Maritime Art

A cow, lying down

By Gabriel Bray, (1750-1823)

In 1991 The Society for Nautical Research purchased an album of 73 sketches by Lieutenant Gabriel Bray and donated them to the National Maritime Museum. Bray served as a second lieutenant on the 38-gun HMS Pallas between December 1774 and September 1775.  Read more about the Bray collection at the National Maritime Museum and see a Lieutenant’s Log for Bray’s Journey to the Caribbean in 1774. The Captain’s Log also survives at the National Archives in Kew, Ref: ADM 51/667.

This lovely image is signed and dated ‘May 74 AVprGB’ (to the life by Gabriel Bray). It was probably painted by Bray near his home in Kent (possibly in Deal) where he spent the summer before joining up with the Pallas that winter. In December the Pallas set sail for Africa under the command of William Cornwallis (1744-1819), who subsequently became a famous admiral. The voyage to Africa was to check on British resources committed to the slave trade as well as other British interests in West Africa.

Bray enjoyed painting a host of subjects he came across but perhaps his interest in cattle was keen because of his experience in the navy. Both salted and fresh beef were key parts of an eighteenth century sailor’s diet. The Society has published a number of articles tackling this complex subject. This article from 1984 explores the life of John Crane (1576-1660). John Crane was appointed victualler for the navy in 1635 from the household of Charles I. He was described as an honest victualler in an age when more men died of food poisoning at sea than from enemy action. For those interested in how this affected the naval infrastructure ashore, this article form 1985 explores the archaeology of the former Royal Mint, located just east of the Tower of London, which is shown to have been a depot and manufactory of victuals for the navy from 1560. Though individual warehouses were used for storage at Chatham from 1547, this was the first naval victualling depot and manufactory in England. By 1595 London, Portsmouth and Plymouth were expected to victual 12,000 men for a five-month expedition within just four months.

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