Despite a name so synonymous with India that it might have been reused many times over, only one ship called Hindostan has been recognised as a true East Indiaman. A large vessel measured at 1,248 tons, she was built in 1789 to the order of Robert Williams, M.P., her managing owner, and placed under the command of Captain William Mackintosh. Bound for China, via India, she sailed from the Downs on 17 January 1790 and was back at her moorings in home waters on 29 June 1791, a good average time for the round trip. Thereafter, she made a further four voyages to China usually via India, and arrived home from the last in June 1802. Reloaded with a mixed cargo including silver bullion and this time commanded by Captain Edward Balston, Hindostan left London bound for the Cape, Ceylon and China just after the turn of the new year but was caught in a severe gale just off Margate on 11 January 1803 and wrecked on the Wedge Sand with the loss of about 25 lives.
The positive identification of Hindostan can be used to date the picture between the years 1790-1802 and thus enable two of the other three vessels to be identified. Indian Trader and Ewretta, both fully-rigged ships registered at 340 and 342 tons respectively, were each built on the Thames in 1791 and noted in Lloyd's Registers of Shipping (1792 edition) as trading between London and Montreal. It seems highly probable therefore that this work depicts the ships as they gathered at the Downs, off the north foreland of Kent, to await fair winds in the English Channel before commencing their outbound voyages. The final ship, the Nancy, is probably untraceable in view of the very large number of vessels bearing that same name during this period.