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Patrick Gibson, Purser (1720-1831)

Oil paintings

Object connections:

Collection Oil paintings, Fine art
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Gibson, Patrick

Object details:

Object ID BHC2715
Description Patrick Gibson was an Irishman, born on 24 July 1720 at 'Magraphan' (possibly Graffin ?), County Tipperary. At the age of 17, while staying at Waterford on the Irish east coast, he was pressed into the Navy in which he later became a purser - a warrant officer rank that required a head for business and a degree of personal capital: purser’s managed supplies on board ship, but also sold some comforts to the crew on their own account. In the 1759 he was serving under Admiral Sir Charles Saunders in the amphibious operation up the St Lawrence River to land Major-General Wolfe and his troops to take Quebec, at which event Gibson was present. He used to tell a story that while he was bathing in the river, Wolfe and Saunders approached the same spot in a boat. On coming ashore they entered a hut into which he had rushed to dry and dress, and he overheard Wolfe state he would make his assault the next day and ask Saunders if his Marines would assist. ' "Not only the marines", was the characteristic reply "but every sailor on board who could be spared to bear a hand." This, he said, was the only court held on the occasion. The officers then shook hands and returned to their boats' ('The Royal Gazette' [Bermuda], 10 November 1835). According to Macartan's catalogue note when this portrait (BHC2715) was shown at the Royal Academy in 1831, just before Gibson's death, he was present in 26 naval actions. At that time he claimed not to have suffered any illness in over 90 years, and he was only superannuated from the Navy as a purser at a great age: the catalogue entry says 90, later report 102. He died just short of 111, on 1 July 1831, at his home in World's End Passage, Chelsea, after which a report reprinted from elsewhere in 'The Standard' of 4 July states: 'He was a tall, stout, muscular man, six feet two inches high. He took a great deal of walking exercise, and, until the last year, he daily walked two or three miles. His diet consisted of pickled pork and salt beef, principally the latter, of which he usually kept a large supply in the house. If he dined on fresh meat (which he scarcely ever did), he felt oppressed, heated, and feverish, and could not take his glass of porter, which he always did at his meals. He was a Catholic, and took milk and potatoes on Fridays. He seemed to die without any bodily ailment. He took to his bed about a fortnight since, when I first saw him; [he] had no pain or uneasiness; he gradually became more and more exhausted, and ceased to live on the above morning. He said, "Upwards of 90 years since, I was prevailed upon to take half a glass of raw whisky, which made me very ill, and brought on an attack of ague. I have since been very abstemious, and when dining at mess or from home, I always left the table after taking two or at most three glasses of wine. I have not taken raw spirit or any physic since that period".' The note also says that his longevity, and a remarkably retentive memory, prompted visits to him by 'the nobility' in his last years. As shown by a slightly variant version in the 'Royal Cornwall Gazette' for 9 July, this account was written by F. Gooderich, the surgeon attending Gibson in these last days, who added that he drank about two pints of porter (a dark beer) daily. After its RA appearance in 1831 this portrait was presented to the Naval Gallery of Greenwich Hospital by the artist, the Hospital board noting its receipt on 3 October that year. It had also by then been engraved in mezzotint by Thomas Lupton and published by Moon, Boys and Graves, on 25 June 1831. The 1835 'Royal Gazette' entry says that the portrait was itself painted by desire of King William IV and presented to the Naval Gallery by him. Though the second assertion is wrong, 'the Sailor King' may well have expressed such a wish and the related print is dedicated to him. Having been paid (probably by the publisher) Macartan may well have been following a royal wish to see the oil at Greenwich Hospital, of which the King was a warm supporter. Very little seems to be known about Macartan - even his date of birth and death. There is a pair of portraits by him of Sir Reginald Pole Carew (d. 1835) and his second wife (d.1833) in the National Trust collection: these are also probably about 1830. Apart from the portrait of Gibson, he showed two others at the RA in 1830 and 1833 and three Italian peasant genre subjects at the British Institution, 1829-30, all from varying London addresses. Regrettably this painting is in a very bitumenous medium, has greatly darkened and otherwise deteriorated with age, and requires significant treatment.
Date made 1830

Artist/Maker Macartan, Luke
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Greenwich Hospital Collection
Materials Oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 914 mm x 711 mm No Frame
  • Patrick Gibson, Purser (1720-1831) (BHC2715)
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