Shipmates carousing on shipboard
early 19th century
William Henry Pyne
From the collection
A fine drawing in very good condition purchased in 1974 as by Pyne (1770-1843), who was a prolific watercolour artist and etcher, who did a great deal of work for use for copying by amateurs, and especially later in life was better known as a writer on art under the speudonym of 'Ephraim Hardcastle'. This example has a strong element of caricature but well shows the disposition of the upper gun deck of a Royal Naval man of war, where the crew in effect lived between the guns and slung their hammocks overhead. Here they sit on sea chests drinking at a mess table which bears a blue-and-white (probably Chinese-pattern) punch bowl, pieces of lemon for the punch, bottles and a glass. The man in blue smoking a pipe, with an open tobacco box in front of him, is probably a master's mate: the one raising a glass on the right may be a Royal Marine since he is sitting on the red uniform coat of one, with related the white pipe-clayed belt and webbing hanging on the bulwark above the gun, far right. A print - also apparently of an officer in Marine uniform- is pinned up above the group, with a long ballad sheet to its left. A fiddler sits on the deck and the man with the wooden leg to the left is likely to be one of the ship's cooks (who were often men still fit but in some way disabled): behind, a junior officer, possibly a lieutenant, looks out of a gun port with a telescope. The gunports are, in fact, much too large, the guns too small, the deckhead too high and the ship's side too vertical to be realistic, while the table would have been between the ports not taking up a gun position (as it does here). It is none the less a fair representation of leisure at sea, or more probably in an anchorage in good summer weather. The lieutenant's uniform suggests a 'retrospective' late-18th-century date, but the drawing itself is more likely to be from around 1820 or a little later.
Credit Line: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
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