This important painting can now be attributed, with certainty, to Francis Hustwick of Liverpool thanks to the pioneering work of A.S. Davidson and Anthony Tibbles (Merseyside Maritime Museum) whose research was published in 1999 (see details above). Hitherto, this artist's identity had been totally unknown even though his trademark of a distinctive outmoded British red ensign had already been noticed on numerous Liverpool ship portraits. In the absence of any earlier clues, his identity was finally confirmed by the chance discovery, in 1997, of the first work by him to be fully signed and inscribed 'Francis Hustwick, Liverpool'.
The tragedy of the Royal Charter:
The auxiliary sailing ship Royal Charter was one of the most successful early steam vessels running to Australia during the decade following the gold rush which began in 1851. Built by Gibbs, Bright & Co. for the Liverpool & Australian Steam Navigation Company in 1854, she was registered at 2,719 tons and measured 235 feet in length. After numerous highly profitable voyages, she left Melbourne on 26th August 1859, homeward bound and carrying 388 passengers, 112 crew and a large cargo of bullion fresh from the goldfields. Quite apart from almost 70,000 ounces of gold valued at £273,000 and £48,000 in newly minted sovereigns, she was also carrying the personal wealth of a number of passengers who had made fortunes at the diggings.
Arriving at Queenstown on 24th October after a record run of only 58 days, thirteen passengers disembarked but were subsequently replaced by eleven riggers wishing to work their passage back to the Mersey. The entire ship's company was in excellent spirits at the thought of making port so soon and Royal Charter put to sea again after the shortest of calls. As she sped up the Irish Sea, the weather showed signs of breaking but progress was good and by mid-afternoon the following day, Captain Taylor ran inshore a little to allow his passengers a sight of Brunel's new monster steamship Great Eastern which was lying at Holyhead after her trials. Shortly after this minor detour, the wind started to freshen considerably and by the time Royal Charter rounded the Skerries on the north-west corner of Anglesey, the rising wind decided her captain to shorten sail. Royal Charter was a good sea boat however, having weathered many storms during previous voyages, and she rode the waves easily, her passengers filled with confidence in her and her captain's ability. With the benefit of hindsight, Captain Taylor really should have put back into Holyhead for shelter but, mindful of the promise he had made after leaving Queenstown "to be home within 24 hours", he decided to keep his course.
Taylor's signal rocket for a pilot at around 6.30pm. remained unanswered due to the weather and by 8.00pm. it was blowing a full gale, with fierce squalls and heavy rain. In an effort to gain a little more searoom, he ordered a few sails to be set but to no avail. The sheer power of the sea and the wind, which by now had veered around and was hurricane strength, was blowing Royal Charter towards the shore and her puny engine could do little to stop the drift. Taylor made repeated attempts over the next few hours but all were doomed to failure; the power of the elements was simply too great. At 1.30am. the following morning the port anchor snapped and the starboard chain went an hour later. Swung around by the straining cable before it broke, Royal Charter was now bows on to the land and heading inshore. She grounded at about 3.30am. although little could be done to evacuate the ship until daylight. Valiant efforts to get a line for a bo'sun's chair ashore eventually succeeded, but hardly had a handful of men got off the wreck than a huge wave swamped her and broke the ship in two; it was 7.00am. and dawn was just breaking. With practically all the passengers in the rear saloon, their fate was sealed once the stern of the ship was severed.
Only forty persons survived the disaster and all were men - 22 passengers and 18 crew. Every woman and child perished in the violence of the storm and those bodies which were recovered revealed the awful truth; very few had drowned, most had been battered to death on the rocky shore within feet of safety. It was a fearful calamity in which over 450 souls were lost. The gale devastated vast areas of England and Wales wreaking havoc on land and sinking many other ships both at sea as well as at their moorings. Such was the impact of what happened on the Anglesey coast however, that the storm - one of the greatest of the nineteenth century - became known to history as the "Royal Charter Gale".