Sailors' craftwork, Decorative art

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Whale tooth

Sailors' craftwork

Object connections:

Collection Sailors' craftwork, Decorative art
User collections Illustrated Teeth and Bone by dmclark
Gallery locationSea Things Gallery (Floor plans)
PeopleDepiction: O'Neill, Eliza
Provenance: Brookes, William Tolley

Object details:

Object ID AAA0021
Description A sperm whale's tooth engraved on one side with a view of a sailor climbing a ship's rigging in a storm. The scene is placed within a border with a stylised ship's keel below and bow above. Inscribed below: 'The Sailor Boy Though the strained mast should quiver as a reed, And the rent canvas fluttering strew the gale, Still must I on...Byron'. The image is copied from the frontispiece of 'Shipwrecks and Disasters at Sea' compiled by Charles Ellms and first published in Philadelphia, 1836. There is a similarly engraved tooth in the collections of Mystic Seaport Museum, Connecticut. On the reverse side is an engraved portrait of a woman in a low cut dress, her lips and cheeks engraved in a red stipple, with the caption 'Miss O'Neill In the character of Belvidera'. Eliza O'Neill (1791-1872) was an Irish actress who enjoyed a successful career on the London stage from 1814 until 1819, when she retired to marry Irish MP William Wrixon-Becher. She is shown here in a scene from 'Venice Preserved' by Thomas Otway. The base of the tooth is decorated with pyramid shapes. This type of sailor's craftwork is known as scrimshaw. The tooth belonged to Captain William Tolley Brookes (1791-1874), master of the whale ship 'Active' in the 1830s. Attribution to Finney by J.H.T. Chang.
Date made Mid 19th century

Artist/Maker Finney, Nathaniel Sylvester
Credit National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Materials whale tooth
Measurements Overall: 80 mm x 230 mm x 89 mm
  • Whale tooth (AAA0021)
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