16. Pub Crawl

A recent visit to the Marquis of Granby pub in Westminster inspired this week’s investigation into eponymous wrecks. It’s often said that more pubs are named after him than any other person. Certainly the name was popular enough to feature in the Pickwick Papers (1836-37).

The Marquis (1721-1770) was a commander and soldier’s soldier of the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) who is said to have set up many of his men as publicans after they left military service. The seven wrecks which bear his name are all clustered in the date range 1764-1784, and thus reveal a fashion in ship names reflecting his popularity as a national hero.

Judging by the 20 wrecks of ships named after the Duke of Wellington, though, I rather suspect that he eclipsed the Marquis in both ship and pub dedications! Normally, of course, when I run a database search for maritime archaeology, I don’t have to specify the monument type WRECK . . . but in these instances if I don’t, it will bring back all sorts of pubs as well as shipwrecks! The same is true of names such as Golden Lion, Red Lion, and so on.

On a much more sober note, today’s wreck, named after the Marquis, though brief in detail, can be regarded as a “good thing”, frustrating an intended slaving voyage by being driven ashore on the coast of Cumbria. Her home port of Lancaster was the fourth-largest port engaged in the slave trade after Liverpool, Bristol and London. To be wrecked near Whitehaven after leaving Lancaster, further south, suggests that the vessel was driven off course, probably as a result of a winter storm in January 1767 – not a particularly unusual fate for ships leaving Lancastrian ports; though we can’t rule out an initial call at Whitehaven, also involved in the slave trade.

Identification of this vessel as a slaver was made possible through a research project drawing on the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database (TASTD), which has details of over 35,000 slaving voyages.  Conversely, I have been able to identify some shipwrecks as slave ships where either their final voyage was not included on the database or they were not previously identified as such. Research remains ongoing and will be passed on to the TASTD for update and there will be further Wreck of the Week updates on this score. For further background information on Lancashire’s involvement in the slave trade, visit here.

There is a good photograph and article on Kevin Dalton-Johnson’s Captured Africans memorial at Lancaster revealing the ‘deck’ structure, which names many of the ships involved.

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15. Not for all the tea in China…

To celebrate the Chinese New Year on Saturday (Year of the Snake) we are taking a look at a cultural revolution: not the ‘Great Leap Forward’ of the 20th century, but the impact of trade with China in all sorts of ways prior to the modern era.

This week’s wreck is the Zeelelie or Sea Lily, lost among the Isles of Scilly in 1795. With her cargo of tea and porcelain she was the quintessential East India wreck, reflecting the huge change in European habits of consumption and associated artefacts, namely porcelain vessels and dinner services. She was also one of the last Dutch East India (VOC) vessels to return to Europe, for within the next few years the VOC was extinguished due to its financial difficulties.

Part of those financial difficulties related to war: the global reach of trade meant that the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars were effectively ‘world wars’ as the European powers harassed each other’s shipping and fought for control of overseas territories. The declaration of the Batavian Republic in the Netherlands, aligned with the French Republic, was seen with disfavour by the British, and this was the background to the Zeelelie’s ultimate fate. It took her 4 and a half months to reach the Cape of Good Hope from China, arriving in May 1795; in June she was captured off St. Helena, along with other Dutch vessels, and sent for Ireland, arriving in September. When she was finally dispatched for London, she struck among the Western Rocks off the Isles of Scilly, where her cargo ‘went to the bottom’.

It was noted in the Times that: ‘The accident is said to have been wholly occasioned by the obstinacy of the person on board having the command, and who was in time, by those on board, apprized of the immediate danger, told what the light was, and that the land breakers were running a-head.’ Such a fate was not uncommon for prizes, often because of lack of familiarity with the area to which they were sent, or tensions between the prize crew and the original crew.

Scattered porcelain and guns are said to lie off Crebawethan, but this wreck has also been reported off the Crebinicks. This remains a site for which finds have been regularly reported, but without a corresponding charted or published position (as far as I know). For that reason the Zeelelie is one of those hybrid database records in which finds are included in a casualty record based on documentary evidence, because of the apparent lack of a reported position.

