George IV on board the 'Lightning', the first Post Office Steam Packet to Dublin, 12 August 1821

At the end of May 1821, after some reluctance, the Post Office introduced the first two steam mail-packets, 'Lightning' and 'Meteor', at Holyhead to carry the mails and passengers to Dublin. In the year following his accession, King George IV paid a state visit to Ireland. He sailed as far as Holyhead on the royal yacht, 'Royal George', when he met contrary winds. So he took the unprecedented step of transferring to the steam-packet 'Lightning', setting sail on 7 August.

The painting is set off the coast of Holyhead, visible in the distance on the left. To the right of centre, in bright light, the 'Lightning' is depicted in starboard broadside, smoke billowing from her funnel, with the King and his entourage visible on the deck. To the left is the 'Royal George', still flying the 'Royal Standard', although the King had embarked on the steam-packet which only flies the ensign, and on the far left the other steam-packet, 'Meteor'. The picture is framed on the far right by an escorting frigate in bow view, flying a signal flag and pennant. It fires a farewell salute and has been depicted in shadow to imply the end of the era of sail.

'Lightning', with Sir Francis Freeling, the Secretary of the Post Office also on board, arrived in Dublin the next day, followed by the 'Royal George', the 'Meteor' and the rest of the squadron. No one in Dublin realised that the King was on board the 'Lightning', which resulted in a distinctly informal beginning to the state visit, much to his amusement. In honour of the occasion the vessel was renamed the 'Royal Sovereign King George the Fourth', later shortened to 'Royal Sovereign R', 'R Sovereign' or 'Sovereign'.

Huggins made at least one voyage to China in East India Company service before establishing himself as a marine painter in London by 1817. Specializing in ship portraits, he was prolific and popular, largely though the lithographs made by his assistant Edward Duncan, who was also his son-in-law from 1834. In 1830 he became marine painter to the 'Sailor king' William IV (George IV's brother), who had been a naval officer and according to Samuel Redgrave 'esteemed his work rather for its correctness than its art'. This painting appears to have been done for Sir Francis Freeling since it was acquired from his descendants.

Object Details

ID: BHC0619
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Huggins, William John
Date made: 1822
People: King George IV
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Caird Collection
Measurements: Painting: 940 mm x 1525 mm; Frame: 1217 mm x 1823 mm x 168 mm

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