A Highly Important Carved Limewood Model of the Figurehead HMS "Queen Charlotte", circa 1784, 36 by
Lot 28
A Highly Important Carved Limewood Model of the Figurehead HMS "Queen Charlotte", circa 1784, 36 by 18 by 18 cm (14 by 7 by 7 in)
Sold for £60,000 (US$ 75,741) inc. premium

Lot Details
A Highly Important Carved Limewood Model of the Figurehead HMS "Queen Charlotte", circa 1790, Proven
A Highly Important Carved Limewood Model of the Figurehead HMS "Queen Charlotte", English, circa 1784,
the limewood figure with curled hair and coronet, flowing gown with tie and heeled shoe, mounted against drapes above allegorical figures and heads of a horse and a lion, on carved mahogany stand above walnut veneered base, 36 by 18 by 18 cm (14 by 7 by 7 in)


  • Provenance:
    Sir John Henslow, Chief Surveyor to the Navy from 1774 to 1806, and thence by family descent to the current owner.

    History of the Model
    The model was carved within the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham in Kent between the years 1783 and 1784, by an as yet unknown carver, working under the direction of the yard's master carver, George Williams. At that time he was working as “Contract carver” to the yard from 1784-1832.

    Once the Lords of the Admiralty has chosen a name for a vessel of the size and importance of a flagship a lengthy process to establish an acceptable design and decoration for the vessel would be undertaken. Initially the Admiralty produced a written detailed specification, in the case of HMS Queen Charlotte this has survived and reads as follows:

    “In the head is Her Majesty in her robes with the orb and sceptre in her hands, standing erect under a canopy with two doves thereon, which is supported by two boys, the emblems of peace, one holding a dove, the other a palm branch; under which on the starboard side is Britannia sitting on a lion and presenting a laurel; on the larboard side is Plenty sitting on a sea-horse offering the produce of the sea and land; on the starboard trail board Justice and Prudence with their emblems; on the larboard trailbaord are two boys, Hope and Fortitude, with their emblems”.

    From this specification a number of line drawings and sketches would have been produced. One such image has survived and it is a full colour drawing of the figurehead as described in the specification and it is housed in the collection of the Corporation of the Trinity House at Hull in north Yorkshire.

    This limewood model would then have been carved and mounted on the current display stand for presentation purposes. It would have been taken up to London and shown to the Lords of the Admiralty and a number of Admiralty Dockyard Models have survived from this period. The fact that this example is of such high quality and large size, and that the figure was that of the Queen, it is almost certain that Royal approval would have been obtained. Once this was given the model would have been taken back to the Dockyards at Chatham and used by the carvers as a Maquette for the full size carving. The colour drawing would have been used by the dockyard painters to obtain the correct colour scheme. Once all the work was completed and the vessel launched, the model would have been returned to the Admiralty and in turn given by Royal consent to a favoured Officer of the Crown or member of the court. In this case, it can be assumed, that Sir John Henslow was the beneficiary.

    Historical Significance

    Although naval model figureheads have survived in some numbers in Northern European countries, British examples are extremely rare. The only other example of comparable size, age and historic significance is the model for HMS Victory , carved at the time of her building in 1765, and now on display in the Nelson Gallery at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Two other lesser models of this period are to be found in the Henry Huddleston Rogers Collection at the United States Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis, Maryland, one representing Neptune and the other Minerva.

    HMS Queen Charlotte
    Queen Charlotte was the flagship of Admiral Howe during the Nootka Sound Controversy with Spain in 1790 and again during the French Revolutionary Wars starting in 1793. On the 1st June 1794 Howe engaged the French fleet and signalled for each of his ships to steer for her French counterpart, pass under her stern, and engage her on the lee side. Just before 10 am Queen Charlotte passed below Rear Admiral Villaret-Joyeuse's Montagne and poured in a succession of broadsides. Engaged by both Montagne and Jacobin, Queen Charlotte lost her top mast, but Montagne escaped with her stern stove in and 300 of her crew dead or wounded. Howe's tactic was so successful that the battle known as "The Glorious First of June" was over by noon and six prizes taken.
    In 1800, Queen Charlotte under the command of Viscount Keith, caught fire about twelve miles off Livorno in the Mediterranean and sank with 690 of her crew.

    Bonhams is very grateful to the figurehead historian, Richard Hunter, for his considerable help with the research into this model.

    Walters, S.M. & Stow, E.A. Darwin’s Mentor. John Stevens Henslow 1796-1861, Cambridge,
    Ships of the World Encyclopedia
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