James Clephan (1768–1851) was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy who took part in the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. He rose from the ranks to become a Captain. A flag presented to him after the battle by the crew of the ship on which he served at Trafalgar was sold at auction for £384,000 on Trafalgar Day 2009.
Born in Scoonie in Fife in Scotland in 1768, Clephan was originally a weaver but joined the Merchant Navy when the weaving industry went into decline. He was press ganged into the Royal Navy on 23 July 1794 aged 26. Beginning as an Able Bodied 2nd Class Mate aboard HMS Sibyl, he then made 2nd Class Gunner's Mate on HMS Doris and master's mate on 10 October 1796. He was promoted to Midshipman on 7 January 1801 and was promoted to lieutenant on 31 July 1801 for distinguished conduct during the successful capture of the French corvette Chevrette at Brest. Despite being wounded and knocked overboard, Clephan was still the first man to reach the enemy's deck. On his promotion Admiral Sir William Cornwallis said "..you well deserve your promotion; few officers have earned it so hardly."
Assigned to the 90-gun HMS Namur, Clephan served as her Second Lieutenant until the Peace of Amiens in April 1802. Taking the opportunity to marry during this brief interval, in March 1803 Clephan was appointed First Lieutenant of the 74-gun HMS Spartiate, which had been captured from the French during the Battle of the Nile. He was on board Spartiate during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, after which he was presented with the ship's Union Jack as a mark of esteem from the crew. He served on board Spartiate until December 1809.
In 1811 he joined HMS Dragon, and in April was promoted to commander and given the sloop HMS Charybdis in which he captured two American vessels, the brig William Rathbone and the privateer Blockade in 1813 during the American War of 1812. In 1814–15 he participated in the British expedition against New Orleans and, on its failure, conveyed the despatches. In August 1815, with the Peace, he was paid off at Deptford and placed on half pay. He retired in 1840 with the rank of captain. He was one of only 16 press ganged men to attain the rank of Captain out of an estimated 300,000 men.
On 8 October 2009 The Times reported that the Union Jack which had been presented to Clephan after Trafalgar had been discovered in a drawer by a descendant and was to be auctioned. The 11 ft x 7 ft (3.5m x 2.1m) flag had been made by the crew out of 31 bunting panels and was riddled with holes made by cannonshot and bullets. As the only surviving Union Jack from the battle, it was expected to raise £15,000 but actually made £384,000 (A$687,774). Among the unsuccessful bidders was the National Maritime Museum.
- Clephan and the Union Jack in the Daily Mail 8 October 2009
- 'Last surviving Trafalgar flag expected to fetch £15,000 at auction' The Times 8 October 2009
- Charles Miller Ltd: