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A Small Shipyard on the Thames

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
ExhibitionsThe Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire, Trade and Commerce
Gallery locationAtlantic Gallery (Floor plans)

Object details:

Object ID BHC1059
Description Two ships are shown in the yard, one in a wet dock and the other on a launching slipway. Small yards, such as this, were privately owned, and produced and repaired coastal craft and merchant ships. Some received contracts to build brigs and sloops for the navy, allowing the naval dockyards to concentrate on the construction of larger ships. Francis Holman (who died in November 1784) was an important 18th-century marine artist working in London. He often depicted scenes of the working river, like this view, which is probably somewhere along the Rotherhithe waterfront. The ship partly included on the far left, called 'Adamant', has been deliberately named and probably indicates a connection with whoever commissioned the picture. There was such a London-based ship, of 500 tons, built on the river in 1774 and owned from then until after Holman's death by 'Watson & Co' (also noted as B. Watson & Co.). Given that her registered voyage was London to Halifax, Nova Scotia, she probably imported timber on return voyages. There was also at this time a Rotherhithe shipwright called Christopher Watson, who among other vessels built the 500-ton 'Berwick' (1780), a merchantman taken over by the Navy in 1781. Later renamed 'Sirius' she led the 'First Fleet' to Australia in 1787-88, which included the 350-ton 'Prince of Wales' also launched by Watson at Rotherhithe in 1786. It is not known if Christopher Watson, shipwright, was also a shipowner or had such a family connection and he himself does not appear to have owned a shipyard, instead renting space from others for his shipbuilding work. It is none the less possible that this picture illustrates aspects of his operations even though the exact occasion and location at Rotherhithe remain uncertain. The image is all the more interesting because the two central ships shown, one of about 20 guns in a wet berth and the smaller one ready for launch (which the picture commemorates), bear initialled cartouches on the taffrail. That on the left has a crowned cartouche above the letters 'PO', with two open circular ports for chase guns left and right, and then a pair of flying horses in the manner of Pegasus, looking outwards. This suggests it may be a Post Office packet. The vessel on the slip appears to have PO in a simpler cartouche, with two mermen facing inward on either side. Though not a royal event, the Hanoverian royal standard flies on the right, either because of this official connection or perhaps because the date represented is one like George III's birthday or Accession Day.
Date made 1774-1784

Artist/Maker Holman, Francis
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 960 x 1540 x 72 mm; Painting: 875 mm x 1460 mm
  • A Small Shipyard on the Thames (BHC1059)
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