Thomas Mitchell was primarily a marine artist. He painted in the dockyards at Chatham and Deptford and exhibited extensively at the Royal Academy and British Institution. He died in January 1790 by which time he had become Assistant Surveyor to the Navy.
Horsleydown, which no longer exists, was situated on the South Bank of the Thames where Tower Bridge now stands. An almost forgotten stretch of London's ancient riverscape, it was originally a pasture where horses and cattle could graze, but by the mid-eighteenth century had become a thriving dockland, crowded with wharves and warehouses. On 7 May 1785 a fire blazed through Horsleydown, fuelled by the burning of the turpentine works of Messrs. Webster and Stephens.
In the foreground of this picture a boat from the Sun Fire Company can be seen attempting to extinguish the fire. For more information on the office's fleet of fire engines and barges please see the introduction to the sale.