A Privateer in two positions leaving Whitehaven harbour signed with initials 'R.S.' and dated 1841 (lower left) oil on canvas 71 x 127cm. (28 x 50in.)
In the distant view, the 18 gun sloop has just fired a salute in response to the well-wishers waving farewell on the quayside. A strong southerly wind causes the smoke to drift backwards across the deck and partially obscure the details, which are minutely revealed in the starboard profile view, depicted centrally.
The long pennant at the main masthead and the blue ensign at the mizzen gaff initially suggest a naval vessel, but in both views the flag at the fore masthead appears to display a symbol in the central white rectangle which although not yet identified, is more in favour of a 'privateer'; that is a privately owned vessel licensed to act as a man-of-war. As depicted here, in naval style they carried relatively large crews to work the guns and also to man prizes taken in times of war.
On the left of the painting Whitehaven's north pier is just visible through the dispersing smoke. On the opposite side of the harbour entrance is the Old Quay distinguished here by its lighthouse displaying a Union flag. To seaward and nearer to the observer is the more recent West Pier, as yet incomplete and without a lighthouse which was only added in 1838.
An unusual feature is the artist's depiction of the 'Lunette' or 'Half Moon Battery' plainly visible on the extreme right of the painting, at the base of the cliff and just above the rocky outcrop (Tom Hurd's Rock) to the right of the small boat in the foreground. A native of Whitehaven, the artist was only three years old in 1778, when on April 22nd, during the American War of Independence, Paul Jones achieved fame by carrying out a night raid on Whitehaven. A native of the region but now commissioned in the infant Congressional Navy, in fact he was able to inflict little material damage. However, he was able to take temporary possession of this battery and a nearby Fort, sufficiently long to spike the guns and cause a general uproar.
The resulting tumult and nationwide consternation would certainly have created a lasting impression on young Robert Salmon and may explain the inclusion of such an interesting historical landmark.
We would like to thank Dr. Sam Davidson for his help in cataloguing this lot.