• Maritime Art auction at Christies

    Sale 5949

    Maritime Art

    11 November 2009, London, South Kensington

  • Lot 84

    Montague Dawson, F.R.S.A., R.S.M.A. (1895-1973)

    High wind

    Price Realised  


    Montague Dawson, F.R.S.A., R.S.M.A. (1895-1973)
    High wind
    signed 'Montague. Dawson.' (lower left), inscribed 'High Wind' (on the reverse) and further inscribed 'High Wind - Pioneer to the White Diamond' (on a remnant of an exhibition label attached to the stretcher)
    oil on canvas
    36 x 24 in. (91.5 x 61 cm.)

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    Although Dawson has not identified this ship by name, the enigmatic label on the stretcher reading "High Wind - Pioneer to the White Diamond" seems to point to one vessel in particular, namely the Joshua Bates. Interestingly, in Richard C. McKay's major biographical work on his grandfather Some Famous Sailing Ships and their builder, Donald McKay (first published in 1928), he refers to the Joshua Bates (in the index) as 'Pioneer of Train's White Diamond Line', and this poses the obvious question; could Dawson have had a copy of this book in his library and might this particular phrase be the source of his inspiration? If any ship deserves the title 'Pioneer to the White Diamond [Line?]' it was the Joshua Bates since she was the line's first custom-built packet and the one which turned the fledgling company into a successful business venture.

    Colonel Enoch Train founded his 'White Diamond' Line of Boston to Liverpool packets in 1844 despite the failure of two similar services in the 1820s and notwithstanding the fact that New York was already emerging as the dominant entry port for North Atlantic traffic in both freight and passengers. In the first year, the line's sailings from Lewis Wharf, Boston, were very irregular and the service was regarded with some amusement by the citizens of Boston, mainly because the vessels employed were less than suitable ships commandeered from Train's other mercantile operations. The shipping community in Liverpool also doubted it would succeed yet from the moment Train took delivery of his first ship from Donald McKay, the company's fortunes began to improve. McKay, the builder of so many great clippers in the years following, delighted Train with his 620-ton Joshua Bates and, as other similar thoroughbreds followed her into service, the White Diamond Line rapidly became a force to be reckoned with, especially in the emigrant trade. The order for the Joshua Bates went to William not only master shipwright of but also a junior partner. Train had been recommended to the young McKay and had travelled especially to meet him as the plans for a purpose-built packet ship began to crystallise in his mind. Apparently, Train and McKay took an instant liking to each other and the contract to build the vessel was agreed within an hour. Registered at 620 tons and measuring 143 feet in length with a 31 foot beam, she was launched on time and to widespread approval. Indeed, Train was so elated at the launching that he grasped McKay by the hand saying "Come to Boston; I want you!" and thus began the long association between the two men, with Train instrumental in relocating McKay to his own yard at East Boston.

    At the precise moment Joshua Bates was ready for sea, the condition of trade at Boston was so poor that she actually 'cut her teeth' on a freight run to Mobile, Alabama, and was only then put onto the North Atlantic route where she proved an immediate success, transforming the company's reputation at a stroke. She was, in fact, so successful that Train withdrew her from the Atlantic ferry after about five years and put her into the China trade where she did equally well, her best passage being 97 days from Anger to New York in 1853. By 1850, McKay had built a further six ships for Train's Atlantic service so the latter could easily afford to withdraw Joshua Bates for his China enterprise and then retain her on that route. Subsequently sold after the collapse of Train's shipping empire late in 1854, Joshua Bates came into British registry in 1862 when she was purchased by Francis Beaver of Melbourne. Two years later she was sold to Lowe Kong Meng, a Chinese merchant also resident in Melbourne and, in 1872, to William concluded she was reported as being "condemned" at Mauritius, presumably after bad weather damage. By then, her original owner - Boston's prestigious White Diamond Line - had long since disappeared from the North Atlantic and the once famous black capital 'T' which had decorated the fore-topsail of every ship in their fleet was fading from memory.

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    Pre-Lot Text