Boats and carts unloading a brig on the south coast of England

(Updated, January 2020) Until December 2019, this drawing was titled 'Landing of a Cable End at Porthcurno', which appears to have been an old mistake relating to an event of 6 June 1870, when the ship 'Investigator' - a three-masted steam auxiliary vessel just over 200 feet long - landed the UK end of the Eastern Telegraph Company's submarine cable to India, known as the ‘Red Sea Line’ at Porthcurno, Cornwall. The artist Robert Dudley (1826-1909) had gone there to record the scene for the 'Illustrated London News' and a wood engraving based on his drawing of 'Investigator' landing the cable was published in its edition of 25 June 1870, together with a general view of the bay taken from inland.

This watercolour (PAJ3524) and PAJ3428 - which is a historical view of Porthcurno showing a Spanish raid on the bay around 1590 - appear to be two that Dudley gave to his friend, Henry Clifford (1821-1905). Clifford was a marine engineer who was responsible for the cable machinery on board the 'Great Eastern' while laying the 1865 and 1866 Atlantic Telegraph cables. He was also a competent amateur artist in both watercolours and oils, and did a number of oil paintings of the 'Great Eastern' cable-laying operations: the Museum also has examples of these. The two men met on the ship in 1865 when Dudley was recording its transatlantic cable-laying, became life-long friends and are known to have exchanged artistic work. These two drawings are examples from Dudley's side and were bequeathed to the Museum by Clifford's grandson, Henry Dalton Clifford (1911-91) as the delayed part of a larger gift of family papers, drawings and photographs in 1988. His original list of items intended for the Museum wrongly identifies the subject as the landing of the Atlantic cable at Porthcurno (in effect a double error and probably a longstanding family one). It has now also become clear (January 2020) that it is not a view of the narrow Porthcurno bay - of which the west side has a different granite-cliff profile - but some wider one probably further east on the southern English coast and where the cliff geology is chalk. The beach capstans on the right, of which one has an arched bracing, suggest it is somewhere near but probably west of Dover, although exactly where remains to be determined. Local boats are shown transferring heavy cargo from a small anchored brig to carts on shore. Since cargo brigs would normally be laid ashore for direct unloading into carts at low tide, the slope of the shorline and depth of water implied suggest the location is one where this was impractical. The carts are here being taken down to the sea by just one or two horses but require larger teams to pull them up the steep beach, as shown at centre, while the next team goes down on the left. A shovel on top of the cart coming up suggests it is loose cargo, which would typically be coal brought down the English east coast from the Newcastle area. The capstans are for hauling the local boats out, as shown by those nearby on the beach.The drawing is signed 'R Dudley' at the bottom: PAJ3428, of the reimagined Spanish raid on Porthcurno, is dated 1871 and both were probably done about the same time. We are grateful to Stewart Ash and Bill Burns for their assistance in cataloguing this item.

Object Details

ID: PAJ3524
Type: Print
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Dudley, Robert
Date made: circa 1870; circa 1870-71
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London
Measurements: Sheet: 344 x 525 mm

Your Request

If an item is shown as “offsite”, please allow eight days for your order to be processed. For further information, please contact Archive staff:

Tel: (during Library opening hours)

Click “Continue” below to continue processing your order with the Library team.