Saturday 28th March 2020


Here is the first item out of my portfolio: a small (11" x 7") uncoloured wood-engraving with letterpress entitled, THE NAVAL GALLERY, OR PAINTED HALL, IN GREENWICH HOSPITAL. Its maker was, and remains, anonymous, but it was made as you see for the for The Penny Magazine [of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge], which was published every Saturday between March 1832 and October 1845. It was aimed at working-class readers, its intention being to occupy, edify and educate their minds - to keep them away at all costs from that other cheap publication, the Penny Dreadful. This copy came out on 6th January 1838. The pages are in fair to good condition, the paper is fragile but not too brittle, slightly toned and a little dog-eared at the edges, but that's all as expected in newsprint of this type and period. Indeed, as you like it. You can easily access a complete run of the Penny Magazine by looking it up at the Internet Achive site.

Not now! Keep that for later ...

The image on this front cover depicts what might have been a typical Saturday or Sunday in the Painted Hall of Greenwich Hospital. Ladies and gentlemen of the town and visitors up from the country are guided around by Pensioners, dressed in breeches (since 1835 they could have worn trouser if they so preferred) and some with wooden peg-legs, show off to them the paintings of the Naval Gallery.

With our museums and galleries closed to us at presently 'virtual tours' are very much à la mode. I have therefore transcribed the text of this issue and copied it below. This then, is how it was done in early (very early) Victorian Greenwich. I know it says there's no need, but don't forget to tip your pensioner!

Ladies and Gen'lmen, your attention, please!



THE “Painted Hall” in Greenwich Hospital: is divided into three rooms, the whole of which are before the eye of the spectator as he enters the vestibule. The vestibule is surrounded by one of the two domes which adorn Greenwich Hospital - the great height of the lantern, and the light thrown on the apartment below, give an air of grandeur to the room. A flight of a few steps leads to the principal room or hall, a noble oblong apartment, the roof of which is, painted, and the walls are hung with the pictures constituting the NAVAL GALLERY. The third room is called the Upper Hall - it has no pictures, but the walls are painted, and it contains various objects of curiosity, models of ships of war, the coat worn by Nelson at the battle of the Nile, &c. The view of the three rooms from the entrance of the vestibule is very fine.

The “Painted Hall,” says the Introduction to the Catalogue of the Gallery, (which is sold to visitors) “was originally employed as the Refectory for the whole establishment: the upper chamber being appropriated to the table of the officers - the lower to the pensioners. But when the growing revenue of the institution gradually led to an increase of the number of its inmates, the space proved inadequate to their accommodation; the table of the officers was discontinued, and other dining - halls for the men were provided on the basement story. This noble apartment had been thus left unoccupied nearly a century, when, in the year 1794, Lieutenant-Governor Locker suggested that it should be appropriated to the service of a National Gallery of Marine Paintings, to commemorate the eminent services of the Royal Navy of England. The judicious design was not then realized but in 1823 it was revived, with happier success, by his son, who submitted to the commissioners and governor, a proposition on the subject, which, after due consideration, was finally adopted. The Painted Hall was accordingly prepared for the reception of works of art and he having undertaken the task of procuring an extensive series of pictures, by gratuitous contributions, the present valuable collection of paintings in a few years has amply rewarded his hereditary zeal for the completion of this interesting object. Having submitted the plan to King George the Fourth, it was honoured with the cordial approval of his Majesty, who, with that promptitude which distinguished his liberality, gave immediate directions that the extensive and valuable series of portraits of the celebrated admirals of the reigns of King Charles the Second and King William the Third, at Windsor Castle and Hampton Court, should be transferred to Greenwich Hospital as a munificent donation to the intended gallery. King George the Fourth subsequently presented several other valuable paintings, for the same object, from his private collection at St. James’s Palace and Carlton House.

The generous example of that accomplished monarch was promptly followed by many noble and other liberal benefactors to the Naval Gallery, whose names are recorded in this catalogue of donations, and thus in a few years the walls were adorned with the portraits of most of our celebrated naval commanders, and representations of their actions. To these his late Majesty King William the Fourth, in the year 1835, was graciously pleased to add five valuable pictures.

This splendid national gallery is freely open to the visitors of Greenwich Hospital. No door-keepers stand in the entrance holding out their hands for fees. One of the pensioners, indeed, points to a little box on a table in the vestibule, and tells you that you may, if you please, add your mite to a fund which is appropriated to the support of the orphans of those who have sustain the naval glory of Old England.

On either side of the vestibule are four statues, casts from the statues in St. Paul’s cathedral, of Nelson and Duncan, St. Vincent and Howe. Between the statues of Nelson and Duncan, on the right of the entrance, is hung Turner’s large picture of the battle of Trafalgar; beneath it four portraits of naval commanders, Lord Dartmouth, Lord, Mulgrave, Sir John Warren, and Captain Franklyn, and beneath these, near the ground, are the relief of Gibraltar, and the defeat of the French fleet under the command of the Comte de Grasse, both actions achieved by the gallant Rodney. On the opposite side, between the statues of St. Vincent and Howe, is hung a large picture painted by Loutherbourg, of Howe’s victory over the French fleet off Ushant, on the 1st of June, 1794, and beneath it portraits of naval commanders, and pictures, arranged similarly to those on the right side. High above, in the cupola, are hung the flags taken in the battles won by Howe, St. Vincent, Duncan, and Nelson.

But who is this grave looking burgher on our right hand as we enter the vestibule? He surely is not English, and least of all a sailor, neat, clean, and trim, as he seems; a latent smile is struggling to play over his thoughtful face. Marten Harpertsz Tromp, Knt., lieutenant-admiral of Holland and West Freizland, slain in fight with the English fleet off the Texel. “Ha! the Van Tromp who swept our channel with a broom at his mast-head, and defied old Blake, one of the bravest sailors that ever trod an English deck! This is honourable to us, there should be more such portraits of the brave men whose defeats make up the fame of our naval commanders; in contrasting Van Tromp with Blake, we can understand something of “That stern joy which warriors feel in foemen worthy of their steel.”

Altogether, the vestibule is a noble introduction to the hall. Besides the statues, it contains twenty-eight pictures, large and small, arranged with considerable taste. On either side of the flight of steps leading to the Hall are a view of the old palace of Greenwich, 1690, (before its endowment as an hospital), and a view of Windsor Castle, as it appeared in the same year - both pictures painted by Vosterman. There is also a portrait, by Sir James Thornhill, of “John Worley, aged 97, one of the first pensioners admitted into the Hospital.”

Ascending the steps into the Hall, let us first direct our attention to the ceiling. It was painted by Sir James Thornhill in 1703, and subsequent years. In the central compartment appear King William and Queen Mary, surrounded by emblematical personages, intended to typify national prosperity, and the compartments are crowded with figures representing the seasons, the elements, the zodiac, with portraits of Copernicus, Newton, &c., with emblems of science and naval trophies.

The pictures in this spacious apartment are arranged somewhat chronologically; beginning at the left-hand corner with the Armada and the naval heroes of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, and continued from the left to the right—hand side of the room: ending on the right-hand side of the entrance with the bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth.

First, on the left-hand corner we have Howard of Effingham, who dared to disobey the orders of an imperious mistress, and prepared to meet the Armada. But he is dressed now, not for the quarter-deck, but the court, and looks grand in his robes, ruff and staff. Below him are a group of three as singular characters as ever looked out from one canvass - Hawkins, Drake, and Cavendish. Is that thin bare face Cavendish’s, who, after circumnavigating the globe, and capturing the richly-laden Spanish galleon, wrote at the end of his voyage, “I burnt and sunk nineteen sail of ships, small and great, and all the villages and towns that ever I landed at I burned and spoiled!”

Raleigh! brilliant, restless spirit! Was Mr. Attorney-General Coke in the right when he taxed thee with having “an English face but a Spanish heart?” There thou art, in thy great trunk breeches and huge roses in thy shoes - whatever were thy faults, thou art a noble-looking Englishman. At all events he died as he had lived, a brave man. “I can say no more,” he wrote to his affectionate wife, “time and death call me away.”

