James Harris, whose family had moved to Swansea in about 1828, is recorded in London in the mid-1830s where he was introduced to his near contemporary, George Chambers, Snr. (1803-1840). Chambers had already established a considerable reputation as a maritime artist, and Harris seems to have have worked for a time in his studio. Harris returned to Swansea following his father's death in 1836 and much of his work was inspired by the dramatic coastal scenery there. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1859 and 1862 and other examples of his work can be seen in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, the Swansea Museum and The Glyn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea.
The present picture, an outstanding example of the Harris's work, was presumably commissioned by John Henry Vivian (1785-1855), a pioneering industrialist who made a large fortune in the copper industry. Vivian, who was originally from Cornwall had moved to Swansea in about 1800, setting up the copper smelting works at Penclawdd, Glamorganshire, which he later moved to Hafod, establishing the company of Vivian and Sons which operated both the Hafod works and the Rock Copper Works, in the lower Swansea Valley. By the 1830s Vivian and Sons held nearly 30 of the copper market and as the century progressed the company continued to expand with the introduction of other activities such as Zinc smelting. In the early twentieth century competition eventually obliged the company to amalgamate with the other major smelting company in Swansea Williams Foster and Company and Pascoe Grenfell and Sons Ltd to form British Copper Manufacturers limited. The blue and yellow flag raised on the mast of the ship at the centre of the composition is that of the Company of Vivian & Sons. John Henry Vivian served as Member of Parliament for Swansea between 1832 and 1855 and his son Henry (1821-1894), who also represented Swansea in Parliament (1855-93), was raised to the Peerage as 1st Baron Swansea. Singleton Abbey, the Vivian family home, which can be seen in the background of this dramatic composition, was originally built in the late-18th century but was redesigned in the neo-Gothic style in the mid-1820s by the renowned architect P.F. Robinson on behalf of John Henry Vivian. In the 1920s Singleton Abbey became the core of Swansea University.