The ships 'Vigilant' and 'Harpooner' offshore

(Updated, May 2024) Oil painting entitled 'The ships "Vigilant" and "Harpooner" offshore', 'Harpooner' being on the right. Both were South Sea whalers belonging jointly to Green, Wigrams & Green (a partnership which was formed in 1829), and were built by them at Blackwall. 'Harpooner', 398 tons (though soon re-registered at 405), was built in 1830 and 'Vigilant', 403 tons, in 1831. This was just after George Green became involved in whaling, from 1829, though both he and the Wigrams subsequently also owned whalers on their own accounts. It was in fact Richard Green, George's son, who led on this initiative after South Sea whaling was pioneered from London by the Enderby family, who from 1834 had a 'look-out' house (now converted as a pub) and wharf in East Greenwich almost opposite Green's Blackwall yard. There is another ship portrait of the 'Harpooner' showing her in her pre-1848 rig in the Science Museum collection, presented by the granddaughter of her first master, John Clark of Blackwall (d. 1833/4 at sea and replaced by a man called Howard, possibly the first mate). She made four long whaling voyages to the South Seas, 1831-33, 1833-37, 1837-41 (during which she was dismasted at sea) and 1842-48. On return in 1848 she was sold to a captain/owner called L. Morrice and, re-rigged as a barque, shifted into cargo use, first outward to Vancouver in 1849 and then on the return voyage and up to 1852 apparently in the guano trade from the west coast of South America. In 1852, bound with guano from Callao to Hong Kong, she had to be discharged as leaky at Honolulu after grounding nearby and was reported condemned there, but appears to have refitted and returned round the world to London via Singapore and Mauritius in 1854. She then made a final voyage under Morrice from late that year to the Cape of Good Hope and Madras, going on to Singapore, Penang and China. In October 1856, sailing from Amoy to Ningpo she became unseaworthy after hitting a rock near the latter port and was sold there, probably for breaking up, though still in Lloyd's for 1857. The length and variety of her voyages, and the damage survived over a 26-year career, are testament to the quality of the ships the Greens built. 'Vigilant' (more generally noted as 404 tons) had a similar career trajectory from 1831, starting in the South Sea whale fishery but with detailed initial entries in Lloyd's Register only to 1833. Very cursory ones (minus owner and voyage for example) continue to the 1838-39 issue, then none until she reappears re-classified as a barque under new owners from 1844 to 1852 in regular trade to the Cape of Good Hope.

The painting is signed and dated, lower right, 'W. Huggins 1832' and is a good example of the work of this well-known London marine painter and ship portraitist (1781-1845). He has placed both ships as if sailing together, which they never did, off an East Indies coastline. It was probably commissioned by the Greens, who often did this either in paintings or prints, to mark their ships going into service.

Object Details

ID: BHC3390
Collection: Fine art; Special collections
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Huggins, William John
Vessels: Harpooner 1831; Vigilant 1831
Date made: 1832
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Green Blackwall Collection
Measurements: Painting: 815 mm x 1270 mm; Frame: 975 mm x 1437 mm x 105 mm

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