The next picture is rather out of its chronological arrangement - it comes after instead of before “The defeat 15 of the Spanish Armada.” It is “King Henry VIII in Henri-Grace-a-Dieu, sailing to Calais for the celebrated conference with Francis I of France, 1520.” Clumsy old Harry Grace-a-Dieu was a father of ships. It was built in 1515, when we were almost guiltless of having a navy; launched at Erith on the Thames, the first double-decker that was ever built in England. Look at this wonder and boast of its day it carries its name-sake, bluff Harry, across the channel to “ the field of the cloth, of gold.”

The chief pictures on this side of the room are, the battle of Southwold Bay between the English and Dutch in 1672 , Captain T. Harman, in H.M.S. Tyger, defending a fleet of English colliers against an attack of eight Dutch privateers in the same year; the same Captain in the same vessel carrying off a Dutch frigate in triumph in 1674; the battle off Barfleur in 1692, be- tween the English and French, the destruction of the French fleet in the same year in the port of La Hogue, by Admiral Sir George Rooke; the victory of Sir George Byng over the Spanish fleet in 1718; Sir Edward Hawke’s victory over the French fleet in Quiberon Bay in 1759; Admiral Barrington’s defence of St. Lucia 1778; and the Experiment, of twenty guns, boarding Le Télémaque, a French privateer, off Alicante in 1757. The portraits are numerous - the most noted characters represented are brave, blunt, Blake; Sir George Rooke, who shattered the French naval power, by the destruction of the fleet in Cape La Hogue; Byng; the father of the ill-used admiral; unfortunate Sir Cloudesly Shovell; Lord Hawke; and sturdy Benbow, who almost literally “fought upon his stumps,” for, when, abandoned by his cowardly or treacherous officers, and fighting a fleet with his single ship, his leg was shattered by a ball, he commanded himself to be carried up to the deck, that he might still see the battle.

Crossing to the other side of the room, the first remarkable picture that catches the eye is “The Death of Captain Cooke.” Who has not sailed with him in search of the Terra Australis Incognita, the unknown continent which was it affirmed must exist, as a counterpoise to the great mass of land in the northern hemisphere? He entered the southern ocean, not as a buccaneer, to plunder and destroy, but to add to the stores of science and withdraw the curtain which hid one portion of the world from the other. There is something very painful in the contemplation of the scene of his death: that remarkable face - remarkable from its expression, not its beauty - in its last convulsive agony, while infuriated natives are brandishing their weapons over him - one of the most humane and considerate men that ever came in contact with rude aborigines falling a victim to their mistaken fury.

Passing by “Sir Samuel Hood’s engagement with the French fleet under the Comte de Grasse in 1782,” let us look on a gayer scene: “King George III. with his Queen and royal family, presenting a sword to Admiral Earl Howe, on board the Queen Charlotte," after the victory of the 1st of June, 1794.” It was “a diamond-hilted sword, valued at three thousand guineas. “The king, with the queen by his side, is in the act of handing to the old veteran the honourable testimony of approbation, the deck is crowded by ladies, and the officers of the admiral, all gazing on the scene; While in the shrouds a gallant sailor, hat in hand, is about to give the signal for a general, cordial, and thrilling cheer.

There is that “soul of fire,” Nelson, leaping into the San Josef! Well may ye be astonished, Spaniards: your forefathers, when Blake confounded them, “comforted themselves with the belief that they were devils and not men that had destroyed them in such a manner;” and here is our modern Blake rushing on their descendants. In that battle which made Sir John Jervis Earl St. Vincent, Nelson performed “prodigies of valour.” The San Nicholas “took the wind” out of the sails of Nelson’s vessel, and it lay almost unmanageable, with its rigging nearly destroyed - what was to be done? ‘Put the helm-a-lee!’ cries the gallant commander, ‘and run on board the Spaniard. Come Berry,” marines and boarders!’ The San Nicholas and the San Josef were foul of each other. Like lightning they dash across the San Nicholas, carry her, then jump into the San Josef, “where the astonished Spaniards called for quarter, and the captain of that ship presented on his knee the sword of his admiral, who having been desperately wounded could it in person.”

