- The Crescent City
- Fethard Lifeboat Disaster
- The sinking of Arandora Star
- Morven Disaster
- The Dunworley Slave Ship.
- M.V. Plassy
- Irish Poplar
- M.V. Kilkenny by Austin Gill
- Vasa – 50 years on
- The wanderer at Kingstown and John Masefield
- SS Lochgarry
- The Lady Nelson
- RNLB Mary Stanford
- Rochdale and Prince of Wales
- MV Kerlogue, neutral Irish ship
- The Wreck of the Bolivar
- Where are the Barges now?
- Commemorative Brochure
- Kenneth King Paintings
- Remember: Clonlara, convoy OG71
- Remember – Munster
- Remember: Irish Pine and 33 crew
- Irish Oak – torpedoed mid-Atlantic
- Remember – Kyleclare and 18 crew
- Remember – Luimneach
- Remember: ILV Isolda, 6 lost
- Remember: Ardmore with 24 crew
- City of Limerick, bombed and sunk
- Remember: City of Bremen
- City of Waterford, convoy OG74
- Remember: Steam Trawler Leukos
- Remember: Naomh Garbhan with 3
- Remember – SS Meath
- Remember: Kerry Head, 12 crew
- Innisfallen, mined, sunk, 4 crew lost
- Remember: St Fintan with 9 crew
- Remember: Cymric and 11 crew
- Ireland's WWII Sea Losses
- Fun Things to do
- History and Restoration of Church
- Book Reviews
- Frank Forde
- Dr Edward Bourke
- Pat Sweeney
- Roy Stokes
- Cormac Lowth
- Book Reviews
Maritime Art and Dun Laoghaire
MARITIME ART AND DUN LAOGHAIRE
Cormac F. Lowth. firstname.lastname@example.org
Illustrated talk given to the Dún Laoghaire Borough Historical Society on Feb. 21st. 2007.
and to the Matitime Institute of Ireland on 20th. March 2008, at Stella Maris Seafarers’ Club
I am indebted to a great many people who helped me to put this talk together, far too many to mention individually but I must mention two in particular. The late John Stafford who first suggested that I should proceed along these lines. John was a great lover of art and of the sea and will be sadly missed by all who knew him. Secondly, Sam Davidson, who is Honorary advisor on Maritime art to the Maritime Museums on Mersyside. I was greatly inspired by his many magnificent books on maritime art and having attended one of his lectures entitled ‘Looking at Maritime Paintings’.
A great many people have painted scenes in and around Dún Laoghaire or Kingstown as it was once known. Its picturesque harbour and busy yachting activity have provided inspiration to artists since the harbour was first built in the early years of the nineteenth century. It is not my intention to deal with all of these as this would be an impossible task, instead, I will be mentioning several artists who were associated in some ways with the region at various times. In addition, I will be looking at some of the paintings that are housed in the Maritime Museum , which is situated in the former Mariner’s Church in Haigh Terrace, Dún Laoghaire.
There are several fine paintings in the Maritime Museum , not all of which, unfortunately, are on view. Some of the best of these are part of the Halpin Collection, which forms one of the major exhibits. This consists of many artefacts, paintings, photographs and models that belonged to Captain Robert Halpin of Wicklow, a famous seafarer who was master of the great paddle-wheeled steamer that was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the GREAT EASTERN. One of the paintings on display, and perhaps the most important and valuable in the collections, is that of the GREAT EASTERN by Samuel Walters of Liverpool . This is a large oil on Canvas, 47” x 74” that depicts a port side view of the vessel in heavy seas in a style that could be described as typical of Walters.
Samuel Walters, 1811-1882, was originally from London but moved to Liverpool in his early years. He was a son of another marine artist, Miles Walters, 1773-1855. Samuel was one of a number of artists in Liverpool who specialised in ship portraiture and his works are highly regarded and much sought after in the world of maritime art. During the 19 th century, and in particular in the days prior to photography, ship portraitists began at the lower end of the spectrum with what were known as Pier-Head painters. These artists peddled their wares among the crews of the huge number of sailing ships that then existed. Many of these portraits, which generally depicted side views of the vessels under full sail, despite sometimes being rather hastily done, are generally fairly accurate representations of the ships with regard to the sails and rigging details. The paintings of Samuel Walters belong to a much more detailed and finely executed genre and would generally have been bought by ship’s masters and officers, or may have been hung in the offices and board rooms, or the homes, of ship-owners.
The portrait of the GREAT EASTERN would benefit greatly from a much-needed cleaning and possible restoration. A great deal of craquelure is evident. It depicts a port-side view of the vessel in a heavy sea and as with many other such paintings, some artistic license has been indulged in when depicting the scale of the turbulent sea conditions. Interestingly, there is a discrepancy between the number of funnels shown here and in later depictions of the ship. All of the paintings in general in the Museum would benefit from the installation of a viewing gallery with a controlled environment facility. Other paintings in the Halpin collection include a view of a large cable ship ‘Cable laying in the Thames’ by F. Bedwell, 1880, oil on Canvas 46” x 73”, and a portrait of Captain Halpin by Sidney Hodges, oil on Canvas, 63”x 52”.
There are other examples of ship portraiture in the Maritime Museum , notably a large watercolour of the full-rigged ship THE MURRAY by Captain J.W. Holmes, who was a sailing ship captain and an amateur artist who painted portraits of every ship in which he served during his long life. Holmes paintings are distinguished by the minute attention to detail in the rigging. Every possible sail, rope, and block are usually depicted. Captain Holmes served for many years with the Inver Line of George Milne & Co. of Aberdeen . Many of their sailing ships were lost on the Irish coast during the First World War, mostly by enemy action, while another, the INVERESK, was driven ashore in a gale, but later salvaged, at Sandycove. Another Liverpool artist whose work is represented is W.H.Yorke of Liverpool. Like Walters, he was the son of a marine artist. His father, W.G.Yorke, was an American shipwright and artist. W. H. Yorke worked throughout much of the latter half of the 19th , and well into the 20th. centuries. His latter works portray many steamships and there are two examples of these in the Museum, the DUKE OF ROTHESAY and the S.S. KATHLEEN, both in oils. More examples of ship portraits are the HIGHLAND FOREST by Versaille and a magnificent set of prints by T.G.Dutton, 1819–1891. Ireland ‘s greatest living marine artist, Kenneth King, is well represented with many paintings of the wartime fleet of Irish Shipping Ltd. and several more scenes representing the same period. There are a great many more maritime paintings in the Maritime Museum , far too many to mention here and all of which, it is to be hoped, will soon be on view to the public whenever the problem of dampness in the walls of the museum has been overcome.
Prior to the building of the great harbour of refuge there was certainly artistic interest in Dunleary and surrounding districts. A painting by James Arthur O’Connor, 1792-1842, who was born at 15 Aston’s Quay, Dublin, entitled Bay Scene, Seapoint , 1820, shows Old Dunleary Harbour with the Martello tower, complete with its cannon, at the shore end of the old pier. This pier can still be seen today in the inner harbour of Dún Laoghaire while the tower was demolished with the advent of the railway in 1834. An engraving by a friend of O’Connor, George Petrie, show a virtually identical scene. This is entitled, The Old Pier, Dunleary, Co. of Dublin , which would seem to imply that it was done after the building of the new harbour had commenced. Thomas Kitson Cromwell produced what must rank as one of the first Irish tourist brochures with a publication entitled Excursions through Ireland , in 1820. There are many fine engraved illustrations that include depictions of Dunleary Harbour, Sandycove, Dalkey Island and Bullock Harbour , all of which seem to have been taken from watercolours by Petrie. All of these are of great interest in that they portray familiar landmarks set in an era before modern development had taken place. James Arthur O’Connor, George Petrie and another artist, Francis Danby, were a trio, who, as young men, lived and travelled around parts of Britain and Ireland, often enduring some hardships while they pursued their chosen profession. In addition to his artistic endeavours, Petrie is remembered as a great polymath who was involved with the Ordnance survey of Ireland, and as a collector and publisher of Irish music.
Almost from the beginning, Dún Laoghaire (Kingstown) became home to several Yacht Clubs. There are some fine collections of marine paintings hanging in most of these Club Premises. Matthew Kendrick R.H.A. 1797-1874 was a notable artist associated with the Royal Irish Yacht Club. There are several examples of his works that depict yachts racing in Dublin Bay . One such example shows a typical large yacht of the mid 19th. Century, racing off the Baily Lighthouse. This yacht was sailed by the Graves family who owned the original sailing ship, DUNBRODY, a replica of which was built recently in Co. Wexford. In common with several other marine artists, Kendrick began his career as a seaman. He became a member of the RHA in 1850 and was also appointed as keeper of paintings by the Academy. He was the official painter to the Royal Irish Yacht Club.
The Royal Navy maintained a presence in Kingstown almost from the time the harbour was first built and many of the guard-ships that were stationed there have been the subject of paintings. One of these ships was H.M.S. AJAX, which was on station from 1858 until 1864. She was built in 1809 as a seventy-four gun wooden ship of the line; a ‘wooden wall’ exactly like many that had fought at Trafalgar under Nelson. She served in the Mediterranean until 1814 and she was fitted with an auxiliary steam engine in 1846. AJAX took an active part in the Crimean War, notably at the bombardment of Bomarsund in Finland . She was noted for her poor performance under both sail and steam. In 1858 she came to Kingstown as the guard-ship under the command of Captain John McNeil Boyd from Derry , who was tragically lost with five of his crew in 1861 when he attempted to rescue the crews of two ships that were wrecked on the outer side of the East Pier. It is indicative of the high regard in which Captain Boyd was held by the Lords of the Admiralty, that he had been selected to command H.M.S. WARRIOR, the Royal Navy’s new iron battleship that had been constructed just before his death and which still survives in Portsmouth. AJAX was stationed at Cork until 1853 and during the time that she served there, a local marine artist, George Mounsey Wheatley Atkinson, painted a fine view of her sailing past Roches Point into Cork Harbour, in company with another warship. This painting hangs in the Crawford Gallery in Cork.
Another Kingstown Guard-ship, H.M.S. VANGUARD, represented part of the great leap forward that took place in the Victorian Navy in the second half of the nineteenth century. She was one of a quartet of armoured, iron and steel, second-line battleships of the AUDACIOUS class. Three of the four ships were to serve in Kingstown, AUDACIOUS 1870 – 1871, VANGUARD, 1871 – 1875, and IRON DUKE, 1875 – 1877. H.M.S. INVINCIBLE was the fourth member of the class. In 1875 VANGUARD went on a cruise with a visiting squadron of Royal Navy warships, that included WARRIOR. She was involved in a collision with her sister ship, IRON DUKE, about eleven miles east of Bray Head and she sank to the seabed where she remains to this day. There is a fine coloured lithograph of IRON DUKE in existence that was executed by a deaf mute artist named William Frederick Mitchell, 1845 – 1914. This artist operated in Portsmouth and he illustrated most of the British warships of the day. There is a photograph in existence of the Royal Yacht OSBORNE entering Kingstown Harbour during a Royal visit in the late 19th. Century. A painting of the yacht by William Frederick Mitchell is almost identical to this photograph.
During the latter quarter of the 19th century and up the years immediately following the First World War, there existed a unique group of artists in Dublin Bay known as The Graphic Cruisers Club, many of whose members were drawn from the yacht clubs in Kingstown and Howth. The Club undertook cruises around Dublin Bay and the east coast in a yacht called the IRIS. Their activities included photography, botany, shooting, (presumably of seals and cormorants that were regarded as vermin at the time), geology, ornithology and music. Many of the members were accomplished musicians. The principal activity of the group was, however, sketching and painting. The secretary of the Club throughout most of its existence was a most interesting character named George Prescott. He was a man of many and varied talents who died in December, 1942, after having lived for almost a century. He was an optical and scientific instrument maker, and an electrical engineer, when such disciplines were in their infancy and he was responsible for building some of the clocks that regulated the time-ball that was positioned on the Ballast Office on Aston’s Quay in Dublin. These were linked electronically to a clock in Dunsink Obsevatory and the ball was dropped every day at a precise hour to allow seafarers in the Port to adjust their clocks. He was also an optician, and an advertisement in a contemporary Thom’s Directory gives a list of his more notable customers that included royalty, politicians, and well-known public figures. Prescott lived at Sandefjiord on the Pigeonhouse Road in Ringsend, a house that he built himself in 1896. He incorporated parts of the wreck of the Finnish sailing ship PALME into the building, notably using the main companionway from the cabin as the stairs. He also used panelling from the cabin and timber decking as the floors. Prescott later built another house, ‘The Hermitage’, at 20 Strand Road, Merrion, in which he lived for the rest of his life. George was a painter and a talented musician who played the cello and amongst his many other accomplishments, he played the organ in St. Michan’s Church in Dublin. During the 1920s, George produced Gilbert and Sullivan Operas with the students of the Royal Irish Academy of Music in which he not only performed and sang, but also painted the stage scenery.
The IRIS was actually owned by George Prescott and she was a most unusual yacht. She was almost sixty feet long and about twelve feet in beam. She was a converted Admiralty pinnace and was built of double diagonal hardwood planking. She had a very shallow draft, about three and a half feet, and she had additional bilge keels fitted to allow her to take the ground with ease. She was gaff-rigged as a ketch and she apparently handled well under sail in all conditions. The advantage of this type of vessel to the club was the ability to get into fairly inaccessible shallow places and to settle comfortably on the bottom in harbours that dried out. The members of the Graphic Cruisers Club were a multi-cultured and talented group, who ate and drank well whilst aboard and who frequently held musical concerts both ashore and afloat while on their cruises. There were two small rowing boats slung in davits, one on either side of the boat, which gave even further access to hidden places to the club members. Much of the artists’ equipment and photographic gear etc. was stowed in these punts while at sea. George Prescott and many of his friends were also members of the Dublin Sketching Club. The author was fortunate to meet Daphne Pfeiffer who is a great granddaughter of George Prescott and she and her husband Fred generously made many family photographs and other memorabilia available.
The author is almost sure that the IRIS was eventually abandoned in the Grand Canal dock at Charlotte Quay in Ringsend. A boat matching the description of IRIS lay alongside the quay for many years and eventually sank. This was lifted out some years ago and dumped in the boatyard. It was clear when examined by the author that the boat was an ex-naval vessel and was built of double diagonal teak planking and that there were bilge keels attached. It was also confirmed by Daphne Pfeiffer that the IRIS had been left in the canal basin. The hulk was eventually broken up and burned and no trace whatever now exists of it. George Prescott later had another converted naval cutter in which he had an engine installed. This vessel was moored in Kingstown and was also used by the Graphic Cruisers Club.
Probably the best known artist that was involved with the Graphic Cruisers Club was Alexander Williams RHA, 1846 – 1930, who was a good friend of George Prescott, and, like him, was a man of immensely varied talents. Alexander was originally from Drogheda but moved to Dublin as a youth. His family were hat manufacturers, but, with a decline in this business, he and his brother began a taxidermy business in Dublin’s Dame St. where they sold mostly bird specimens. Alexander used his artistic talents to great effect in painting the backgrounds in the display cases, some of which are now in the Natural History Museum. Like many more of his Graphic Cruiser colleagues, Alexander was an accomplished musician and he sang as a counter-tenor in the choirs of St. Patrick’s and Christchurch Cathedrals in addition to the Chapel Royal in Dublin Castle. Alexander was a totally dedicated naturalist and bird-watcher and his diaries give a fascinating day-to-day account of the bird species that he encountered in Dublin Bay and further afield. He wrote many articles for the Irish Naturalist that included one about Clontarf Island, a feature of Dublin Bay that has now totally disappeared. There might seem to be a peculiar contradiction in some of Alexander’s writings when he sometimes describes shooting the birds in addition to merely observing them, but this simply reflects the different values of the time, and the fact that he was used to collecting specimens for taxidermy, nevertheless, naturalists today would be horrified at the thought. A unique painting of Clontarf Island by Alexander accompanied this article in which he also mentions that at the time of writing, the Bull Island was in the process of formation and that at high tide it was then two separate islands. Mr. Gordon Ledbetter, a well known author and broadcaster, is a descendent of Alexander Williams and he is the owner of a great many of Alexander’s diaries, paintings, and sketchbooks, which he kindly made available to the author for study.
Many of Alexander’s paintings and sketches depict some of the Ringsend sailing-trawler fleet and they provide a rare insight into an almost forgotten and largely unrecorded aspect of the maritime life of Dublin Bay. This fleet of trawlers and their crews had a strong connection with Torbay and Brixham and other ports on the south coast of England that began with the establishment of a fishing company at the Poolbeg harbour in the early 19th. Century. An interchange of boats and people continued throughout the 19th. Century and into the years immediately after the First World War. Many of the local names in Ringsend today reflect this South of England connection. The trawlers, or smacks as they were known, were large, single-masted, gaff rigged vessels that fished with beam trawls. The smacks moored in the area that is today taken up with moorings for the Poolbeg Yacht Club. This part of the Port was traditionally known as the ‘Trawlers Pond’. In 1911, Alexander Williams illustrated a series of books for Stephen Gwynne entitled Beautiful Ireland. In the book dealing with Leinster, there is a splendid illustration of shipping in Dublin Port showing some of the Ringsend trawlers with their distinctive reddish brown sails and the trawl beams along one side. Several of the sketches in Gordon Ledbetter’s collection deal with the trawlers and all were undoubtedly done from the deck of the IRIS. There are also some delightful watercolour sketchbooks in Mr. Ledbetter’s collection, some only 4”x 6”, that portray scenes in Kingstown Harbour and the adjacent coastline in minute detail.
Another fine picture of some Ringsend trawlers by Williams is owned by Dr. Philip Smyly, the Curator of the Maritime Museum in Dún Laoghaire. This in an oil painting and it is entitled Up Trawl and Away . It depicts a trawler hauling the net in a squall while another heads for home with all sails set, with the Baily lighthouse in the background. This was given to Dr. Smyly’s Parents as a wedding present and a note in Mr. Ledbetter’s collection reveals that this painting cost three guineas originally. Dr. Smyly kindly showed the Author two other paintings by Williams that are owned by him. He also has Alexander’s easel in his possession. In 1894, the Badminton Library published two volumes of books on yachting that contain a chapter on the Graphic Cruisers Club in the section dealing with Irish yachting. The Illustrations for this were painted by Alexander Williams and most of these show the yacht IRIS in various locations around Dublin Bay that include, Kingstown Harbour, at the Poolbeg lighthouse, at Ireland’s Eye, and in Dublin Port near Ringsend. The original paintings for these are in the collection of Daphne and Fred Pfeiffer. There is an oil painting by Alexander Williams in the Maritime Museum in Haigh Terrace of a seventeen-foot sailing boat named EILEEN. This boat was built in Mahoney’s yard in St. Patrick Street, DúnLaoghaire, in 1908 and, remarkably, it is still sailing as one of the fleet of Howth seventeen-footers. Alexander Williams was a very prolific artist. He owned a house on Achill Island and a great many of his paintings reflect scenes of the west of Ireland. There have been few important Irish art sales in recent years that have not contained at least one of his paintings, and, while he was a popular artist during his long lifetime, his works are more sought-after now than ever.
Another artist who painted scenes around Kingstown and the coastline around Dublin Bay was Edwin Hayes RHA, 1819–1904. Like so many more successful marine painters, Hayes had spent some time at sea during his youth and the accuracy of detail that he brought to his paintings of boats and ships, and his depictions of the sea in all of its turbulent moods, must surely have been influenced by his time spent at sea. In his Dictionary of Irish Artists, Walter Strickland describes how Hayes, ‘ made the sea his studio, and in a little ten-ton yacht, he spent his time sailing about Dublin Bay’. Although Edwin Hayes was born in Bristol, he spent most of his youth in Dublin where his father had a hotel in Marlborough Street. At one time, Hayes managed the Shakespeare Tavern in Hawkins Street, Dublin. Several of his early works show scenes along the Dublin coastline from Bray Head around to Howth and in 1851 he painted Departure of the Queen from Kingsown Harbour, August 10th. 1849. An oil painting by Edwin Hayes entitled, A Wreck on Bray Strand, was sold recently by James Adam & Co. for €29,000-00. This might perhaps more accurately have been described as Killiney Strand and it shows a shipwreck some distance offshore with Bray Head in the distance. Crowds are gathered on the shore while a lifeboat is in the process of being launched through the heavy surf. A horse being led in the foreground clearly implies that the lifeboat had been drawn to the scene on a carriage. This painting was first shown in 1869. There can be little doubt that this work was inspired by a shipwreck that took place in a storm at Killiney Beach near the Shanganagh river on September 25th. 1868, that of the Portmadoc schooner BLUE VEIN, when a heroic rescue of the five crew members was carried out, largely through the efforts of a man who was later to become the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Edmund Dwyer Gray.
Edmund was the son of Sir John Gray, whose statue stands today in Dublin’s O’Connell Street. Sir John was the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal, and, as a Corporation Counciller, he was responsible for initiating the great Vartry waterworks that brought piped water to the citizens of Dublin from Roundwood in County Wicklow. The Gray family had a Summer-house on the strand at Killiney, still called Vartry Lodge, near the old railway station. When the BLUE VEIN went ashore, the Kingstown lifeboat was brought overland to Dalkey and launched, however, they were unable to make any progress in the direction of the wreck. Edmund Dwyer Gray joined those on the shore and he made several attempts to swim out to the wreck that resulted in a rope being passed to the shore, which enabled all of the crew to be rescued. He was subsequently awarded the silver medal of the R.N.L.I.. Mr. Felix Larkin, a noted authority on the Gray family, has recently uncovered the fact that Edmund was also awarded the TAYLEUR gold medal for valour. This award was initiated by the trustees of the fund that was organised for the dependents of the victims of the wreck of the passenger sailing ship TAYLEUR that was lost on Lambay Island in 1854. The medals were awarded for acts of bravery, mostly at shipwrecks.
The best known painting by Edwin Hayes, and what is regarded by many as his best work, is ‘ An Emigrant Ship. Dublin Bay at Sunset’, 1853, that Hangs in the National Gallery of Ireland, depicting a ship at anchor in Dublin Port in still conditions with a dramatic sunset. This is said to symbolise hope far to the west following a harrowing time in Irish history. Many of Edwin Hayes’s later works were painted on the North Sea coasts of France, Belgium, and Holland, and the influences of continental artists, particularly those of Dutch painters, are evident in several of his paintings from this period. It has been said that Edwin often expressed a wish to die with a brush in his hand and it would appear that is exactly the way he passed away in front of his easel on November 7 th .1904 at his home in Bayswater. As with Alexander Williams, Edwin Hayes produced a huge number of paintings during his long lifetime and they have soared in value in recent years. Edwin’s son Claude, 1852-1922, was also a successful painter. He was not noted for maritime scenes, preferring landscapes and pastoral views.
