Diana, Hull - Unknown artist (1867)
oil on canvas, 54 x 82.5
KINCM:1954.446, Hull Maritime Museum

This comparatively folksy image depicts the Diana in the harmonious onyx-green, Van de Veldian waters of the Arctic, two years before she was finally wrecked, and in the year in which she returned to Hull, after an unplanned winter in the northern fishery, when the ship became trapped in the ice, leading to the deaths of thirteen men, including the ship’s captain. These harrowing events were recorded in the diary of the ship’s doctor, Charles Edward Smith, and reported in both the local and national press.  The canvas depicts the Diana steaming ahead, in starboard view, battling the surging waters that are filled with what look like rocks or pieces of shrapnel from abandoned ships, but what are probably meant to be icebergs. The ship is surrounded by gulls, birds that formed a key part of Smith’s experience, as he bemoaned the way in which they picked the blubber off caught whales, as he sought to hunt them to eat, as he mournfully watched them fly south as he remained trapped in the north, and as they returned, giving him hopes that Spring was on the way.  Towards the end of his diary, Smith documented that he  “should like a painting of the Diana just now, as staggering under the heavy press of canvas, she forges her way through the swirling ice, the dark, black water heaving and rolling only a few ship’s lengths ahead of her; her crew pale, wan, ghastly, emaciated with scurvy, and worn out with long privations, gazing joyously yet anxiously over the bulwarks, eyeing the blessed water so close at hand and, doubtless, every man and boy of them thanking God with overflowing, grateful heart for His sparing and preserving mercies”. On July 1 1867, the Canada Confederation: British North America act also came into force, formally ratifying the Dominion of Canada, uniting Quebec, Ontario, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, into the first independent dominion in the British Empire.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum