This rare period image of a large British East India Company ship illustrates why William John Huggins is considered to be among the best early 19TH Century practitioners of ship portraiture. Many later marine artists attempted to copy Huggins’ technique, but few achieved his exacting imagery. Set upon a challenging green sea, the ship is a buzz with activity as sailors work aloft the backwinded ship. The artist completes the work with an exceptional view of the southeast port of Deal on the important English Channel coast.
This portrayal of the East India Company’s ship in 1825 is a fateful one. Launched in February of that year, KENT shortly set out on her maiden voyage for India, transporting troops and passengers. Reports have it that while battened down in the face of a heavy storm, an officer checking the hold dropped a lantern onto a cask of spirits. Immediately ablaze, all would probably have been lost if not for the arrival of the Brig CAMBRIA on the scene, to directly rescue hundreds. Another ship, CAROLINE, rescued many more from the sea after the KENT’s powder magazine exploded. In all more than 600 were rescued and less than 100 lives were lost.
Deal Castle, and the multi-storied buildings and the sandy shore before them, offers a glimpse into the make-up of this important Cinque Port. Originally established in the era of Henry the VIII, the Cinque Ports supplied the ships and seamen who anchored in the Downs. On a pleasant day, ships can easily arrive at Deal and enjoy the beach view, where a majority of the London urbanites enjoy coastal outings. Onboard the outbound KENT, not a hand lazily lays about while they work the sails and throw lines to the pilot yacht astern, where a man calls out to the ship through a speaking tube. This painting is likely the only period view of the KENT in existence.