© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London | Licence: CC BY-NC-ND
© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London | Licence: CC BY-NC-ND

The Explosion of the US Paddle Frigate Missouri - on fire in Gibraltar Bay with HMS Malabar stationed in the foreground


After August 26 1843


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From the Collection


This coloured lithograph depicts an event that took place off Gibraltar on August 26th 1843, as witnessed by the crew of HMS ‘Malabar’, a 74-gun warship of the Royal Navy. The scene is set at night, off the rock of Gibraltar, lit up by the explosion of the USS Missouri, as US Navy steam frigate, which is shown in the centre of the painting, lighting up the rest of the scene and the water with a fiery glow.The ‘Malabar’, though shown in the left foreground from her aft section, is however much more visible and detailed in this painting. She is depicted as being at anchor, with her sails furled and her crew clearly visible on the rigging and deck, their attention fixed on the exploding ‘Missouri’. As this is a night time scene, the windows of her stern ‘great cabin’ are shown as being lit up. On her port side, a long boat has been lowered and is about to cast off, presumably to pick up survivors from the ‘Missouri’.The ‘Missouri’, seen centre-place, is shown as being engulfed in the explosion, with a pillar of yellow-orange fire and smoke rising from her mid-section near the funnel and paddle-wheel and climbing high into the sky. She is shown as sinking fast by the bow, listing heavily to starboard. Longboats can be seen clustered around the sinking vessel and heading towards her, clearly to pick up survivors.To the left of the ‘Missouri’ another paddle-steamer can be seen in the distance, smoke rising from her funnel. The masts of other ships in port can be seen in the distance behind the Missouri, all of them closely clustered together.The Rock of Gibraltar is shown as a background element in the right of the painting, along with the buildings and sea wall of Gibraltar port. Other parts of the Gibraltarian-Spanish coastline, including hills and headland, are present throughout the background.The surface of the water is shown as being calm, almost undisturbed – though lit up along with the sky by the fires of the explosion. In the right foreground, a single buoy floats idly. The sky is also shown as being clear, disturbed only by the smoke of the fire on-board the ‘Missouri’.The overall impression is of a sudden, horrific disaster entering a tranquil scene in the harbour of Gibraltar. This version of the painting has been heightened with white. The inscription beneath the print incorrectly identifies this event as taking place on August 20th 1843.
Additional Makers: Possibly by - Edward Duncan
Credit Line: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

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© National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London

From the Watercolour World


Bay of Gibraltar