The 'Jane', 'Viewforth' and 'Middleton' Fast in Ice - Thomas Binks (1836)
oil on canvas, 75 x 100 cm
KINCM:2007.1327, Hull Maritime Museum, Hull

Binks’s characteristically light-slate grey canvas depicts three whale ships. The Jane, of Hull, can be seen in the centre, surrounded by the Viewforth, of Kirkaldy, and Middleton, of Aberdeen. They are all trapped in the ice in the terrible season of 1835, when five vessels were lost. This was a pictorial subject, of being ‘nipped’ in the ice, that Turner would explore in his final Whaler a decade later, and a theme that had made national news in 1833, when Arctic explorer Sir John Ross had become similarly trapped, before being rescued by the Hull whaler, the Isabella. As whales become more scarce in the familiar fishing grounds, thanks to over-hunting, whalers were increasingly forced to travel further north, risking becoming nipped in the ice, and, worse, being forced to winter in the Arctic. Binks’s canvas, depicting whalers from two Scottish ports, Aberdeen and Kirkaldy, documents the increasing role played by the Scottish whalers in the Arctic fishery, and the collegiality of ships of various cities, when trapped in the ice. Presumably with a local Hull patron in mind, the Jane remains front and centre. This was the third ship of that name to have sailed from Hull, the first lost on a voyage to the fishery in 1800, and the second broken up in 1809. It would ultimately be sold to the Scottish fishery in 1847. October 1836, meanwhile, the year in which the canvas was painted, also witnessed the return to the United Kingdom of Charles Darwin, after five years aboard the HMS Beagle, gathering infromation that would lead, ultimately, to the publication of The Origtin of Species in 1859.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum