'Royal George' – a First Rate model

Royal George is a great example of a ship model from the 18th century and provides a fascinating insight into the ship design of the period.

Ships of the 18th century had much less carving and gilding than those of the 17th. However, First Rates were the flagships of admirals and the model of the Royal George shows how elaborately decorated such ships still were. The stern carvings include a bust of George II – after whom the ship was named – and figures of Britannia, Neptune, Ceres, Mercury and Hercules.

Great care was taken over the smallest details – stern lanterns, gunport lids and balustrades. The cabin doors even have mother-of-pearl handles, which is probably an ingenious way of representing a marbled paint effect.

Royal George has more features and fittings hidden within than any other ship model of this period.

An inquiry model?

Details such as the powder room and the chain pump are not needed for a model that is simply proposing a ship design. So why was this model made and when?

It is possible this model of the Royal George was made for the official inquiry into the loss of the ship. Clues include:

  • The name painted on the stern. This was not standard practice in the Royal Navy until after 1771, 15 years after the ship was launched. The model may have been built after 1771.
  • The ship was lost in 1782 when she suddenly capsized while a watercock was being repaired. Although we cannot find the watercock on the model, other parts of the drainage system such as the pump and the cistern are included.