A caricature of Greenwich Pensioners

This caricature is a rare original image showing a black Greenwich Pensioner in Greenwich Hospital uniform. Although the balustrading across the background is inauthentic, the presence of moored shipping behind suggests the scene is supposed to be the Grand Square of the Hospital, while the throng of Pensioners along it well suggests the 'listless idleness and mental vacuity' that (in a phrase of the 1860s) characterized much of Hospital life.

On the far left a Pensioner sitting on the parapet leans forward, talking to a dog below. Further right another group of four are conversing, two sitting on the edge and one with a left peg-leg. A single man with a stick stands further right. The main figures are a sandy-haired white Pensioner, on crutches and with his bandaged right leg sticking out rigidly in some sort of wooden brace, turning to make what may be a witty remark over his left shoulder to his black colleague. The latter, facing right with his hands in his pockets, similarly turns his head back over his shoulder to listen and does not seem amused.

There is no original title but an implied one may be 'the pot calling the kettle black' since 'sandy hair' also carries a spherical earthenware pot hanging from a cord handle in his left hand. His black shipmate has lost his right leg below the knee, the stump protruding behind the socket of his wooden peg-leg. Both men wear crumpled cocked hats and Hospital uniform: the pot-carrier's is standard, of blue with grey/blue stockings (as is the dress of the background group) but 'peg-leg' wears a red waistcoat and a blue-striped stocking on his left leg. From other near contemporary images, the former at least may have been either a genuine black fashion or a stereotype of racial representation. The image date could be from any point in Thurston's mature working life (1774-1822). His name, 'Thurston', is the only apparently meaningful jotting of some pencil scrawls on the reverse.

Object Details

ID: PAH3303
Collection: Fine art
Type: Drawing
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Thurston, John
Date made: circa 1800
Exhibition: The Atlantic: Slavery, Trade, Empire; War and Conflict
People: Greenwich Pensioner; Thurston, John
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 241 x 300 mm; Mount: 405 mm x 555 mm

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