Lieutenant Nelson volunteering to board a prize in a violent gale, Nov 20th 1777

A print after the painting by Richard Westall, BHC042l. It was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1807 with the title, ‘Lord Nelson, when second lieutenant of the Lowestoffe frigate, 32 guns, Captain Locker, going to take possession of an American marque, during a strong gale of wind, and a heavy sea; the first lieutenant having returned, and declared it impracticable.’

It shows an incident during the American Revolutionary War, 1775–83, and was commissioned by John McArthur, as a plate for the first biography, ‘The Life of Admiral Lord Nelson, KB’, which he published with James Stainer Clarke in 1809. The image was one of a series painted by Westall for the book and intended to illustrate Nelson’s life as a series of heroic acts. In 1777 Captain William Locker sailed to the West Indies station in the ‘Lowestoffe’, 32 guns. He arrived at Port Royal, Jamaica, in July with a convoy of 18 sail of merchantmen and with the young Horatio Nelson as his second lieutenant. When the ‘Lowestoffe’ captured an American privateer on 20 November, a rough sea made the first lieutenant reluctant to try to board it to take formal possession. It was important to capture these American privateers because they were harassing British trade in the West Indies. However Nelson volunteered for the task and he succeeded in boarding and taking possession of the ship despite the heavy sea.

The painting denotes the moment that Nelson leaves the ‘Lowestoffe’ into the ship’s boat that will take him to the captured vessel, seen in the top left corner of the image. He is shown on the verge of the momentous departure, poised with one leg already firmly in the boat. In an exaggeratedly theatrical gesture, he bids farewell to Captain Locker (recognizably shown as a portrait) and the other officers standing in the ship. Other figures crowd the deck in anticipation of the daring feat, their arms outstretched to hold the ropes and help steady the boat. The artist has accentuated the strong swell, bottom left, where the waves come up over the side of the boat. This has emphasized the effect by enclosing the action and by pitching the ship and the boat at the same angle in the heavy sea. The sailors on the boat use the oars to keep the waves from crashing it into the side of the ship. The heavy sea demonstrates the tension and physical enterprise and anticipates the potential danger ahead. Westall further conveys a staged effect by a dramatic use of gesture and expression.

Object Details

ID: PAI5351
Collection: Fine art
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Raimbach, Abraham; Thomas Cadell & William Davies Westall, Richard
Date made: 1809
People: Nelson, Horatio
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. Caird Fund.
Measurements: Sheet: 549 x 398 mm

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