Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973) The beautiful Melbourne clipper Oberon running for home before the wind

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Lot 34AR
Montague Dawson
(British, 1890-1973)
The beautiful Melbourne clipper Oberon running for home before the wind

Sold for £ 50,000 (US$ 68,758) inc. premium
Montague Dawson (British, 1890-1973)
The beautiful Melbourne clipper Oberon running for home before the wind
signed 'MONTAGUE.DAWSON.' (lower left)
oil on canvas
61 x 91.5cm (24 x 36in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    With Frost & Reed, London, stock no. 13455 (acquired directly from the artist on 28 April 1952 with the description 'Spreading Wings' - the Clipper Oberon).
    Private collection, UK.

    Designed as a steam clipper so as to embrace the newest technology of the age, Oberon was ordered by the firm of Shaw & Maxton, the London-based owners of the celebrated tea clippers Ariel and Titania. Built by A. & J. Inglis at Glasgow, she was of composite construction (i.e. wooden planking on iron frames) and measured 241 feet in length with a 36 foot beam. Launched in May 1869 and registered at 1,194 tons, she was heavily rigged but, rather surprisingly, fitted with an utterly inadequate 120hp. auxiliary engine, with the result that she proved a costly disaster upon entering service and was nowhere near as fast as her design had anticipated. When under steam on her maiden voyage, the best her commander, Captain Keay, could get out of her was a paltry seven knots despite consuming a prodigious and expensive seven tons of coal a day.

    Realising their error after an equally hapless second voyage, her owners returned the clearly unsatisfactory hybrid to her builders who, after ripping out the ineffectual engine, completely remodelled her sail plan and refitted her as a pure sailing vessel whereupon she embarked on a hugely successful career in the Australian wool trade. This route was the one to which most of the redundant tea clippers had turned when the valuable tea trade inevitably succumbed to steamships, and Oberon proved herself one of the swiftest thoroughbreds in the so-called 'Wool Fleet'. Her best-ever passage was Melbourne to London in 77 days when, after leaving Australian waters on 15th November 1874, she docked in London on 31st January 1875 having made - by a handsome margin - the fastest time of the season. Changing owners several times later in her life, she was eventually sold to an Italian concern in 1894 which renamed her Prospero Repetto, a more ambitious but far less attractive name than the one which had made her famous. Thereafter sailing out of Genoa, she finally disappears from record around 1905, presumably scrapped.

    This portrait of Oberon, probably the smaller of the two listed by L. G. G. Ramsey in his revised (1970) edition of Montague Dawson, RSMA, FRSA (see p.43, no. 174), shows her under almost full sail but also sporting her studdingsails [stun'sls] so as not to miss even a single breath of wind. Another similar view of Oberon with her stun'sls set is illustrated in Ron Ranson's The Maritime Paintings of Montague Dawson, publ. 1993, p. 90.

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