Captain Edward Belcher (1799-1877)

A half-length portrait very slightly to the left, showing Belcher in his captain’s uniform full dress uniform (over three years) of the 1856–79 pattern. He is wearing his CB, First China War medal, long service medal with the clasps for Gaeta and Algiers, and the Arctic medal. The painting is signed: ‘C. Fullwood’; it is a copy of the portrait by Stephen Pearce, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859 and now in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG 1217).

Edward Belcher entered the Navy in April 1812. As a midshipman in the ‘Superb’ under Captain Charles Ekins, he was present at the bombardment of Algiers in August 1816. He was promoted lieutenant on 21 July 1818. In May 1825, as assistant surveyor, he sailed in the ‘Blossom’, commanded by Frederick William Beechey, on a voyage to the Pacific Ocean and the Bering Strait. He was made commander on 16 March 1829 and commanded the ‘Aetna’ between May 1830 and September 1833, surveying parts of the west and north coasts of Africa. He was then engaged in survey work in home waters. In November 1836 Belcher was appointed to the ‘Sulphur’ surveying the west coast of the Americas. He was ordered to take the western route home, but the ‘Sulphur’ was then sent to China as part of the British effort in the First Anglo-Chinese, or Opium, War, seeing action on the Canton River. Belcher did not return to Britain until July 1842 after seven years of continuous commission. He was made captain on 6 May 1841, a CB on the 14 October that year and knighted in January 1843.

He was then in November 1842 appointed to the ‘Samarang’ to survey the China coast, a five-year commission. In 1852, he led a mission to search for Sir John Franklin. Although an able surveyor, Belcher was temperamentally unsuited to this task, inspiring a strong dislike among the men under his command. He found the trying circumstances of the Arctic difficult to cope with and abandoned a ship caught in the ice with undue haste; it was later found floating freely in the Atlantic.

Belcher was not employed again but, through seniority, was made rear-admiral on 11 February 1861, vice-admiral on 2 April 1866 and admiral on 20 October 1872. He was made KCB on 1867.

Object Details

ID: BHC2544
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Fullwood, Charles; Pearce, Stephen
Date made: Late 19th century
People: Belcher, Edward
Credit: On loan to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London from a private collection
Measurements: Frame: 595 mm x 538 mm x 50 cm;Painting: 406 mm x 355 mm

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