This most attractive painting by Samuel Walters portrays an anonymous auxiliary schooner yacht on port profile view, steaming along in a flat calm, with canvas neatly stowed. The delicate colors suggest sunrise or sunset off the entrance to a fjord-like inlet. The Norwegian location is confirmed by the traditional local fishing craft on the left.
Funnel and masts are attractively raked with an early slightly bell- shaped funnel rim, The matching clipper bow is graced with a 3/4 length female figurehead and the deck appears flush apart from a fairly small deckhouse incorporating the funnel base, with a door visible aft. Using the crew members as a very rough 5.5 feet measure, the length may be estimated at about 140 feet. This fits in with a professional crew of about a dozen, shown in a uniform of blue jersey and red headgear. Four ship's boats are carried in davits and all the indications are of a fair-sized vessel capable of cruising practically anywhere, the property of a man of substance.
The ensign and burgee are those of the Royal Mersey Yacht Club an indicates an ordinary member of the club, not a swallow-tail burgee as for a commodore. The 143 foot long two masted schooner Ceres was built in 1859. at Glasgow, by Tod & McGregor. From 1860 to 1865, Lloyd's Registers gave the owner as J. Leather and the home port at Weymouth. In the 1866/7 Lloyd's Register ownership passed briefly from J. Leather to T. S Begbie, London and then to C. McIver, Liverpool. A well known figure in shipping circles, Charles McIver resold the vessel in 1868. Reference to the Liverpool Custom Registers confirmed the transfer from Leather to McIver in September 1866, but there was no mention of previous transactions, nor of the mysterious Mr. Begbie. A curiosity concering the owner's flag, led to a fortunate conversation with a friend researching the American Cival War. It transpired that Thomas Sterling Begbie, a London ship broker, had often acted for the Confederates and had supplied them with five well documented blockader runners. The owner's personal flag now assumed considerable significance, but it required another fortunate encounter before the veil of secrecy was finally lifted.
In the Merseyside Maritime Museum collection is a 5 x 8 in. photographic print complete with decriptive inscription of the painting by Samuel Walters showing the well known Confederate raider C.S.S. Alabama. On the reverse of the mounting board is the following legend of identical design; "The Steam Yacht Ceres 300 tons"/60 horse power/The Property of Charles K. Prioleau Esqre".
Gore's Liverpool Directories, reveal the owner as living in Allerton Hall, with a town house at Abercromby Square, Liverpool. Described as a principal with Frazer & Trenholm, (the foreign Bankers for the Southern Confederacy), this instantly explains the owner's personal flag displayed at the yacht's foremast. Taking up residence in Liverpool as a very diligent agent on behalf of the Confederacy, Charles Prioleau had in fact married Miss Mary Wright, the 'belle of Liverpool' in the 1860's and the daugther of the owner of Allerton Hall.
Confirmation emerged from the Trenholm archives now preserved at the Merseyside Maritime Museum, the majority being copy letters personally written and retained by Charles K. Prioleau for record purposes, stating that he is purchasing the Ceres for 5500gbp.
It is in a much warmer personal vein, that he writes to his compatriot Mr. J.T. Welshman on August 3rd, 1864. " My dear friend, I have to aknowledge receipt of your two esteemed letters 20th May and 4th July. There was another received, the loss of which has caused me to let so much time to elapse before writing as I have done. I went for a little holiday in June to Norway in a yacht. I was gone 18 to 20 days, between one Nassau mail and another. During this absence your letter came a Mr. A. forwarded it to Bergen whence it has never returned, having arrved there (if at all) after I left......" This fortuitous explanation, a very minor incidental in a personal letter referring to matters of much graver concern, seems to confirm beyond any shadow of a doubt, the identity, location and almost the precise date of the Walters' yacht portrait.
To avoid confusion it may be noted that there was another Ceres, a twin screw blockade runner, built for this specific purpose by J & W Dudgeaon on the Thames. Regarding our auxiliary steam schooner yacht Ceres, her role in confederate affairs was probably minor and indirect. Apart from serving as Prioleau's private yacht, she would be capable of a discreet courier service anywhere around the British Isles and European coastline and would also afford well appointed suuroundings in complete privacy; desirable fascilities when meeting with influential clients in war time.
The painting and its subject reveal a fascinating glimpse of the intrigue and secrecy that pervaded Liverpool's commercial involvement during the American Civil War, the well learnt lesson of covering one's tracks, continuing for years after hostilities had ended.
In this case the question arises for the collector, as to where there is still another original painting of Ceres in existence; that corresponding to the 'carte de visite' photograph showing her off the Tuskar lighthouse. Did this and the painting illustrated, at one time form a traditional 'calm' and 'heavy weather' pair? If so, the latter's survival and recognition would provide a very fitting finale.