H.M. Brigantine Dolphin, 3 Guns

'Dolphin' , 319 tons, was launched at Sheerness Dockyard on 14 June 1836 and from September 1837 to October 1842 was in anti-slavery work on the West African coast, then again so from September 1847 until at least 1854. In between (May 1843-March 1847) it was on the south-east coast of America, probably also in similar work. From 1861 to 1871 it was in Customs service at home and it was broken-up in 1894. This hand-coloured lithograph shows the ship opening fire on what is probably a fast slaving schooner beyond, whose mizzen driver (sail) appears to be falling down from a shot cutting a halliard, unless the crew are lowering it in surrender. That the scene is off the African coast is indicated by palm trees on the distant shore to the left. George Francis Dow's 'Slave Ships and Slaving' (1927), p. 260, reproduces this copy of the print (part of the Museum's Macpherson Collection) claiming it shows 'Dolphin', then under Lt. Henry Temple, taking the American slaver 'Mary Adeline' off the Congo in 1852. It probably does show a real incident, yet to be be identified, but the only report in English newspapers for 1852 shows 'Dolphin' coming to the aid of the American trading brig 'Mary Adeline' when it ran ashore in the mouth of the Congo on 19 June and was quickly subject to African mass-attack in an attempt to loot the cargo. On 20th 'Dolphin' used gunfire to clear a hostile crowd of about 3000 from the adjacent beach and kept them off by occasional shots thereafter. HM sloop 'Firefly' arrived that evening to help but the 'Mary Adeline' remained aground until her cargo was transferred into 'Dolphin' on 22nd, when it became possible to haul her off. The incident was widely reported in English newspapers in September and October, based on a report originally published in the 'St Helena Gazette' of 14 August, and the American captain, Appleton Oaksmith, whose conduct in the affair was praised, wrote two commendatory poems to 'Dolphin' and its crew, published in the 'Royal Cornwall Gazette' of 22 October. A fairly unusual feature in 'Dolphin's rig, as shown here, is the gaff-sail on the foremast, which increased speed for pursuits in beam winds so long as the ship stayed on the same tack, since the sail had to be carried over the mainstay if there was a change to the opposite tack. Oaksmith (1825-87) was a notable character who became a shipowner and legislator in North Carolina. He allowed his ships to be used for gun-running and probably slave trading during the American Civil War and was briefly jailed in New York in 1862 for equipping a slave ship, though he quickly escaped. We are grateful to Dr Jonathan White for his input to this entry.

Object Details

ID: PAF8073
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Ackermann, Rudolph; Hinton, A. Vernon, H. John Foster, William Day & Haghe
Vessels: Dolphin (1836)
Date made: circa 1853
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 276 x 379 mm; Mount: 406 mm x 559 mm

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