At first sight, the fully-rigged model occupying the main thrust of this rather whimsical picture seems to be a Royal Navy frigate of the early to mid-eighteenth century but, as in any painting, whatever its subject, appearances can sometimes be deceptive. Despite her single gundeck and numerous other features so reminiscent of a typical naval frigate, it is more likely this vessel was a privateer which, if true, would make her - quite literally - the model for one of Dawson's very popular works 'The Duke and Duchess'. This splendid depiction of the two famous Bristol privateers sailing in company in the first decade of the eighteenth century has been widely reproduced and is deemed to have all the ingredients of a classic Dawson historical narrative. This particular model occupied a prominent place in Dawson's studio, as evidenced by the photograph of the artist illustrated within the introduction to Ranson's book, and may even have been one of the artist's favourite 'props' given that it inspired its own portrait.
The other model, more obviously a frigate of the Royal Navy judging from her characteristic 'rampant lion' figurehead, is only partially rigged and has her topmasts 'down' as if she is laid up and in reserve. Much less distinctive than her fully-rigged companion, it is less apparent which works she might have inspired although her lines and general appearance would have provided useful guidance for many of Dawson's pictures of real historical incidents.