Completed British 19th C, except portraits, Maritime Subjects, South West England: Artists and Subjects 16 Which 'Harpooner' is depicted and where is the location? Is William John Huggins the artist?

Topic: Execution date

'Harpooner' may have been the name of various ships, but the 1850–1875 date looks rather late for this canvas. The ship may be the same as the one, Blackwall-built in 1830, shown in another picture by William John Huggins (1781–1845):

While the style of this painting is a bit looser, it might be a later painting by Huggins, although I'm less than sure. Does anyone have alternative artist suggestions? The lighthouse may be Smeaton's Eddystone tower, in use 1759–1877.

The collection comments:

A description of the painting can be found here:

The lighthouse is not definitively identified as Smeaton's by any means.

We have additional information from the painting's donor, provided in 1932:
Mrs. A. M. Grant's grandfather was Captain Clark, commander of the 'Harpooner'. He and his ship were lost at sea in 1833.

This is the earliest whaler represented in the Museum. The sails and rigging are typical but the stern is unusually elaborate.

Pieter van der Merwe, Maritime Subjects, Entry reviewed by Art UK

Completed, Outcome

Jade Audrey King,

This painting is now listed as by British School, and an execution date of c.1831 has been added to the work.

This update will appear on the new version of Your Paintings, which will be live in early 2016.

Please see below for all the comments that led to this conclusion. If you have any new information about this work, please propose a new discussion from the artwork page.


Cliff Thornton,

The Harpooner was built by Green & Co at Blackwall in 1830. Captain J. Clark was her commander on a number of voyages. She was the only vessel of that name in the 1830s. She did not sink in 1833, she was reported as a wreck in August 1837. She was not involved with the Greenland trade but sailed to the "South Seas" for her catch.

This is the same vessel as was painted by Huggins in 1832. But I cannot see the rear davits on the Huggins painting, are they there Peter?

David Skilton,

According to Lloyd's Register of Shipping for 1831, the Harpooner was a single-deck ship with beams with a draught of 398 tons, and was in the first year of her age in 1831. I think the master was Clark and the owners Green & Co.. I am not experienced enough in Lloyd's Register to interpret the other abbreviated information in the entry. I take a guess that Lo.SSeas in the column for the Survey Port denotes London and the South Seas. The Harpooner appears in the Register for 1830, 1831 and 1832.

See Lloyd's Register online:;=#v=onepage&q=harpooner&f=false

I'll get back on the davits point (and Lloyds), but these things can change; it depends on the date of the Science Museum picture -though presumably the 1857 date said to be on the back is adrift if the ship was a wreck by 1837, unless there was another of the name thereafter (and Mrs Grant did not specifically say her grandfather Capt. Clark was lost in her, only in whatever ship he was commanding in 1833, though what we've been told is ambiguous on that point). Green's built the 1830 'Harpooner', and their other whalers, for the South Seas. I agree it's not Smeaton's Eddystone, having looked at other images, but can we identify the lighthouse which might give a further date clue? The Bishop Rock was first constructed in 1851 - which would give credence to another 'Harpooner' current in the 1850s; the Wolf Rock began in 1861, so is it the former or another tower? I can't think of another one, or earlier, that would fit an outbound whaler-or at least one heading south from the Channel.

Cliff Thornton,

Pieter, your persistence with the 1850s persuaded me to revisit Lloyds Registers. There I found another Harpooner had been registered in 1849 and in the subsequent years, until she hit rocks off the coast of China. She managed to reach Ningpo but was condemned there (Glasgow Herald, 17 Oct 1856).
This ship is recorded as being built in London in 1831, and her 405 tons was exactly the same as the Harpooner of the 1830s! I wonder if the original Harpooner had managed to make it back to the UK for repairs.That could explain the similarity in the paintings of the two ships, even though one may have been executed 30 years later.

