The yacht 'America' outsailing the 'Pearl', 14 August 1851

(Updated, December 2021) The story behind this picture is recounted in 'The Lawson History of the America's Cup' ([Winifred M. Thompson and Thomas W.Lawson] Boston, Mass.,1902, p.34): 'The old Marquis of Anglesey went out with his yacht, the Pearl (one of the best sailers of the [Royal Yacht] squadron), taking with him Mr Steers, one of America's crew, the brother of Mr George Steers, the builder, to sail about the harbour. The America went after her under a mainsail and jib only, and passed her without difficulty. The Master of the Pearl said "Your lordship knows that no vessel with sails alone could do that", a comment that later led the Marquis, when he visited the America, to lean so far over the stern that the Commodore took hold of his leg to prevent him from going over – he was looking most eagerly for the propeller.'

The sailing incident in fact occurred on 14 August 1851 during the Royal Victoria Yacht Club Regatta, in the Solent. Neither 'Pearl' nor 'America' were participating in the club race but as the 'Morning Advertiser' of the 15th recounted, 'The celebrated American yacht America, J.R. Stephens, Esqr., joined the squadron in the Cowes Roads, in company with the Pearl, belonging to the Marquis of Anglesey, having only her staysail and foresail set, and continued with the contending vessels up the West Channel, and again gave proof of her good qualities and excellent trim, and there can be no doubt that she will be a formidable rival to any yacht who will take up her challenge and contend against her. So sanguine are her owners of her superior prowess, that they are ready, so we understand, to back her to almost any amount.'

The painting is signed 'H. Sargeant', who is presumed to be Henry Sargeant (1797-1868), a Portsmouth marine artist who did local yachting scenes among others in parallel to being a glazier, plumber and decorator for 50 years. He was based at 85 High Street around 1839-40 and, about 1842-45 in Broad Street, before returning to 63 High Street by 1861. He would certainly have heard of the incident shown, even if he did not see it himself, since the 'America' was then causing a local sensation. Only eight days later it won the Royal Yacht Squadron's annual race round the Isle of Wight, for which the silver £100-trophy has ever since been called 'the America's Cup'.

The only slight doubt on the artist is evidence, also slight so far, of his grandson - Henry Edwin Sargeant (1846-1911) - also painting locally in the 1880s and into the 1900s, in a similar style. It is possible that he might also have reconstructed the incident from the 1902 elaboration of the story. Sargeant senior became bankrupt in 1845 but seems to have recovered until after his wife died in September 1867. Bankrupted again in January 1868 owing to illness and 'badness of trade', he died that August aged 71, with final resolution his affairs continuing into the following year. This information, and the sources, emerged as the result of an Art UK online discussion in November 2021.

Object Details

ID: BHC3193
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Sargeant, H; Sargeant, Henry
Events: America's Cup
Vessels: Pearl fl.1859; America (1850)
Date made: Mid 19th century
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Macpherson Collection
Measurements: Frame: 400 mm x 528 mm x 37 mm;Painting: 280 mm x 419 mm

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