The final artist that I wish to deal with, lived and painted in Kingstown for many years, Admiral Richard Brydges Beechey, 1808–1895. Richard was the youngest son, and one of eighteen children, of another famous artist, Sir William Beechey, 1753–1839. Sir William was a court painter to the British Royalty and he painted the portraits of many of the noted people of the day. One of the portraits that he painted of Lord Nelson was reckoned by many contemporaries to be the best likeness of the famous Admiral. Richard entered the Royal Naval College as a first class volunteer in 1821, aged thirteen. He went to sea the following year in H.M.S ESPIEGLE, 18 guns, on the home station. He next served in H.M.S. OWEN GLENDOWER and then served in H.M.S. SERINGAPATNAM in the West Indies as a midshipman. His natural talent as an artist, and whatever tuition he might have had from his father, would have been supplemented by art lessons that were given to all Royal Naval midshipmen. Accurate depictions of headlands and other landfalls were a necessity during hydrographical surveying in the pre-photographic era. When he joined H.M.S. NAIAD he took part in the only action of his career during the blockade of Algiers. He played an active role in several small-boat actions. Beechey next joined H.M.S. BLOSSOM in 1825, under the command of his older brother, Captain Frederick William Beechey, for a three-year voyage of exploration around the entire Pacific Ocean.
In many ways, Frederick William Beechey is a more interesting character than his younger brother Richard. He had been at sea and in the thick of the action throughout most of the Napoleonic era and he was at the Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. He completed an overland survey during 1821 and 1822 of a large uncharted portion of the coasts of Libya and Tunisia on behalf of the Royal Navy, in company with another of his brothers, Henry. On completion of this mission he published a wonderfully interesting and readable book about his travels. Frederick was also an accomplished artist and his book is liberally illustrated with drawings that he made of the places and antiquities that he encountered en route. He had been to the Arctic regions on an earlier expedition with Captain William Parry and a small Island in the Wellington Channel is named Beechey Island, after Frederick’s father, William. The ultimate objective of the voyage of H.M.S. BLOSSOM was to try to link up with Franklin and Parry from westwards in their attempt to find the Northwest Passage. Having left England, they proceeded to Rio de Janeiro, thence around Cape Horn into the Pacific, calling at Valparaiso and next to the area of California, now known as San Francisco but then called Yerba Buena.
While there, young Richard painted watercolours of the region that was then very sparsely populated. The great gold rush of 1849 was still well in the future. These pictures are highly regarded in America as some of the first depictions of that coastline. Although there was an official artist to the expedition, Mate William Smyth, on board to record everything encountered, Richard continued painting throughout the voyage. Their journey now took them across the Pacific through many of the island groups where six new islands were discovered. During a stop at an island in the Gambier group, a landing party was attacked by natives and Lieutenant Wainwright was injured with a spear. Richard Beechey recorded this incident in a drawing. They called at Pitcairn Island where Richard did several paintings of the difficult landing through the heavy surf. While there, they interviewed the last of the BOUNTY mutineers, John Adams, who was the only surviving member of Bligh’s crew that had landed on the Island in 1789. Adams provided some fascinating insights into the mutiny and laid the blame squarely on the officers. His portrait was painted by Richard Brydges Beechey. H.M.S. BLOSSOM was not the first ship to visit Pitcairn after the mutiny. That honour fell to an American Whale-ship TOPAZ in 1808 and two Royal Navy vessels, BRITON and TAGUS had called there in 1814. Frederick Beechey was subsequently responsible for having official supplies sent to the Island.
They next journeyed to Macao and on to Kamchatka from where they made their way up into the Arctic regions beyond the Bering Straits. They were unsuccessful in linking up with Franklin’s party, who were endeavouring to penetrate the Northwest passage from the east, although it subsequently emerged that the two parties were within about two hundred miles of each other at one stage. Richard Beechey did several paintings of their camps on the ice and also drew several illustrations of native Innuit people that were encountered. As winter set in, Captain Frederick William was determined upon another probe into the Arctic regions in the following year and they set sail for California once more. The voyage across the Pacific on the following year covered much the same ground as the previous year and they had no greater success in finding Franklin’s party.
After a three-year voyage, H.M.S. BLOSSOM arrived home to a tremendous reception at Portsmouth. Frederick William wrote an account of the voyage in two volumes that were published in 1831. These books give a totally engrossing and fascinating account of the voyage and several of Richard Beechey’s illustrations were used in addition to those of William Smyth. A beautifully illustrated book entitled, The Zoology of Captain Beechey’s voyage , was also published. Among the many species of newly discovered birds illustrated is one named Pica Beecheii , a Purple Jay. Another work outlining all of the flora and fauna observed and collected, was later published. Frederick William spent some of his remaining years in the Navy engaged on survey work. He became a member of the Arctic Council, a select group, mainly comprised of officers who had been on Arctic exploration. He completed a number of surveys for the Admiralty that included a report on the best means of communication between London and Dublin. This extensive account includes assessments of all of the tidal conditions in various ports in addition to details of the railway-line networks. He also carried out feasibility studies for the siting of trans-Atlantic packet stations and harbours of refuge in Galway and the mouth of the Shannon. He was involved in naval administration and with the Board of Trade before he retired as an Admiral. There is a town called Pirongia in King Country, New Zealand where most of the streets are named after Polar explorers and in the middle of this there is a Beechey Street named after Frederick. Bournemouth in the South of England also has a Beechey Street. There is a magnificent portrait of Frederick in the Maritime Museum at Greenwich. This was painted by yet another Beechey artist, his brother, George Duncan. Frederick’s daughter, Francis Ann Hopkins, 1835-1919 was an artist of note, who lived in Canada. She painted many iconic images of voyageurs in canoes, which were based upon her travels with her husband Edward, an official in the Hudsons Bay Company. She featured on a Canadian stamp in 1988.
Richard Beechey served on several more ships before being invalided out in 1835. Shortly after, be recommenced active duty and for the rest of his service he was involved in surveying and charting the coastline of Ireland, notably on the southern and western approaches. His name can be seen on many of the old fathom charts of the region. He also surveyed the Shannon navigation into its upper reaches. He continued painting throughout this period and there are several magnificent paintings by him depicting places like the Blasket Islands, Slea Head, and Eagle Island. Richard married a lady with the unusual name of Frideswide Marie Moore Smythe of Portlick Castle, County Westmeath. They had one son and three daughters. One of his daughters, also named Frideswide, and her husband, Thomas Rowland, lived in Rus in Urbe, Kingstown. Both were chess champions and they co-wrote a book on chess problems. Mrs. Rowland also undertook to do handwriting analysis by post on receipt of a postal order for one shilling. She also typed manuscripts at moderate terms. Richard was promoted to Commander in 1840. In 1864, after his retirement from the Royal Navy with the rank of Captain, Richard and his wife moved to Monkstown where they lived at 2 Belgrave Square North. They later lived at 2 Corrig Castle Terrace, an address that no longer exists. This area is now absorbed into Northumberland Park and the site of Beechey’s house is now near the home of another fine artist, that of Mr. Colin Scudds of the Dún Laoghaire Borough Historical Society. Admiral Beechey later lived at 110 Pembroke Road. During his time spent in Kingstown, Beechey produced a great many fine paintings of Kingstown harbour, many of which depict the mail-boats of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. The National Gallery of Ireland have a beautiful painting of the mail-boat CONNAGHT in rough weather with the water depicted in all the turmoil of a storm. It seems absurd to find Admiral Beechey described in some artists directories as an ‘amateur painter’. The Admiral was a member of the Royal St. George Yacht Club and several of his paintings hang there including one of the Blaskets, and a magnificent panoramic view of the Harbour on a regatta day, taken from the seaward side of the Club premises. Richard painted many of the large cutter and schooner yachts and there are several dramatic examples of these including one entitled ‘ Rounding the Mark Buoy’ that was sold recently in Britain.
The author’s favourite painting by Beechey is of a gaff-rigged fishing boat entering Kingstown Harbour in boisterous weather. A small boat with a mast unshipped and the sails furled is being towed behind with several people sitting in it. This boat recurs in several of Beechey’s paintings and it probably represents the Admiral and some of his friends. The painting shows some large cutter yachts, with the Royal St. George Burgee flying, sailing out of the Harbour, while a large warship similar to the VANGUARD is getting under sail in the harbour. The Captain of the ill-fated guard-ship H.M.S. VANGUARD, Richard Dawkins, was reckoned by many at the time to have been unfairly treated at his court-martial over the loss of his ship. He never again received a command. He would have been well known to Admiral Beechey as the Captain of the guard-ship was traditionally given honorary membership of the Royal St. George Yacht Club. Captain Dawkins had commanded H.M.S.ZEALOUS during an extended voyage in the Pacific and Richard Beechey did a painting for him entitled H.M.S. Zealous passing the glaciers in the Magellan Straits .
