Packet NONANTUM, riding out a gale, 1842
Samuel Walters (1811--82)
Oil on canvas 33 in. by 44 in.
Convention appears to require that the observer face northward
in such Atlantic encounters, so here the ship is homeward bound
against the prevailing westerlies. Conditions are so severe that
all sails have been securely stowed except the main topsail. Despite
being fully reefed, this has just blown out, leaving little immediate
alternative but to ride it out until matters improve. Although
badly frayed, the U.S. ensign still flies at the after peak, an
indication to the approaching steamer that no assistance is required.
Regular operations of the British and North American Royal Mail
Steam Ships (later the Cunard Line) commenced only two years before
the scene depicted, and the paddle steamer is meant to represent
one of the four Clyde-built Britannia class of vessels.
NONANTUM was built in Boston in 1838. A reference in a Lloyd's listing for 1842 states that the NONANTUM arrived at Liverpool from New Orleans on 6 July 1842 and sailed for Boston on 8 August. These dates fit the July 1842 inscription on the reverse of the painting, and suggest that the subject depicts an incident on a previous passage. The inscription on the reverse of this canvas is of considerable interest: "S. Walters, 52 Nelson St. Liverpool, July 1842 No. 1234." The artist did not generally number his paintings, although he may have done so in a separate record book now lost. If he started to number his paintings at about age twenty, this would suggest a figure of about 110 paintings annually, or about two a week.
In 1850, on a passage from Boston to California with coal, the NONANTUM put into the Falkland Islands on fire, where she was scuttled and condemned, but afterwards was raised and repaired. She was sold to Adams & Company of Glasgow, renamed the ADAMS, and was still afloat in 1860.
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Last updated November 25, 1996