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A Greenwich Pensioner! [caricature of Richard Lalor Shiel MP]

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Prints, drawings and watercolours, Caricatures
Gallery locationNot on display
PeopleDepiction: Greenwich Pensioner

Object details:

Object ID PAH3323
Description HB Sketches No. 532. See also other copies: PAI5996 and PAF4083. This shows Richard Lalor Shiel (1791-1851), a Kilkenny-born Irish Catholic, educated at Stonyhurst and Trinity College Dublin, who became a barrister, sometime playwright and successively (between 1830 and 1841) MP for Milborne Port (Somerset), Co. Louth, Co. Tipperary and Waterford. After initially differing with Daniel O'Connell, he joined with him in forming the Catholic Association and was an orator and campaigner for Catholic emancipation, achieved in 1829. In 1838, when MP for Tipperary and Vice-President of the Board of Trade, he was briefly appointed a Commissioner of Greenwich Hospital despite having no naval connections or experience, to which the titular underlining of 'Green' in Greenwich alludes and also the Greenwich Pensioners' exchange on the left: 'I say Jack, what do you make of this strange sail bearing down upon us'. ' Well, they say as he's a spitfire man, but it can't be the man o' war of our time. -From the cut of his gib, I'd take him to belong to one of these new-fangled Steamers or some such small Craft.' The figure on the right is O'Connell, implying his influence in the appointment: 'That little fellow seems to have a snug berth of it here, agad it would be no bad lookout for myself in my old age if the rent should fail.' The Commissionership was one of a number of sinecures Shiel enjoyed, the last being as Ambassador in Florence, where he died. Some of Shiel's papers are in the archive of University College, Dublin, from whose website catalogue page the biographical information here is taken. McLean, the publisher of Doyle's 600 'Sketches by HB' issued a full printed catalogue description of them in 1839 (copy in the BM Print Room). The entry for this on pp. 373-74 is as follows: 'DXXXII. A GREENWICH PENSIONER. Much to the astonishment of a very considerable proportion of the public, Mr. Shiel, Member for Tipperary (the present Vice- President of the Board of Trade), a [Corn Law] Repealer and a Roman Catholic, a barrister, and, in short, a man, who, well known as he was to the public, was known only as a lawyer, an author, and an orator, was appointed to the governorship of Greenwich Hospital. Well might that old Trafalgar man, with his wooden leg, stuck out in perfect indifference to whom it may trip up, consider the new governor as a "strange sail!" The conjecture of the other old tar is a shrewd one, and shews him to have been a good man in his day, for the look-out station at the mast-head. Mr O'Connell, to whose influence the new governor may be supposed to owe something on account of his appointment, is struck with the beauty of his own work, and almost envies the creature the happiness of being so created.' The timing of this appointment is curious, since Sir Thomas Hardy was Governor of Greenwich Hospital to his death in 1839. If the information is reliable it suggests Hardy may have been contemplating retirement at the point Shiel was nominated successor, but the whole circumstance requires checking.
Date made 3 April 1838

Artist/Maker Ducote, A.
McLean, Thomas
Doyle, John
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials lithograph
Measurements Sheet: 275 x 346 mm; Mount: 405 mm x 557 mm
  • A Greenwich Pensioner! [caricature of Richard Lalor Shiel MP] (PAH3323)
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