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The 'Captain' capturing the 'San Nicolas' and the 'San José' at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 14 February 1797

Fine art

Object details:

Object ID BHC0487
Description An incident during the French Revolutionary War, 1793-1802. At the beginning of 1797, the British Admiral Sir John Jervis, with 11 sail of the line, lay in the Tagus, while a Spanish fleet of 27 sail of the line lay at Cartagena. The Spanish intended to join the French fleet at Brest, while Sir John's aim was to prevent this. He prepared to rendezvous with Rear-Admiral William Parker off Cape St Vincent. Admiral Don Jose de Cordova left Cartagena with the Spanish fleet on 1 February for Brest via Cadiz but was blown off course by the fierce Levanter wind. This pushed the Spanish out into the Atlantic until the wind swung north-west on the 13th, by which time they were close to the British fleet. At 2.30 am on the morning of the 14th Jervis learnt from a Portuguese frigate that the Spanish fleet was 35 miles to windward. When sighted, the Spanish were in two divisions, which the British passed between on the opposite tack, and then turned in succession to follow the weather division. It was then that Commodore Nelson made his famous decision. His ship, the 'Captain', 74 guns, was the third from last in the line and it was clear to him that, if he followed the line and turned in succession, he would never catch up with the enemy. He therefore turned out of line to cut off the Spanish and on a signal from Jervis was followed and supported by Captain Collingwood's 'Excellent', 74 guns, the last ship in the line. The painting shows the 'Captain', the Spanish ships 'San Nicolas', 80 guns and the 'San Josef', 112 guns, occupying the foreground, all in starboard-quarter view. To the left and nearest is the 'Captain', her fore-topmast over her starboard side and her port bow up against the 'San Nicolas's' starboard quarter. Aboard the 'San Nicolas', her pendant is shown coming down and a sailor on the poop is hauling down her ensign. Her mizzen mast is shot away and may be represented by the spar shown floating in the left foreground. Her bowsprit is caught up in the 'San Josef's' starboard main shrouds beyond and to the right. In both the left and right background are ships in action, in starboard-quarter view. The painting records the manoeuvre, which became known as 'Nelson's Patent Bridge for Boarding First-Rates'. Pocock placed considerable importance on accuracy and referred to annotated drawings and sketch plans in the production of his oil paintings. He was born and brought up in Bristol, went to sea at the age of 17 and rose to command several merchant ships. Although he only took up painting as a profession in his early forties, he became extremely successful, receiving commissions from naval commanders anxious to have accurate portrayals of actions and ships. By the age of 80, Pocock had recorded nearly forty years of maritime history, demonstrating a meticulous understanding of shipping and rigging with close attention to detail. Pocock devoted much of his later years to illustrating Nelson's sea battles. This was the last in the series of six paintings for a two-volume 'Life of Nelson', begun shortly after Nelson's death in 1805 by Clarke and McArthur, and published in 1809. The paintings were engraved by James Fittler and reproduced in the biography with lengthy explanatory texts. The painting is signed and dated 'NP 1808'.
Date made 1801

Artist/Maker Pocock, Nicholas
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 480 mm x 660 mm x 75 mm;Painting: 355 mm x 533 mm
  • The 'Captain' capturing the 'San Nicolas' and the 'San José' at the Battle of Cape St Vincent, 14 February 1797 (BHC0487)
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