Having checked quite thoroughly, I think we are only talking about one ship, that built by the Greens at Blackwall in 1830-31 (398 tons but later noted as 405) and originally owned in partnership with the Wigrams. I've not checked exactly when they sold her but her appearance in Lloyd's Register is erratic (which is often the case with whalers for some reason- and I've not yet looked at pre-1845 entries) and only consistent after 1850: her last appearance in our copies is 1857, after she was in fact wrecked.

She had a varied career, in which repair or other alteration probably accounts for slight differences in the pictures (e.g. more prominent davits in the SM image). Sailed on her first voyage of South Seas under Clark: back at Deal, 4 April 1833 (Morning Chronicle, 8th). Sailed on 2nd voyage for South Seas on 20 September from Deal (Morning Post, 23rd): no master given but returned there by 24 January 1837 from Mauritius and Seychelles under Capt. Howard (MP, 26th): interim ship news reports mention her growing cargo, eventually 1500 barrels of oil. Cleared in London for South Seas in ballast under Capt. Lack (MP, 20 April 1837). MP of 8th August 1837 reports that the 'Mary', spoken with in lat. 8 long. 24 on 29 June, had herself previously spoken with 'Harpooner' -noted as 'a wreck' - but she was reported back at Deal, 4 February 1841 (MC, 6th). MP of 9 April 1842 reports her sailing for South Seas from Gravesend on 7th. Cleared outward (Capt. Kitty) at Sydney, NSW, for South Seas as reported (n.d.) in the Standard, 4 October 1845. Lloyd's Weekly News, 7 November 1847, reported that under Capt Papps she had put back to Sydney leaky, 12 July 1847. However, MP of 3 September 1847 reported her sailing from Adelaide on 18th inst., for London but delayed caulking her topsides in Nepean Bay. Caledonian Mercury, 24 February 1848, reports her arrival at Gravesend under Papps on 20th (having previously touched at Swansea on 3rd). This appears to have been the last voyage in which she was involved in whaling: next mention is entering at Custom House for Vancouver and the Columbia River, reported in MP 10 October 1848. She sailed from Gravesend on the 6th. A report in the Standard of sighting her at sea, inbound from Callao to London, on 17 October 1850 calls her 'Harpooner (barque)', so she was clearly no longer ship-rigged -as she remains in the Science Museum painting - for this part of her career which seems to have been for cargo use. She does not appear in Lloyd's Register in the latter part of the 1840s, at least and only resurfaces there in 1850 when bought by a new master/owner, L. Morrice. She was entered inwards by London customs, from Callao, on 11 Nov 1850 and outwards again for Valparaiso on 29th (in MP 12 and 30 November) but may have sailed later, since next reported as being spoken at sea on 19 March 1851 (MP, 6 May 1851). MC of 14 May 1852 reported that 'Harpooner', from Callao, had arrived at Honolulu very leaky and was discharging: MC of 18th adds she was bound for Canton but had been ashore previously 'near here' which probably means Tahiti (though the reports were sent from San Francisco in early April). MP of 4 August 1852 reports her as bound to Hong Kong with guano -which fits the Callao trade - and that she has been condemned at Oahu (Honolulu). However, she may rather have been repaired since the Liverpool Mercury of 4 November 1853 reports her, bound from Singapore to Mauritius, being spoken on 22 July off Java Head. MP of 4 July 1854 reports her at Deal on the 1st, inward bound from Mauritius. She was then entered outwards for the Cape of Good Hope (report in MP, 1 September 1854) and was at Deal on 10th, bound for the Cape and Madras (MC, 11 November). Daily News, 2 July 1855, reports her arrival at Madras on 18 May -still under Morrice - and on 4 February 1856 her departure on 5 December 1855 from Singapore to Penang. The Standard, 30 October 1856, finally prints a report from Amoy (7 August) that 'The Harpooner (British barque) from hence for Ningpo, struck on a rock near that place, and was found to be so much damaged as to be unseaworthy, and will be sold at Ningpo.'

If the 1857 date on the back of the picture represents when it was done, it must be 'commemorative' and show her as a whaler before 1850 after which she was barque-rigged (fore-and-aft sails on the mizzen). Moreover, were the lighthouse the Bishop Rock that too is an anachronism since it was built in 1851, so she would never have passed it ship-rigged as shown. Still thinking about artist: not W. J. Huggins, but might be his son James Miller H. inter alia.

Minor fact clarifications: the ship was built in 1830, first appears in Lloyd's Register in 1831 as London - South Seas, with J. Clark as master and owned by Green and Co., but they only appear until 1834. After that there is no owner name but Clark continues in the master column (though clearly he was not, esp. if he died in 1833) until 1838-39. From 1839-40 the ship is no longer in the register at all and only reappears for London-[British] Columbia in 1849 (as a barque) after L. Morrice bought her, presumably in 1848. From 1850 there is again no specific destination until she last appears in the register for 1857, probably by late report of the accident that wrecked her.

The much sharper Getty image, mentioned by Paul Smith at the top, more clearly shows distant land to right beyond the lighthouse tower: so given the other shipping headed seaward on the left, I'm backtracking and thinking the tower is probably Smeaton's Eddystone (c. 18 miles off Plymouth) - allowing artistic imprecision, light from left (south) and lack of other likely candidate given the ship is shown pre-1848 in rig terms. Since the canvas came from the granddaughter of the first master (J. Clark reported as d. 1833) it is most likely to have been for him or at least about that date, rather than 1850s.

Could I suggest -to wind this up for the moment- that the artist and date are updated to 'British school, c. 1831': the painting's provenance is from the family of 'Harpooner's first master, reported as dead in 1833 and the ship is certainly shown in pre-1848 rig. That's not proof positive re: date, but more likely given the painting's general appearance than the chances of it being a retrospective post-1850 view as currently stated. The lighthouse is also probably intended as the Eddystone, if only for lack of likely alternatives that fit the ship's voyage pattern and the distant coast position.

The following link gives the updated web entry on the National Maritime Museum painting by W. J. Huggins that also includes 'Harpooner', now mentioning this one:

Jade Audrey King,

The collection has been contacted specifically about this recommendation.

Denise Thompson,

John Clark wrote his Will on 20 September 1833, describing himself as Master of the Harpooner bound to the Southern Whale Fishery. He died on that journey but I do not know whether by accident or illness. I don't believe the Harpooner went down.
On the 3rd of June 1835 Admon with the Will annexed of the Goods Chattels and Credits of John Clark late of Blackwall in the County of Middlesex Master of the Merchant Ship Harpooner At Sea deceased was granted to Ann Clark Widow the Relict of the said deceased having been first Sworn duly to Administer No Executor or Residuary Legatee

The will is available online on
John Clark married Ann Gordon, sister of my ancestor Mary Korff, nee Gordon. John Clark's daughter Janet Mary Clark came to Sydney to marry her cousin Frederick James Robert Korff. Another daughter Ann Gordon Clark married Francis Metcalf, a Colonial Sampler, and third daughter Mary Gordon Clark married master mariner Captain Edward Nixon.
While this is off topic I would very much like to hear from the Grant family who donated the painting, as I don't have any record of people of that name on my extensive database.
I am happy to share any information I have.
Denise Thompson
Sydney, Australia

Thank you for this note on Clark: dying on a voyage by causes other than loss of the ship was not unusual and the fact he signed his will on the day they sailed (20 September 1833), rather having one in place already - since he had already done one voyage in the ship, let alone others previously in his earlier career - might suggest he was uncertain about his health at that point. The family report of him being lost with a ship is probably just 'wrong but more romantic', since 'Harpooner' clearly long survived him. I hope the collection will take note when they finally wake up and we can sign this one off! I'll add to the record of the other painting by Huggins in the NMM.

Jade Audrey King,

The collection has again been contacted specifically about this recommendation.