'William Lee' in the Arctic - John Ward (c.1831-1832)
Oil on canvas, 68 x 98.5 cm
KINCM:2007.1439, Hull Maritime Museum

The William Lee was launched at Hull on January 17 1831 from Messrs. Dikes and Gibson’s shipyard, having been built for Robert Lee and John Tall, merchants of Sculcoats, and first registered in the city in the same year. The ship remained in the Arctic fishery until 1837, and was, ultimately, lost in 1847, following a period as a trading vessel with Calcutta. (Ward would depict her return from India in The Return of the William Lee). Here, Ward depicts the boat in four views, circling around an iceberg, sailing past it in port view in the centre, and out beyond in, in stern views, on either side, before sailing out of the picture on the right. In the foreground, Ward depicts a whale being harpooned on the left, whilst a dead whale is being towed back towards the ship by a whaleboat, in the foreground. The boat will have to wait its turn; the crew of the central ship are already flensing a dead whale. The foreground whaleboat features the initial T in Gothic character on the bow. Its front is also inscribed ‘Richd Hill’ on the gunwhale. Richard Hill was the master of the William Lee, on her maiden voyage, and again in 1832 when he caught 27 whales, making him the painting’s probable patron, and suggesting a likely date for the picture of the early to mid 1830s.  A polar bear angrily eyes a pair of seals in the water towards the right hand side of the canvas. The green colour of the water both again recalls the palette of the Van der Veldes, and suggests the nutrient rich Arctic waters where whales were often to be found. 1831, the year in which the canvas may have been commissioned, saw Charles Darwin set sail upon the HMS Beagle, and James Clark Ross lead the first expedition to reach the magnetic north pole, perhaps explaining the ships’ dominant orientation towards the horizon. 1832, meanwhile, represented a very different fishing scene  back at home in the United Kingdom, when more than 30 Scottish fishing vessels were lost in a storm on July 16, with more than 100 crew losing their lives.

help icon

Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum