Billy Waters

A full-length portrait, slightly to the left, showing Waters wearing a red waistcoat (with a pipe? in the left pocket), white shirt, yellow neckerchief and dark trousers, with a leather belt about his waist. His left hand is on a walking stick, which supports him; a false leg is strapped to the stump of his right leg (many depictions of Waters show him having lost his left leg). The background is painted gold.
Billy Waters (c.1778–1823) was born in America during the War of Independence. He was a seaman in the Royal Navy and lost his leg as a result of falling from the topsail yard of the 'Ganymede' in 1812. Unable to serve at sea, he became a famous London street entertainer and was often to be seen busking with his fiddle to support his family. Waters featured in Pierce Egan’s 'Life in London' (1820–21) and was one of the characters illustrated by George Cruikshank. Indeed, Waters appeared in several Cruikshank cartoons, including 'The New Union Club' (NMM, ZBA2498). Waters ended his days in St Giles’s Workhouse, having fallen ill and been forced to pawn his fiddle. He was elected ‘king of the beggars’ shortly before his death.
While the attribution to Sir David Wilkie is not certain, it is entirely possible that Waters was painted by him most likely in London.

Object Details

ID: ZBA2427
Collection: Fine art; Special collections
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Wilkie, David
Date made: 1815, circa
People: Waters, Billy
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London, Michael Graham-Stewart Slavery Collection. Acquired with the assistance of the Heritage Lottery Fund
Measurements: Painting: 274 mm x 212 mm Frame: 400 mm x 344 mm x 70 mm Overall: 2.8 kg

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