The Hull whalers Isabella and Swan in Arctic waters signed 'J. Steven Dews' (lower left) oil on canvas 51 x 76cm (20 1/16 x 29 15/16in).
PROVENANCE: with E. Stacy Marks Ltd
Once the Napoleonic Wars ended in 1815, Hull rapidly established itself as the principal whaling port in England, a situation which prevailed until the 1840s when the rise of Peterhead eclipsed Hull's earlier dominance. At its peak however, the Hull fleet was substantial and Dews has chosen to portray in this composition two of the port's whalers with particularly colourful careers.
1818 proved a notable year in the history of the Arctic when the Admiralty hired and fitted out four civilian ships for the purposes of polar exploration, one of which was the 383-ton Hull-built whaler Isabella launched in 1813. Commanded by no lesser personality than Captain (later Admiral Sir) John Ross, Isabella was sent to Baffin Bay to try and find a western outlet through to the Pacific. In the event, no such outlet was found although Ross did make some very beneficial discoveries (to the whaling industry) before returning home, at which time Isabella returned to Hull to resume her normal life. Seriously damaged after striking a submerged rock in the Davis Straits in 1825, she nevertheless survived to bring home 250 tons of oil in 1827, one of the best catches of the year. Her 1832 total of 275 tons was the year's highest and the next year (1833) brought her brief national fame when she rescued her former commander John Ross, who had been marooned and lost feared dead in the Arctic for three years. Two years later, on 12th May 1835, the Isabella herself was wrecked off Whale Island, in the Davis Straits, although her crew got off safely.
The 323-ton Swan was another Hull boat built in 1816 and owned by Spyvee & Cooper. After a highly successful albeit routine working life, she became trapped in the ice in Baffin Bay in the winter of 1836-37 along with five other whalers. Their celebrated escape became the 'stuff of legend' and, in fact, Swan was the last to get free. When she finally limped back into Hull on 3rd July 1837, thousands turned out to greet her and her survival was considered the most miraculous in Arctic whaling history.