The Figurehead of HMS Seringapatam

By David Pulvertaft, published November 2022


Notes:  In her interesting and informative article ‘Indian Figureheads: Carvings from Royal Navy ships built in Bombay’,1 Clare Hunt told us much about the many nineteenth-century ships that had been built in Bombay and provided details of their figureheads. From this and other sources we know that HMS Seringapatam was a frigate, launched in Bombay in 1819, and, after various periods of operational service, became the receiving ship at the Cape of Good Hope in 1847 and then a coal hulk there in 1852.2 It was broken up at the Cape in 1873. The figurehead that was carved in Bombay for its launch was described as ‘the Mysore Rajah attended by his kittasol [parasol] bearer’.3

For a 46-gun frigate of this period to have a figurehead incorporating two people is most unusual and, sadly, there is no contemporary description of how they were arranged. When a carving that was attributed to HMS Seringapatam did eventually emerge, it was in Devonport Dockyard in 1911 in a very different form and described as ‘Indian on back of spread eagle’.4 That arrangement had previously been captured in photographs taken in the Devonport Fire Engine House in 1897 but they did not show any detail, nor was the carving named.5

In 1937, when the Admiralty was contributing to the core collection of the National Maritime Museum, the Seringapatam figurehead was among those transferred from Devonport, but it was not until 1993 that it was conserved and put on display

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Subjects include: Art & Music

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