Maritime Art

The Society for Nautical Research helps to purchase important works of art for the National Maritime Museum. In the interwar years many private art collections were in danger of being sold abroad. Among them was the collection of over 11,000 maritime prints, drawings and paintings of the noted yachtsman and collector Arthur Macpherson. In 1927 the society launched a public appeal to raise the funds to acquire his collection. With the huge generosity of Sir James Caird the collection was purchased and formed one of the founding collections of the National Maritime Museum.

Macpherson had an encyclopedic attitude to art collecting and aimed to document every aspect of maritime history through pictures. The early Netherlandish paintings are particularly fine, including a late sixteenth-century allegory of the Ship of State and Abraham Storck’s ‘Shipping off Amsterdam’.

The surplus of the public appeal was used to create the Macpherson Collection Endowment Fund which continues to be used to assist the purchase of additional works of art for the museum. Among the works purchased are a large number of paintings, prints and drawings by the noted marine artist W. L. Wyllie and an album of drawings by Gabriel Bray from a voyage to Africa in 1775.

The following works of art are taken from the many hundreds acquired for the nation by the society. A new work will be published monthly.

Featured Piece: Christianborg Castle, WestAfrica (1806)

By J. Barrow; John Hill; G. Webster

A drawing of Christianborg Castle in West Africa, attributed to three artists, J. Barrow; John Hill; G. Webster. Christianborg Castle is otherwise known as Osu Castle, situated on a promontory in Accra, Ghana. The area was first colonised by the Portuguese in the mid-sixteenth century before passing to the control of Sweden in 1650. Control then switched from the Netherlands to Denmark-Norway. The fort was originally used as a key location in the gold and ivory trade but then switched to slavery under Danish-Norwegian control and it became the capital of the Gold Coast of Denmark-Norway. At the time that this drawing was made in 1806 the fort was still under Danish control and would remain so until 1850 when it was purchased by the British. The image was purchased in 1980 with the help of the Society for Nautical Research’s MacPherson Fund at a time when the National Maritime Museum was looking to increase its holdings relating to the history of slavery.

The Society has published numerous articles that touch on the history of slavery including:

The Rio Pongo Crisis of 1820 and the Search for a Strategy for the Anti-Slavery Squadron off West Africa which focuses upon the conundrums faced in 1820 by an officer of the Anti-Slavery Squadron and by a slave trader resident upon the African coast, neither of whom was certain of the rules of engagement or what might be expected from the other.

James Ramsay, 1733-1789: Naval Surgeon, Naval Chaplain and Morning Star of the Anti-Slavery Movement is biography of James Ramsay which describes his largely ignored but key role in promoting the anti-slavery movement. He was a prolific writer, a philanthropist and a political activist as well as a naval surgeon and chaplain.

The Health of Seamen in Anti-Slavery Squadrons explores how tedium interspersed with the dangers of working boats in high surf environments, attacks from slavers and local tribes, and the boarding of slave ships all lead to the highest incidence of illness and death in the Royal Navy. Disease was of particular concern, especially those considered tropical fevers such as malaria, dengue and yellow fever.