The Whaleship 'Brunswick' - John Ward (1823)
oil on canvas, 85.5 x 112 cm
KINCM:2007.2303, Hull Maritime Museum

The Brunswick was built on the Humber at Paull in 1814, for James Shrapnell Bowden, merchant of Sculcoates, and Benjamin Wright of Clapham. She was first registered at Hull the same year, before being lost in 1842 whilst trading. Ward’s image dates from two decades earlier and depicts the Brunswick in two views. The picture was doubtless commissioned by the devout ship’s captain, William Blyth, to celebrate the capture of some 36 whales in the 1823 season. Blyth was the captain for some twenty years from her maiden voyage in 1814, and had only recently sold his shares in the vessel. The central portside view, with waves, unusually, breaking against the bow, is in sail, with a signal flag indicating that the ship will change its course towards its port side, thus towards the scene of the successful whale hunt in the bottom left hand corner, as well as the viewer. The spectator is also potentially addressed in the lost stern, mostly starboard view on the right horizon, which reveals a windowed transom, where the captain and his officers might have looked back behind the ship, and at the scene of the successful hunt which had taken place now earlier and behind them as they sail off, in a later moment in the same narrative, towards the northwest to catch more whales. Indeed, these themes of seeing and being seen were emphasised on the original frame, which bore a label bearing the caption “Thou God Seest Me”. The ship’s orientation seems to be northwest because the pink light of dusk can be seen towards the left of the picture, indicating that the spectator’s view is towards the west. Travelling northwest was highly resonant in the period, when the hunt for a Northwest Passage to Asia was one of the Navy’s chief preoccupations following the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  Indeed, polar exploration was in the news in 1823, since, on the other side of the world, James Weddell’s expedition to Antarctica reached the southernmost position any ship had reached before; a record that would stand for much of the century. Ward’s picture also seems to be proposing two different ways of thinking about ice formations, with a more permanent, rock-like iceberg seen on the left horizon, and a more transient, cumulus-cloud-like formation in the bottom right hand corner. The overall green tonality of the picture, with its scudding grey clouds in the top left hand corner, owes a considerable debt to the Van de Veldes.

Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum