Maritime Art

A Marine Leaning on a Pile of Bales, c.1774.

By Gabriel Bray (1750-1823)

Gabriel Bray is an artist of exceptional interest for maritime historians because of his first-hand experience of the maritime world that he depicted.

It is likely that this study of a marine, perhaps on guard by a pile of bales, was made in 1774 shortly before Bray sailed to the West Indies as second lieutenant on HMS Pallas, a 36-gun frigate under the command of Captain the Hon. William Cornwallis. Bray then served in the Caribbean during those crucial months, December 1774-September 1775, when the American colonies revolted and much of the tension spilled out from the eastern seaboard of America into the Caribbean Sea.

It has been suggested that this sketch was made at Portsmouth dockyard shortly before Bray set sail for the West Indies where the Pallas was fitting out. The lettering on the bales is distinctive, but it is unclear what it means.

Although his career had a promising start, Bray never progressed beyond the rank of lieutenant, perhaps because of a lack of patronage and influence, though he was given command of his own cutter, the Sprightly, in 1779, and another cutter, the Nimble, in 1782. Bray died in 1823, aged 73, at Charmouth, Dorset, where he served as a churchwarden.

This is just one of seventy-three sketches by Bray that were preserved in an album and purchased for the National Maritime Museum by the Society for Nautical Research’s MacPherson Fund.

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