Jack Spurling (British, 1871-1933) The square-rigged Australian windjammer and, later, celebrated sail training ship Illawara lying on her mooring at sunset
Lot 138
Jack Spurling
(British, 1871-1933)
The square-rigged Australian windjammer and, later, celebrated sail training ship Illawara lying on her mooring at sunset
Sold for £ 7,500 (US$ 9,904) inc. premium

The Marine Sale

15 Apr 2014, 14:00 BST

London, Knightsbridge

Lot Details
Jack Spurling (British, 1871-1933)
The square-rigged Australian windjammer and, later, celebrated sail training ship Illawara lying on her mooring at sunset
signed and dated, 'J Spurling 1925' (lower left) watercolour heightened with white
43 x 58cm (16 15/16 x 22 13/16in).


    Basil Lubbock, The Colonial Clippers, Brown, Son & Ferguson Ltd., Glasgow, 1921.
    Harold A. Underhill, Sail Training & Cadet Ships, Glasgow, 1956.
    Capt. A.G. Course, Painted Ports, The story of the ships of Messrs. Devitt & Moore, London, 1961.
    Frederick Arthur Hook (editor), in collaboration with Basil Lubbock and John Spurling, Sail, The Romance of the Clipper Ships, 3 volumes, London, 1927, 1929 & 1936, and subsequent reprints.

    In his text to Sail, The Romance of the Clipper Ships, Basil Lubbock wrote of her:

    "The Illawara was constructed as a first-class iron cargo carrier rather than a fine-lined wool clipper or a handsomely-fitted passenger ship"......"easily capable of a 300-mile run [in a day] in the 'roaring forties', but slower"......"in light and moderate winds," .......whilst her 83-day dash home from Sydney, via Cape Horn, in 1893-94 was eulogised as "an exceedingly good piece of work for an iron ship."

    An "exceedingly good piece of work" she certainly was and this atmospheric portrait of her by 'Jack' Spurling was the very one selected to accompany Lubbock's magisterial narrative (see volume II, section V, pp. 139-41, incl. plate). Indeed, it was the publication of Sail, The Romance of the Clipper Ships which first laid Spurling's work before a wider audience and, in effect, secured his reputation as a maritime painter of substance.

    Born in Suffolk on 12th December 1870, John Robert Charles Spurling – invariably know as 'Jack' – was the son of a prosperous importer who dealt mainly in jute, the trade which gave the aspiring artist his first contact with ships and the sea. During his youth spent in London, he occupied much of his time by sketching ships – usually in the East India Docks at Blackwall – until, at the age of sixteen, he went to sea as an apprentice where he served for seven years. After coming ashore, he first obtained work as an actor in George Edwards' musical productions, whilst continuing with his painting as a hobby, until his ship portraits came to the attention of Frederick Hook, the editor of the popular nautical magazine The Blue Peter. The publication of an initial selection of Jack's paintings proved an immediate success and Hook thereafter commissioned Spurling to produce many more works for the magazine which were published over a number of years.

    A regular contributor to the same magazine was Basil Lubbock, one of Britain's leading maritime authors at the time, who, between the two World Wars, wrote a series of superlative books on the various aspects of commercial sail which are still regarded as the definitive record of a way of life that has now totally disappeared. In the mid-1920s, Lubbock and Spurling were approached by Frederick Hook to collaborate with him on a particularly interesting project which would come to be seen as one of the great milestones in the efforts to chronicle the history of commercial sailing ships. In his editor's preface, Hook wrote:

    "This book does not claim to be a history of the clipper ships, although Mr. Lubbock's illuminating text sets out the salient points of the history and performances of typical vessels of the clipper ship era. One chief purpose has been adequately and handily to present a selection from amongst Mr. Spurling's pictures, painted for The Blue Peter, reproducing, by a special process, their original qualities of form, movement and colour."

    This modesty however, belied the quality of the production, both text and illustrations, and the first volume of the book was so well-received that, in due course, two more followed to form the now familiar set, beautified throughout with Spurling's accomplished paintings.

    As to the ship herself, Illawara – named for the coastal region of New South Wales, south of Sydney – was built by Dobie & Co. at Glasgow and launched in October 1881. Registered at 1,963 tons gross (1,887 net) and measuring 269 feet in length with a 40 foot beam, she had some passenger accommodation but was primarily designed for cargo. Ordered for the already substantial fleet of Messrs. Devitt & Moore, one of the most prominent shipping companies operating the Australian trade, she was fitted out 'with no expense spared' and entered service with the distinctive green hull and 'painted ports' which characterised all her owners' ships. With Captain David Corvasso in command, Illawara cleared Liverpool on 12th January 1882 and arrived in Sydney on 29th April after a good – though not exceptional – passage of 107 days. With the American (west coast) grain trade with Europe booming at the time, Corvasso loaded coal for San Francisco where he arrived after a splendid run across the Pacific in only 51 days. After a quick turn-around, Illawara then sailed from the 'Golden Gate' on 31st October (1882) loaded with a brimming cargo of wheat and barley bound for Grimsby where she docked on 17th March the next year. A second voyage tracing a similar triangular course followed, after which she began regular runs out to Sydney carrying general cargo and returning directly home with wool, usually over 7,000 bales. She completed fifteen such round trips between 1884 and 1899 until, following the sale of their Hesperus, Devitt & Moore decided to replace her with Illawara as one of the company's two sail training ships.

    After the untimely death of Captain Barrett on Illawara's first voyage with a cadet crew, Captain Maitland took over and remained in command for seven successful years until, in July 1907, Devitt & Moore sold the "fine old ship" to Norwegian owners who put her into the timber trade where she thrived for five more years. On 12th February 1912, she left Leith bound for Valparaiso but was so damaged in a storm in the Irish Sea that she was abandoned in a sinking condition off the Old Head of Kinsale on 7th March. Her crew was saved by the passing steamer Bangore Head but Illawara herself foundered soon afterwards.

    We are grateful to Michael Naxton for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.
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