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Fisher Harding, Master Shipwright, active 1664-1706, with the Launch of the 'Royal Sovereign', 1701

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings, Maritime Art Greenwich
Gallery locationQH (Floor plans)
PeopleDepiction: Fisher Harding
VesselsRoyal Sovereign (1701)

Object details:

Object ID BHC2743
Description A three-quarter-length portrait slightly to left in a mauve gown and russet drapery. He wears a brown full-bottomed wig and his right hand rests on a wooden rule while he holds a pair of dividers over a draft plan for a ship, with a ruler beneath it. He gestures with his left hand towards the launch of the first-rate, 'Royal Sovereign', on the left and both the Thames and the buildings of Woolwich are visible behind him. Harding was appointed Master Shipwright at Deptford on 30 October 1686 and remained so until 1705. In all he launched 39 ships at Deptford and Woolwich yards and designed two others. Apart from one launched at Woolwich in 1702, all eight ships he completed there were in the years 1698-1701 (during which time he built none at Deptford). The largest and most prestigious of these was the 100-gun 'Royal Sovereign, which was the last of that group and which he also designed. While he was no doubt proud of it, as this portrait indicates, the huge cost of its carving and decoration led to the Admiralty radically cutting back on this aspect of ships thereafter. Van de Velde's portrait of the 'Royal Sovereign', dated 1703, is BHC3614: the ceiling painting from her great cabin - by Thomas Highmore - of 'Mars surrounded by an assembly of Gods', plus its decorative side panels, was also later installed in the ceiling of the staircase of the Commissioner's House at Chatham Dockyard, where it can still be seen. In 1692 Harding also built the 80-gun 'Boyne', of which the Museum holds a contemporary model (SLR0006): very unusually this bears a carved inscription on the break of the poop, specifically identifying the ship as built by him at Deptford. Pepys- who often denigrated the shipwrights he had to manage as Clerk to the Navy Board - described Harding as 'a very slow man, of no learning, authority and countenance'. However, as this portrait suggests - since unusually grand as one of a shipwright - he was a man of substance in his profession. He and Pepys (1633-1703) must have been near contemporaries, although Harding's final age is not yet known. In June 1664 he married Elizabeth Shish, one of the daughters of Jonas Shish (1605 -80) who was Master Shipwright at Deptford and Woolwich 1668-75, and on then moving to Sheerness was succeeded at Deptford by his son, John Shish. Two years later, in October 1677, Harding - at that point carpenter of the first-rate 'Charles' - succeeded John's brother, Thomas, as Assistant Shipwright at Deptford. Harding's wife Elizabeth probably died in 1692 and in 1703 he remarried, again in London, to Katherine Walden. For both marriages his place of residence is recorded as Deptford but when he was buried there on 16 March 1706 (NS) at St Nicholas's church, the register calls him shipwright in 'Her Majesty's yard at Harwich'. As with his former father-in-law Jonas's move to Sheerness in 1675, this appears to have been a less onerous late-life appointment, dating from 14 November 1705. He built nothing at Harwich, his last ship being the 70-gun 'Northumberland', launched at Deptford on 29 March 1705. Curiously, the seven children that he seems to have had by his first wife were all baptized (at Deptford) between 1681 and 1690, rather than earlier - though this was perhaps just an instance of starting a family late. Katherine and Sarah (bap. 1684) appear to have been twins. Two sons were baptized 'Shish' (in 1685 and 1688, suggesting the first died in infancy), to commemorate the family link - as perhaps were a John (1681) and Jonas (1684). Margaret (1690) was the last child. Another reported son, Lionel, does not figure in surviving London birth records. Richardson was the principal portrait painter of the period between Kneller and Hudson. He founded the St Martin's Lane Academy with Kneller in 1711 and was particularly influential through his books on the theories of painting.
Date made circa 1701

Artist/Maker Richardson, Jonathan
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 1490 x 1235 x 75 mm; Painting: 1270 mm x 1030 mm; Overall weight: 33 kg;
  • Fisher Harding, Master Shipwright, active 1664-1706, with the Launch of the 'Royal Sovereign', 1701 (BHC2743)
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