There are some Beechey paintings with a New Zealand connection. The national Library of Australia have a painting entitled H.M.S.Acheron riding out a terrific gale between the south Islands of New Zealand 1849. This was painted in 1862. The Mayor’s office of the City of Waitekere recently acquired a painting of The wreck of H.M.S. Orpheus. This Royal Naval ship was wrecked in New Zealand in1863 with the loss of 198 lives. The late Daniel Gillman offered a large painting by Beechey to the National Gallery and to one of the yacht clubs for a modest sum but was politely refused. It was promptly snapped up by a member of the New York Yacht Club for a considerable price. There is a fine painting in the Maritime Museum in Greenwich of sailing pilot-cutters racing to a sailing-ship, entitled, First Come, First Served. There are two paintings by Beechey in Ardgillan Castle in Skerries that evidently came from a house sale in Cabinteely and were bought by the County Council, Shipwreck 1878 and The Mail-boat Connaght entering Kingstown Harbour . Beechey’s painting of the Battle of the Nile, showing the French ship L’ORIENT blowing up, is reckoned to be among the best depictions of that event. This event inspired Mrs. Hemans to write the famous poem, Casabianca . Admiral Beechey spent his latter years in Plymouth. He was promoted to Rear-Admiral on the retired list in 1875 and to Vice-Admiral in 1879. In 1885 Richard was promoted to Admiral. There are some paintings in existence that reflect this period, one of Plymouth Breakwater and another of H.M.S. Vivid passing the Eddystone lighthouses. This latter painting is of great interest as it provides a rare view of both lighthouses before the earlier construction was moved onto dry land at Plymouth Hoe. Richard was among those who had been presented with the Arctic medal by Queen Victoria. During the Queen’s jubilee, he painted a picture of the Royal Yacht, VICTORIA AND ALBERT, that was presented to the Queen by the officers of the Royal Yachts. Other Beechey paintings in the royal household were, H.M.S. St. George in a gale with Prince Alfred aboard , and the Prince of Wales Yacht Britannia . During the tercentenary of the Spanish Armada, Richard painted Attack on the Spanish Armada , for the Fine Art Gallery of the Plymouth Institute. This was described at the time as a painting ‘ Full of fire and slaughter, smoke and carnage’ .
Admiral Beechey died in 1895 at Southsea. He was survived by his son Frederick, who was a Colonel in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, and two of his daughters. His wife and one of his daughters, Mrs. Walter Hedger of Clontarf, had pre-deceased him. The author is not aware of any comprehensive catalogue of the artist’s extensive works.
There are a great many more artists who have been inspired by Dún laoghaire and the surrounding coastline, but, unfortunately, there we must leave it for the moment.
- Irelands Painters, 1600-1940, Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin.
- Ships of the Victorian Navy, Conrad Dixon.
- The Black Battle Fleet. Admiral G.A.Ballard.
- Whyte’s Art auction Catalogues,
- James Adam& Co. Art Auction Catalogues.
- Sothebys Art Auction Catalogues,
- Christies Art Auction Catalogues.
- Dictionary of Irish Artists, 20 th . Century, Theo Snoddy.
- A Dictionary of Irish Artists, Walter Strickland.
- Samuel Walters, Marine Artist, Sam Davidson.
- The Royal St. George Yacht Club, Peter Pearson & Stella Archer.
- Discover Irish Art, Marie Bourke & Sighle Breathnach.
- Three Hundred Years of Irish Watercolours and Drawings, Patricia A. Butler.
- The Badminton Library, Yachting, vol 2. 1894.
- Colin Scudds, Corrig Castle & Demense,Dún Laoghaire Journal No. 6 1997.
- Crawford Gallery, catalogue of paintings.
- Proceedings of the Expedition to explore the North Coast of Africa from Tripoli Eastwards, Lieutenant Frederick William Beechey, R.N.
- Narrative of a voyage to the Pacific and Beerings (sic) Strait, 2 volumes, Captain Frederick William Beechey, R.N. 1831
- R.B.Beechey and the Irish Mail, Daniel Gillman, Martello
- The Zoology of Captain Beechey’s Voyage, Captain Frederick William Beechey &c. &c. 1834.
- Illustrograph, April, 1895, Obituary of Admiral Richard Brydges Beechey
- Edward Bourke
- Sam Davidson
- The Late Daniel Gillman
- The Late John Stafford,
- Dr. Philip Smyly
- Colin Scudds
- Gordon Ledbetter
- Fred & Daphne Pfeiffer
- Gordon Patterson
- Eamonn De Burca.
- Felix Larkin
- Michael McGovern
- Mayor Bob Harvey of Waitekere.
- Michael McElligot.
- Alex Buck, The Royal Collection Trust.