This impressive oil was painted by Montague Dawson in 1970 as part of the celebrations surrounding the 350th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower from Southampton via Plymouth, Devon in 1620 to America, landing at what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts.
Built circa 1606 in Leigh, Essex, the Mayflower was registered at 180 tons and measured 90 feet in length with a 26 foot beam. She was a typical English merchantman and traded along routes to Norway and France amongst others. However, in 1620 a group of English separatists living in Leiden in the Netherlands chartered her and the smaller Speedwell from the Merchant Company to travel to "the neighbourhood of Hudson River in the northern part of Virginia". There this group, along with more passengers picked up in England, hoped to make a new life for themselves under the authority of the English Crown, but outside the Church of England. The dissenters desire for religious freedom and wish to escape the religious persecutions of those outside the established English Church later earned them the sobriquet 'Pilgrim Fathers', and it is by this name that they have been collectively known to history. The Pilgrims and the Mayflower have occupied a significant place in American history and imagination as symbols of early European colonization of the United States.
The first group of Pilgrims set sail from the Netherlands in the Speedwell, arriving in Southampton where they were joined by the Mayflower, captained by Christopher Jones, who sailed from the Thames (see note on lot 10). After picking up additional passengers the two vessels set off on 5th August 1620 with a crew of 20-30 men and 102 passengers. Unfortunately Speedwell proved to be rather unseaworthy and the Pilgrims had to twice put into port, firstly in Dartmouth on 17th August, and then Plymouth in order to repair leaks that had appeared. Eventually the decision was taken to abandon Speedwell in Plymouth, and on 6th September 1620 the Mayflower set sail with her cargo of around 132 men, women and children, including three pregnant women, Elizabeth Hopkins, Susanna White and Mary Allerton. Hopkins, in fact, gave birth during the voyage, naming her son appropriately Oceanus.
After a gruelling 67 days at sea in cramped living conditions, Captain Jones finally sighted land. However, due to inclement weather the Mayflower was forced off course and ended up over 200 miles north of her intended destination, Jamestown, instead arriving at Provincetown in Cape Cod Bay. After exploring the area, they decided to cross Massachusetts Bay to "the harbour which is apparently, by Captain John Smith's chart of 1614, no other than the place he calls 'Plimouth' thereon". By now the area was in the grip of a harsh winter and the decision was reached to spend their first winter in the New World onboard the Mayflower, occasionally rowing ashore to raid settlements and the surrounding area on a hunt for food, which sparked friction with the native population. Nevertheless the freezing weather, a shortage of fresh food and overcrowded cabins led to an outbreak of diseases such as pneumonia, scurvy and tuberculosis. By the time spring arrived and the settlers were able to begin building huts in order to establish their new colony, only 53 passengers and half the crew remained. The Plymouth colony was the first founded in the area soon labelled New England, and its first Governor, William Bradford, one of the Pilgrims on the inaugural voyage, provided the only known account of the Mayflower's journey in his treatise, Of Plymouth Plantation.
Several weeks later on 5th April 1621, Christopher Jones and his remaining crew returned to the Mayflower and set sail for home, arriving back in London with the aid of the prevailing south-westerly wind on 6th May. It is likely that the Mayflower resumed her services as a trading vessel, but in 1623, the year that Jones died it appears that she was dismantled for scrap timber at Rotherhithe, London.
In 1956, the Mayflower II, a spectacular replica of the ship, designed by William A. Baker, was launched, and in the spring of 1957 she left Devon bound for Plymouth, Massachusetts in a re-enactment of the voyage which lasted 55 days. Captained by Alan Villiers she arrived in America on 13th June 1957, and is now moored permanently in Plymouth harbour as a museum and visitor attraction.
The Mayflower II provided the model for Dawson's evocative depiction of the first Mayflower drifting along alone in the middle of the vast Atlantic Ocean bound for unknown foreign lands.