Carmichael moved from Newcastle to London in 1846 and is known to have spent time in the following years sketching views along this side of the Thames. Sketches of Blackfriars (1846) and Greenwich (1848) are known in private collections. This is the earliest of three pictures of Woolwich, The Launch of the Royal Albert at Woolwich (1854, Royal Collection) and in 1859, he painted Shipping on the Thames at Woolwich.
While Woolwich is now regarded as being within the wider metropolitan area of London, it was still a quite separate entity in the mid-nineteenth century. Described as a riverside town of considerable charm, it first came to prominence in 1512-13 when the so-called Royal Dockyard was established by Henry VIII in order to build the Great Harry, the magnificent flagship of his new Royal Navy. Located on a sloping area of Thames foreshore, this small yard gradually expanded until, by 1753, it covered an area of about twenty acres with a river frontage measuring about 1,500 feet in length. Further extensions followed but it remained, essentially, an eighteenth century facility which, by 1869, had become so outdated and unsuitable for the new larger steam-powered iron warships that it was closed down. This closure caused considerable distress in the town. The artist shows the Thames crowded with vessels of every size and type, from small skiffs to naval frigates, and even includes a distant paddle tug, the precursor of those larger steamships which would ultimately bring to an end over three centuries of naval building at Woolwich and thereby severely dislocate the town's long history of relative prosperity. While several cranes are clearly visible, the main features of the dockyard, such as the slips and basins, are hidden by the barge in the right foreground, although even this seems to be on dockyard business judging by the section of mast it is towing out into the river.
The full-rigged ship in the left centre of this particularly attractive riverscape has been identified as the Buckinghamshire a former East Indiaman of 1,369 tons built at Bombay and launched on 13th April 1816. A large vessel measuring 134 feet in length with a 44 foot beam, she spent her career voyaging to China from Bombay until 1834 when she was sold out of the East India Company's fleet for £10,550. Purchased by Mangles & Co. of London who traded her until 1841, she was then sold to Cowasjee, another London owner, who operated her on various routes, including South Australia, until she was destroyed by fire off Calcutta on 3rd March 1851.
We are grateful to Michael Naxton for assisting us with this catalogue entry.