flag, the Union Flag. Sneaky Captains would deliberately aim for the main mast where the Union Flag was attached because if the other ships in the group saw the flag fall, they would retreat. This prevented a full battle and saved lives and ships. During the engagement at Camperdown, HMS Venerable’s Union Flag was shot down no less than six times and Jack Crawford grabbed the flag each time. Scaled back up the mast and reattached the flag by hammering in nails with his pistol butt, preventing allied ships retreating. The British eventually won day andJack was proclaimed a hero receiving a £30 per year pension from the king himself.