Edward Duncan is most famous for his maritime views, in which he specialised as the result of an early career as an engraver of shipping scenes. His wife, Bertha, was also the daughter of the maritime painter William Huggins (1820-1884), whose pictures Duncan had engraved. By the date of its exhibition in 1920, this watercolour had come to be known as 'Ships that pass in the night', probably an allusion to the poem 'The Theologian's Tale: Elizabeth', from Tales of a Wayside Inn (1863) by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882):
Ships that pass in the night, and speak each other in passing;
Only a signal shown and a distant voice in the darkness;
So on the ocean of life we pass and speak one another,
Only a look and a voice; then darkness again and a silence.