The passenger liner, SS City of Brussels, was launched in 1869, and in that same year she set the record for the fastest eastbound Atlantic voyage for a screw-driven ship, which she held for several months. She was built in a period when wooden sail ships and steam/paddle-driven ships were on their way out. City of Brussels was iron-hulled, and at 390 feet in length, it was one of the first “long boats.” As it was deemed that 300 feet was the safe limit for wooden boats, her extra length and tougher hull meant she could carry more passengers; 200 in first class and 600 in steerage.
At this time, there was a fascination about the travels of all of these ships plying the world trade routes with passengers and cargoes, and information about ship departures, returns and their speeds were regularly published in newspapers. The City of Brussels’ first New York-to-England trip was a record-breaking passage that took just over 7 days and 20 hours at a speed of about 15 knots (c. 17 mph), a record held for 3 months. However, the next year illustrated the technical problem sometimes encountered with single screw liners of her size at this time when her propeller broke and she had to return to port under sail.
In 1876, the City of Brussels was fitted with a more compact engine that reduced her coal consumption from 110 tons per day to only (!) 65, while increasing her cargo capacity. She also received a second funnel at the same time. But these modifications did not resolve the problem with the drive shaft as the next year it broke again and she again used her sails to return home. (This drawing shows the liner before the addition of the second funnel.) The Australian National Maritime Museum has in its collection a memoir of a voyage written by a passenger in 1876 that describes his observations on his voyage from Melbourne to London. Edward Warner, who was 24 years old at the time, reported on life on board the Renown. He noted the daily position of the ship, weather, the food served, bird and fish spotted, and in general how time was passed.
In 1883, the City of Brussels, after dropping off most of her passengers on her return from New York, encountered heavy fog and collided with the Kirby Hall, a new cargo ship on her maiden voyage to Bombay. When the vessels separated, the City of Brussels was nearly cut in two and sank within 20 minutes. Two passengers and 8 of her crew were lost, while 64 passengers and 93 crew were taken on board Kirby Hall from the liner’s boats.
This sepia drawing was done at a time when artists would go down to the docks and paint the ships coming and going and sell for a modest sum on the dock. In this group of itinerant “pier painters,” some were quite talented, producing striking images. This one is proof of that. Upon close inspection, there is an extraordinary amount of detail to the masts, sails and rigging. There is one flag flying from the top of the main mast, and one signal flag on the rear. It was done by the same artist as the one I have listed separately; the clipper ship, “Renown,” although this one is not signed. (They would make an ideal pair, as they are of the same size, are framed alike and face each other.) On the bottom is inscribed the following information: “The Ironman(?) Royal Mail Steamer, ‘City of Brussels,’ 2000 tons.”
Michelangelo wrote and drew in sepia ink, and the use of the distinctive reddish-brown ink derived from cuttlefish and squid has been around since Roman times, but it reached its zenith in the 18th and 19th centuries. Its use seems particularly appropriate for a variety of uses, and even today digital cameras often are equipped to add a sepia tone to photographs in order to add character. In this drawing it gives the subject a unique appearance that is definitely antique.
The drawing is housed in a pretty Victorian walnut frame with a large beaded edging. The frame has wonderful patination and a rich, warm brown color and patina. Although not original to the piece, it is approximately the same age as the sepia drawing. The frame retains is old bubbled and wavy glass.
It is in excellent condition, with no tears and only minor foxing. It must have been a treasured piece in its owner’s home all these years. The frame is in excellent condition as well. The frame also retains its old bubbled and wavy glass.
It measures 8-3/8 inches wide by 5-5/8 inches high, including the frame.