Lieutenant Robert Strickland Thomas, R.N. (1787-1853)
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Lieutenant Robert Strickland Thomas, R.N. (1787-1853)

Two magnificent First Rates: H.M.S. Trafalgar and H.M.S. Queen lying off the Royal Dockyard at Sheerness

Lieutenant Robert Strickland Thomas, R.N. (1787-1853)
Two magnificent First Rates: H.M.S. Trafalgar and H.M.S. Queen lying off the Royal Dockyard at Sheerness
both signed and dated 'R.S. Thomas Px 1845.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
18 x 27½ in. (45.7 x 69.8 cm.)
a pair (2)
Probably commissioned by Admiral Sir Edward Durnford King, K.C.H.
with The Parker Gallery, London.
Special notice
No VAT will be charged on the hammer price, but VAT at 15% will be added to the buyer's premium which is invoiced on a VAT inclusive basis.

Lot Essay

The First Rate H.M.S. Trafalgar was ordered in February 1825 as the last of five 'Saint George' class three-deckers designed after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Her keel was laid in Woolwich Dockyard in December 1829 but she was not ready for launching until the summer of 1841, having spent 11½ years on the stocks. A large vessel of 2,694 tons measuring 205½ feet in length with a 53½ foot beam, she mounted 120 guns of varying calibre and carried 1,000 men to crew her as an effective fighting machine.

Built by Oliver Lang at Woolwich, she was launched by him on 21st June 1841 despite the apparent presence of Queen Victoria amongst the crowd of 300,000 people said to have assembled to watch the spectacle. First employed as flagship to the Commander-in-Chief, Sheerness, she showed her mettle in the Crimean War when she took an active role in the twelve-hour bombardment of Odessa on 22nd April 1854 and the subsequent huge bombardment of Sebastopol on 17th October the same year. These triumphs also signalled the end of the supremacy of sail however; the great three-deckers which had successfully pounded the Russian defences had mostly been towed into position by steamships and it had become clear to the Admiralty that the future of the 'Pax Britannica' lay with steam. Consequently, Trafalgar like most of her larger contemporaries - was docked for conversion and fitted with screw propulsion in a refit lasting a year from August 1858. At the same time, she was cut down into a two-decker although lengthened 15 feet by the stern to accommodate her new 500nhp. Maudslay engines; the cost of £25,000 was deemed a bargain compared to the £105,000 needed for a totally new vessel. Undocked on 14th August 1859, she served four years in the Channel Fleet and then spent a year in the Mediterranean before becoming coastguard vessel at Queensferry in 1864. Last at sea with the Reserve Fleet in 1869, she was then converted to a boys' training ship at Portsmouth and, when transferred to Portland in 1873, was renamed Boscawen. Finally sold out of the service in July 1906, she was broken up on the Thames after sixty-five years afloat.

H.M.S. Queen was, if for no other reason, a significant vessel in the long history of the Royal Navy since she was the very last sailing battleship to be completed before the advent of steam. Initially ordered as a 120-gun First Rate in 1825, she was extensively redesigned by the new Surveyor of the Navy Sir William Symonds to accommodate 110 guns before building commenced and her keel was laid at Portsmouth in November 1833. Originally to be called Royal Frederick, she was re-named in honour of the new Queen when virtually finished and launched on 15th May 1839. An enormous three-decker of 3,099 tons, she measured 204 feet in length and was armed with ten 8-in. guns and one hundred 32-pounders.

In almost continuous commission for nearly twenty years, she was part of the fleet sent to the Black Sea during the Crimean War (1854-56) where she distinguished herself at the first bombardment of Sebastopol on 17th October 1854 even though she was set on fire three times and eventually forced to withdraw from the action. Despite the Anglo-French alliance during that war however, subsequent Admiralty mistrust of French intentions resulted in an extensive warship modernisation programme during 1858-59 with Queen amongst those vessels selected for improvement. The work was carried out at Sheerness and by the time she was undocked there on 5th April 1859, she had been converted to screw propulsion thanks to the installation of a 500nhp. Maudslay engine whilst at the same time being cut down in size to a two-decker mounting 86 guns. Now capable of steaming at 10½ knots yet with a much reduced crew, she was promptly commissioned into the Mediterranean Fleet where she remained until 1864. Returning home to be paid off, this marked the end of her sea-going career and she was broken up in 1871, having hardly justified the £25,000 spent on modernising her only a only decade earlier, thanks to the rapid advances in technology.

An equally majestic although quite different portrait of H.M.S. Queen (dated 1849) by this artist was sold in our King Street rooms on 24th November 1998 (lot 60).

It seems probable that the two paintings offered in this lot were commissioned by Admiral Sir Edward Durnford King, K.C.H. (died 1862) to mark his appointment as Commander-in-Chief at the Nore on 18th April 1845.

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