The Hull Whalers Swan and Comet in the Arctic Regions - Unknown Artist (c.1815)
oil on canvas, 51 x 61.5 cm
KINCM:2007.1438, Hull Maritime Museum

The Swan, with its recognisable figurehead, was built in Plymouth in 1787, and sold out of the Royal Navy in 1814, shortly before the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Numerous former naval vessels became whalers, and few whalers were originally purpose built. The Swan was first registered in Hull in 1815, and sailed, on its last voyage, to Aberdeen in 1842, for breaking. The Comet was built at Rotherhithe in 1791, and first registered in Hull in 1803, before being lost in 1843. Whilst predominantly an Arctic vessel, the ship also sailed in the Southern Fishery between 1812 and 1815. These facts make the likely date of the canvas around or after 1815, the first time both ships sailed in company for the Arctic. The canvas depicts the two vessels docked in the ice, with the crew ashore. The view, from the water, rather than from the land, is almost unique. As such, and given the coastal profile the artist offers, the picture recalls and resembles numerous official naval drawings and watercolours from the period, mapping the edges of new territories to be colonised, with a particular emphasis on safe bays in which ships could be moored, and crews, as here, could disembark, to trade with the natives. Similarly rare is the fact that the picture does not depict a generic landscape of unconvincing icebergs, but a famous Arctic landmark: the Devil’s Thumb in the distance. Located on the Western coast of Greenland, in Baffin Bay, the viewer is therefore looking West

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum