Barques were the shipping workhorses in the booming 19th century. In this “golden age of sailing,” they could carry nearly as much cargo as their larger, full-rigged cousins but operated with a much smaller crew which kept costs down.
There are some records that give us some information about the “Alliance.” Built in France in 1858, it was classified as a clipper built of hardwood and coppered. In 1865 it was purchased by James Dunn Burdis, a ship owner in North Shields, the port on the Tyne River near Newcastle. After six years of service it was heavily damaged in a collision with a German barque in the straits of Gibraltar on its way back from Constantinople. Then three years later, in December 1874, she was wrecked during a gale off the coast of Kent.
According to “The Illustrated London News” of January 9, 1875, a Board of Trade commission condemned the master of the Alliance, Captain Amos Spilett, and suspended his certificate for a year having decided that “the loss of the vessel had been due to his gross negligence and neglect.” It had been determined that the captain had overloaded the barque by more than 200 tons of cargo, “which caused it to draw water to the entire depth of the hull.”
This overloading and the moderate gale that was blowing were factors enough to cause the “Alliance” to go ashore on Dungeness Point. The “Life-Boat Journal,” a publication of the National Life-Boat Institution, noted that once “her signals of distress were observed, the Life-Boat ‘Dr. Hatton’ was launched, and succeeded in removing the whole of the crew of 10 persons from the wreck…” The Journal also noted that the expense of the rescue totaled “28l., 13s., 4d.” (Life-boat rescues, the journal explained elsewhere, saved some 713 lives that year alone.)
The painter of this portrait of the “Alliance” did not sign his work, but he did give it the caption: “Barque Alliance of Shildes, Eduard E. Burdis, Master. From this we can determine that the artist may have been French, as an Englishman would have spelled the town correctly as “Shields,” where the ship was based since 1865. In addition, it was captained by Eduard Burdis (perhaps brother to the owner) sometime before its ill-fated master, Captain Spilett, wrecked it just before Christmas 1874.
In any case, this is a handsome portrait of a sailing ship heading through rough seas before an approaching storm; its sails partially down for safety’s sake. The tiny figures on deck seem like such frail and helpless things in comparison to the drama they have entered into.
This large painting is housed in a Victorian maple frame with a rich, deep color and a good patina. The frame provides a mellow background for the dramatic scene.
The painting is in excellent condition. It has been previously cleaned and restored some time ago. The frame is in excellent condition as well.
It measures 35-1/4 inches wide by 25-1/2 inches high, including the frame.