Close by this picture is a memorial of another, great naval engagement fought in the same year as that of Cape St. Vincent, the Battle of Camperdown. Admiral Duncan had been long watching for the Dutch fleet in the Texel. At last it ventured out; the news flew to the English admiral; he “dashed at them,” got between them and their own coast, and forced an engagement. The picture is, “Admiral de Winter delivering his sword to the British Commander-in-chief.” The two admirals are fine-looking men: Captain Brenton says they were two of the tallest and finest men of their fleets", indeed, on entering the vestibule, and comparing the statues of Nelson and Duncan, one is struck with the commanding and lordly air of the latter. The battle of Camperdown was fought with great bravery on both sides; the two commanding admirals were men of undoubted-courage. After the battle, De Winter dined with Duncan on board the Venerable, and they concluded the evening with a rubber of whist! And now behold as terrific an engagement as ever was fought at sea; the Battle of the Nile. What a scene! The Theseus, as she passed between the Zealous and her Opponent, the Guerrier, poured in a broad-side as she brushed the sides of the French vessel: for this “friendly act ” the crew of the Goliath gave three hearty cheers, which the crew of the Theseus returned. The French tried to imitate the animating peals, but the attempt was a failure, and it was mocked by the crew of the Theseus in loud explosive bursts of laughter. “The captain of the Guerrier owned that those cheers did more to damp the ardour of his men than the broadside of the Theseus.”

Let us take a last look of Nelson. The adjoining picture represents him expiring “in the hour of victory” in the cockpit of his vessel. “The most triumphant death is that of the martyr: the most awful that of the martyred patriot: the most splendid that of the hero in the hour of victory.”

The remaining great picture is, “The Bombardment of Algiers by Viscount Exmouth in 1816.” In the corner is a small accompaniment to this picture, which, though out of chronological order, makes a very fitting contrast – “Captain, Sir John Kempthorne, in the Mary Rose frigate, overcomes seven Algerine corsairs, 1699.” One would almost think that the nests of pirates on the African coast had been specially permitted by Providence, to exist, to hold up before our eyes the two sides of slavery - white and black; the European slave in Africa, the African slave dragged by Europeans from his country. Now, we have declared "slavery to be legally abolished, and are doing what we can to get other nations to follow our example. The French now occupy Algiers, and have finally broken up the trade of the descendants of Barbarossa.

We have not, of course, enumerated all the pictures in this “Naval Gallery”, a large number of portraits are hung along the right side of the Hall, of which we can only mention those of Anson, Cooke, St. Vincent, Nelson, and Exmouth. The Naval Gallery is a proud monument of the glory of England. For though war is a bitter curse, and it is the peculiar work of civilization to render it less frequent in its occurrence, and of shorter duration when it does occur, no man can look around upon these trophies without feeling a portion of that enthusiasm which made a shout to ring through the fleet at Trafalgar, when the signal was made, that “England expects every man to do his duty.” While a large portion of the world remains uncivilized - while we are liable to be exposed to encroaching ambition or the influence of angry passions - while we have a vast commerce to maintain and defend, the naval power of England can never he suffered to decay. It decayed after the reign of Elizabeth, but revived in the hands of Blake - it decayed in the reign of Charles II., when the Dutch burned Sheerness, menaced Chatham, and alarmed the citizens of London, but revived when Rooke scattered the French navy off Cape La Hogue - it fluctuated in the early part of the eighteenth century, but its “meteor flag” burned with terrific brightness under Howe, Jarvis, Duncan, and Nelson - it showed itself to have been still vigorous when Exmouth bombarded Algiers and Codrington fought at Navarino. Should a just occasion of war again arise, there is little doubt but that future naval commanders will have scope to develop their energies - steam, too, will bring a new power into play in naval warfare.



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