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The Loss of the East Indiaman 'Kent' in the Bay of Biscay, 1 March 1825

Fine art

Object connections:

Collection Fine art, Oil paintings
Gallery locationNot on display
VesselsKent 1820

Object details:

Object ID BHC3819
Description The 'Kent', an Indiaman of 1350 tons was one of three ships engaged in taking soldiers of the Queen's and 31st Regiments to India in early 1825 when she caught fire in the Bay of Biscay. She had sailed from Gravesend with 640 people on board, 145 being crew and the rest being officers and men of the 31st, with 47 wives and 73 children. By astonishing luck the 200-ton Liverpool brig 'Cambria', carrying Cornish tin-miners and others to Mexico, saw the fire and her master Captain Cook showed brilliant seamanship in taking a dangerous station close by to try and assist. There was also astonishing discipline on board the 'Kent' as boats transferred people to the 'Cambria', but eventually the situation became too dangerous and Captain Cook had to stand off. At 2 a.m. the following morning the munitions in the 'Kent's' cargo blew up: 68 men and 20 children died, though 14 of the surviving soldiers were rescued afterwards from floating wreckage. The survivors were landed at Falmouth where they received great kindness, and most later went on to India by another ship. The loss of the 'Kent' and the rescue - something very unusual in such circumstances in the days of sail - attracted widespread publicity. A silver medal was struck in honour of the rescuers and the 31st’s commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Fearon, and his second-in-command, Major McGregor - both of whom were in the 'Kent' - were honoured for their part in the affair. Fearon was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath and Macgregor was promoted to command of the 93rd Highlanders. The event also prompted many artistic renderings, including in panoramic spectacle form, and William Daniel's painting of it remains in the Queen's and Royal Surrey Regimental Museum at Clandon Park. In this version Thomas Buttersworth plays out the dramatic artistic effects of a night scene. The 'Kent' can be seen on the right with flames and smoke rising into the dark sky. The agitated waves reflect the light of the fire. Two boats are shown transferring people towards the 'Cambria' in the left background. Thomas Buttersworth was born on the Isle of Wight on 5 May 1768. Like many other marine painters, Buttersworth was a seaman who recorded his experiences in paint and charcoal. He was appointed Marine Painter to the East India Company and added commissioned ship portraits to his prolific output of naval battle scenes. Despite his relative success, Buttersworth exhibited few paintings during his lifetime. It was long thought that he had died in 1830 but it was confirmed that he was still alive in 1842, painting Queen Victoria’s visit to Edinburgh in that year. He died in London in November 1842.
Date made 19th century

Artist/Maker Buttersworth, Thomas
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Frame: 643 mm x 748 mm x 80 mm;Painting: 430 mm x 535 mm x 75 mm
  • The Loss of the East Indiaman 'Kent' in the Bay of Biscay, 1 March 1825 (BHC3819)
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