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Captain Thomas Baillie, c. 1725-1802

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Baillie, Thomas
Provenance: Baillie, Thomas
Artist: Hone, Nathaniel

Object details:

Object ID BHC2523
Description A three-quarter-length seated portrait very slightly to right, showing Baillie wearing captain's full-dress uniform, 1774–87 and a grey tie wig. His sword hangs above his head in the top left of the painting. Seated at a writing desk, he holds his left hand out in an explanatory gesture, as if about to speak, and points with his right index finger to an open manuscript, which is inscribed ‘Gr[een]wich Hospital’. On the table to the left are two ink-wells and a pen, and a piece of paper with the inscription, 'Lt Govn Baillie'. Baillie had become Lieutenant-Governor of Greenwich Hospital in 1774, having been a captain of the Hospital since 1761, but his tenure in this post ended in 1778 after he challenged the First Lord of the Admiralty, the Earl of Sandwich, over irregularities in the Hospital’s management. After receiving no response to his official complaints about alleged abuses, which ranged from the inadequate provision of food rations to the award of sinecures to Sandwich’s political allies, Baillie privately circulated a pamphlet detailing the problems in 1778; it is to this text that the manuscript in Hone’s portrait probably refers. The pamphlet led to Baillie being dismissed from his post and sued for criminal libel but he was acquitted after a brilliant defence by the young barrister Thomas Erskine (later an eminent Lord Chancellor). Erskine claimed that Baillie had acted according to his ‘obligations of duty and conscience’ as an officer of the Navy. Enthusiastically reported in the press, Erskine’s impassioned speech generated public sympathy for Baillie’s cause but a motion in the House of Lords to set up an inquiry into the management of Greenwich Hospital was defeated. Furthermore, Sandwich refused to reinstate Baillie to his post at the Hospital or to appoint him to a ship for active service. This prompted the captain to undertake a campaign to save his career. Hone’s portrait was produced in this context. Echoing Erskine’s defence of the captain, the artist stresses Baillie’s role as the advocate of the Greenwich pensioners through the reference to his pamphlet and through his declamatory pose. The painting was engraved in mezzotint by James Watson and published with an anti-Sandwich inscription (see PAG6442) and it was also used as a frontispiece to a pamphlet titled ‘A Solemn Appeal to the Public, from an Injured Officer, Captain Baillie, late Lieutenant Governor, of the Royal Hospital for Seaman at Greenwich’, published in 1779. The portrait was also exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1780 and featured in ‘A Candid Review of the Exhibition’ (1780), the anonymous author suggesting that, in the painting, Baillie’s ‘arms appear rather short in proportion, but perhaps the Artist had it in his idea, that a noble Lord has lately taken from his arms’ – a satirical barb directed at the Earl of Sandwich. Baillie remained unemployed until Sandwich left office in 1782, at which point Baillie was appointed to the lucrative office of the Clerk of the Deliveries in the Board of Ordnance. His fortunes were further revived in 1784 when he receive a legacy of £500 from John Barnard, the son of a former lord mayor of London. Barnard’s will stated that the money was ‘a small token of my approbation of [Baillie’s] worthy and disinterested, though ineffectual, endeavours to rescue that noble national charity [Greenwich Hospital] from the rapacious hands of the basest and most wicked of mankind’. Nathaniel Hone was an Irish artist who moved in his youth to England, working initially as an itinerant portrait painter before settling in London. He produced both oil paintings and miniatures and quickly established a sizeable clientele. A founding member of the Royal Academy, he was a prolific contributor to the Academy’s annual exhibitions, although he gained a reputation for irreverence and sometimes exhibited works with satirical edge. (Updated April 2019.)
Date made 1779

Artist/Maker Hone, Nathaniel
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 914 mm x 737 mm; Frame: 1140 mm x 960 mm
  • Captain Thomas Baillie, c. 1725-1802 (BHC2523)
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