Porcelain from this wreck would date to the reign of the Qianlong Emperor (Ch’ien Lung) who reigned over much of the 18th century, presiding over an artistic flowering in China – and abroad. Much of this porcelain was decorated for European export, sometimes through orders including European lettering or coats of arms which were not always accurately copied. An excellent example is this image which, commissioned directly by a merchant, commemorates a Dutch East India ship in a recognisably Chinese, rather than European, style.

Conversely, also in the 18th century, Chinese wallpapers inspired European imitations, and the asymmetric decoration favoured in Chinese artefacts influenced the Rococo in both England and France, developing into “chinoiserie”, while Chinese themes also inspired that French school painter par excellence, François Boucher. The cultural influence of the East Indies at an earlier date should not be underestimated, however, since without the wealth from Indonesia and further afield it is arguable that the Dutch Golden Age would not have flourished as it did, as it trickled down through the social classes.

English Heritage owns a portrait of the 17th century Dutch VOC captain Pieter van den Broecke, who was painted by his friend Frans Hals – his weather-beaten features and tousled hair give away his profession immediately, but his wealth is apparent in his beautifully embroidered lace collar and cuffs. Dated 1633, his portrait postdates by just a few years our earliest known wreck of a ship from China, the English East Indiaman Moon off Dover in 1625.

14. The Grand Tour

To celebrate the release this week of Landmark Listings on the English Heritage website, which commemorates the 1913 Ancient Monuments Act, today’s wreck is a well-known site included among the first batch, HMS Colossus.

Each week thereafter will see one or more designated sites in focus (designated wreck, listed building, registered battlefield, registered park or garden, scheduled ancient monument). The aim is to place each of these monuments in an important and sometimes surprising national context. Some more wrecks will turn up further down the line, so I will include these as and when they appear on the list.

For Colossus, I chose to emphasise the way that she weaved in and out of Nelson’s orbit, first by being in the Battle of Cape St Vincent in 1797 in company with his command, the Minerve. The collection of Greek pottery also lost in her represents another connection to Nelson via the collector who despatched it home and which is now reunited with his earlier collection after a two-century delay and detour off the Isles of Scilly!

In wider terms the Colossus is also a rare example of a wreck having explicit connections with the Grand Tour and continental interests so beloved of English antiquarians, aristocrats, and artists from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Perhaps the most exceptional such collection is Sir John Soane’s Museum, in being the collection of a Grand Tourist who collected architectural fragments and was friendly with a painter who was another Grand Tourist (Turner), whose works appear in the collection. There are also works by an Italian artist who painted works for the Grand Tourist market (Canaletto) and the museum’s archives contain many drawings by another architect inspired by the Classical past seen on his own Grand Tour (Robert Adam).

So many artworks must have miscarried en route from the Mediterranean for England, including our waters, instances of which, I suspect, are under-reported. Contemporary sources appear very tight-lipped on the subject, but occasionally we obtain a glimpse of artworks lost to the sea rather than the hazards of time. For example, there is a rudimentary account of a “foreign” ship said to have been lost near Salcombe with her cargo of marble statues c.1750, while the Castor, carrying a cargo of Graeco-Roman sculptures, is an identified site off Dungeness, lost 1894.

As ever, if you have any suggestions for new inclusions or updates within this week’s theme, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Further afield the Vrouw Maria was lost in 1771 in the Baltic while bound from Amsterdam to St. Petersburg with artworks purchased on behalf of Catherine the Great. It is often said that among them were some Rembrandts, but to date it is not even known how much of this cargo has survived, or even was loaded, on the Vrouw Maria.

Finally, of course, and not shipwreck-related, last year the fantastic exhibition The English Prize: The Capture of the Westmoreland, vividly showed another way such artefacts could miscarry – through privateering. The artefacts from the Westmoreland ended up in Spanish collections, rather than the English ones for which they were destined. The exhibition catalogue is fascinating: some of the artefacts are shown here: http://www.historyextra.com/westmorland