The capture of the slaver 'Formidable' by HMS 'Buzzard', 17 December 1834

Huggins’ painting is one of many that were produced by British marine artists in the decades following the 1807 Act of Abolition of the British slave trade, showing Navy vessels in action against mainly Spanish and Portuguese vessels still engaged in the Atlantic slave trade. Here the Spanish slaving brig 'Formidable' is taken by HM brigantine 'Buzzard', 10 guns, an action that took place on 17 December 1834. The 'Buzzard' intercepted the Spanish ship, loaded with slaves for the Middle Passage, in the Bight of Benin, off the west coast of Africa. After 45 minutes, the 'Formidable' surrendered with the loss of seven men. Two of the 'Buzzard''s crew were killed. The captured ship was taken to Freetown, Sierra Leone, but not before 307 of the cargo of 707 African slaves 'perished from disease and misery'.

The picture is thus very much part of the moralized anti-slavery culture of 19th-century Britain; but it is also of documentary interest, in depicting the nettings on the Spanish vessel that were used to prevent slaves’ frequent attempts at escape or suicide by jumping overboard. In this case they may also have been intended to prevent boarding parties. The Museum also has Huggins’ watercolour version (PAG9762) and the aquatint by Edward Duncan after Huggins’ painting (PAH8184). The watercolour lacks the piece of floating timber, shown on the left under the bowsprit of the 'Formidable' in the oil, which appears to bear an abraded signature - possibly 'WJH', though also looking like a name in cursive ending 'ield': this may however be delusory. Huggins exhibited a larger version of the same subject at the British Institution in 1836 (no. 474: framed dimensions, 5 ft 1 in x 6 ft 9 in), so this small one is probably a replica.

Object Details

ID: BHC0625
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Display - Atlantic Gallery
Creator: Huggins, William John
Vessels: Buzzard (1834); Formidable (fl.1834)
Date made: circa 1836; After 1834
Exhibition: The Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire; Enslavement and Resistance
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Frame: 528 x 690 x 75 mm; Painting: 380 mm x 545 mm

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