Whaler Diana (700) Moored in the Arctic - Unknown Artist (c.1900)
oil on canvas, 50 x 75 cm
KINCM:2007.2256, Hull Maritime Museum

The fate of the Diana in the terrible winter of 1866-7 continued to haunt the British maritime imagination well into the twentieth century. For example, following earlier articles in the Cornhill Magazine, in 1867, and Good Words, in 1880, the February 1906 edition of Wide World Magazine compared the sight of the crew of the returning vessel to scenes from Dante’s Inferno and Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’ (1798); whilst in 1922 the journal of ship’s doctor Charles Edward Smith was first published as From the Deep of the Sea. This apparently straightforward port-side portrait of the Diana recalls the ship in happier times, being moored to an ice floe by three of the crew, with a blue pennant and Union Jack flag blowing cheerily in the breeze. In the background is the famous Greenland landmark, the Devil’s Thumb. A whaleboat is seen in the calm, surprisingly brown water behind the ship, and above it is a patch of blue sky, as if opened in the clouds by the force of the piercing points of the ship’s three masts. The Arctic scene is, however, entirely depopulated. Not only are there no whales to be caught, but there are no other birds or mammals to be seen, and no Inuit population either. Knowing, by 1900, what the ship and its crew were to face, the scene is, perhaps, eerily quiet, and the dark cloud above the Devil’s Thumb increasingly menacing.

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Credit: Images are courtesy of the Hull Maritime Museum