The Wooden Walls of Old England. This Print from the Original Picture in the possession of the Earl of Coventry Is respectfully dedicated to the British Navy (caricature)

On the right, a retired 18th-century naval captain in a long wig, cocked hat and full dress (apparently close to the 1748-67 pattern) sits in a rigged model three-decker warship, with the name 'Dreadnought' across the transom, and is pulled across a pond in his grounds by a servant. From his wooden leg the servant is also clearly an ex-seaman and the master too may be an invalid, since he has a crutch in the 'Dreadnought' with him. The captain is smoking a clay pipe and opens fire with one of the model's upper guns on a miniature fort at the side of the pond on the left, to the alarm of two ducks. The fort flies a flag, possibly intended as Spanish or Papal, with a central shield topped by a mitre, a cross at the bottom centre, and four crosses in the corners, similar to the Jerusalem flag. Although humorous, the implication is one of traditional anti-Catholic 'John Bull' patriotism. A chair and table, with a jug and wine glass on it for the captain, are visible by the pond at the entrance of a garden arbour behind. The artist, Robert Buss (1804-74), was a subject painter and illustrator, including of an edition of Marryat's 'Peter Simple' in 1837. What appears to be the original oil painting (21 x 28 in/ 53.3 x71 cm) from which this print was engraved reappeared at a Charles Miller Ltd marine auction sale in London on 1 May 2013, lot 38. The image is an example of a sub-genre of mid-19th-century historical painting, using subjects inspired by scenes from literature, rather than illustrating editions of the books concerned: C. R. Leslie's 'Uncle Toby and the Widow Wadman' (1842) from Sterne's 'Tristram Shandy' and E. M. Ward's 'Dr Johnson in the ante-room of Lord Chesterfield...' (1845), both in the Tate collection, are roughly contemporary examples. In this case the implied subject is likely to be Commodore Hawser Trunnion, from Tobias Smollet's 'Peregrine Pickle'. Trunnion himself may have been based on Captain Fitzroy Henry Lee or a Captain Hoare/Hore whom Smollett is thought to have known when a naval surgeon under Admiral Vernon in the assault on Cartagena (Colombia) in 1740, and who reputedly regulated his home life in England on naval lines. Although 18th-century Royal Naval warships only had names painted on their sterns for approximately a ten-year period in the 1770s and early 1780s, the bombardment of a coastal fort here probably alludes to Vernon's successful assault on the Spanish 'Iron Castle' of Porto Bello, Panama, in 1739, just preceding the less successful attack on Cartagena.

Object Details

ID: PAF3754
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Graves, Arthur; Lloyd, R. Rolls, H. Buss, Robert William
Date made: 19th century
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Mount: 9 7/16 in x 10 3/4 in

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