Launch of the 'Venerable', 74 guns, at Blackwall, 19 April 1784

The received title of this oil painting is the 'Launch of HMS Venerable at Blackwall'. The picture shows John Perry's (later Green's) yard at Blackwall on the north bank of the Thames, below Greenwich. 1784 was probably its greatest year under Perry when he had three 74-gun ships (two-deckers) and two 44s for the Navy on the stocks as well as an East Indiaman and a West Indiaman (possibly the vessel on the far right).

All three 74s are visible here in the centre, with one of them, the 'Venerable', ready for launch and flying her launching flags just before that event on 19 April. A cutter-rigged Admiralty yacht in the foreground has lowered her mainsail to lose way so that a party of naval VIPs on board can inspect the scene. An official barge, presumably that of the Navy Board (since flying its flag at the bow), can be seen approaching on the far left and a Thames wherry under sail on the right carries a party of civilian onlookers.The vessel in the lower left corner appears to be a sand or gravel barge. Lying along its port gunwale is a long-handled scoop/ sieve attached to a small swing-out davit, for dredging up sand an gravel from the river bed and swinging it into the divided central hold. Here one part is full, the other less so, with a man standing in it with a shovel. The sternpost bears the Latin figures XXXV above XXV (35 and 25): this cannot be a depth measurement so is most likely to indicate the weight of sand or gravel in the barge, perhaps in tons, when loaded down to those marks. The stakes with apparently metal-shod points also being handled are probably temporary mooring posts, driven into the river bed to keep the barge stationary while the bed around it is being dredged for the and and gravel cargo. Above it towards the left of the picture is Blackwall Yard House, built in 1612 and taken down in 1873, which was the Perry and later the Green family home.

This large picture relates to another of similar size by Holman (BHC1866) showing the yard later in the year, possibly with the launch of the 44-gun 'Adventure' on 19 July, and what may be 'Venerable' lying fully rigged on the far left. The other ships in both pictures remain to be conclusively identified. The present picture has been called 'style of Holman' (and more recently Holman) but closer examination suggests reasons it may be by someone he taught rather than himself personally. For a start, it is less accomplished than BHC1866. It is perhaps also unlikely - if both were done for John Perry - that he would have had two so close, both in subject and date, by the same artist and not least since we know Holman died aged 55 in November 1784. The passage boat in the bottom right also bears a clear inscription on its sail: 'T. Trigg / Woolwich', which might be the proprietor of the boat or a signature - though no artist of that name is so far known.

That said, Henry Green and Robert Wigram in 'Chronicles of Blackwall Yard' (1881), p.32, mention two pictures of this multi-vessel-view type and date and showing the 'Venerable', one as being in possession of a descendant of John Perry (which could be member of the Green family) and the other owned by Money, Wigram & Sons, but without stating the artist in either case. The coincidence of the presence of 'Venerable' suggests that this and BHC1866 are those pictures but it cannot be regarded as certain. The 'Venerable' herself later served as Admiral Duncan's flagship at the Battle of Camperdown in 1797 and was lost in an accident in Tor Bay in 1804.

Object Details

ID: BHC1869
Collection: Fine art; Special collections
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Holman, Francis; circle of Francis Holman
Places: Blackwall
Vessels: Venerable (1784)
Date made: late 18th century; 1784
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Green Blackwall Collection
Measurements: Painting: 915 mm x 1525 mm; Frame: 976 mm x 1606 mm x 65 mm Weight: 26.4kg

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