William Duke (1815 – 1853)

(The Barque Derwent of the Coast of Dover) c. 1849
Oil on canvas
62 x 92.5 cm

The Simon Brown Collection, Ellenthorpe Hall, Ross, Tasmania
Private Collection, Launceston

Although William Charles Duke (1814 – 1853) spent only seven years in the colony of Van Diemen’s Land, his impact on the maritime art of the island was enormous. Duke arrived in Hobart in May 1845, having travelled from New Zealand aboard the Sir John Franklin.  As a painter of some talent, he quickly took up portraiture commissions and found employment creating theatre sets. As the decade progressed and the whaling industry entered its peak, he found local fame after publishing four lithographs depicting the whaling activity in the area.

Duke’s style was deeply indebted to the work of English maritime artist William John Huggins (1781 – 1845). One of the four prints, titled The Flurry, was a direct copy of a whaling scene by Huggins. Despite this, the series drew the attention of local ship owners. In 1849, when the Hobart whaling fleet reached its peak of 34 Hobart owned and operated vessels, Duke produced his best-known whaling scene, Offshore Whaling with the Aladdin and Jane, now housed in the collection of the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery.

That same year, on the 22nd of August, 1849, the Hobart Courier reported the launch of the Derwent, a 140 foot barque built by Messrs. H. Degraves, Brown & Co.. The article goes on to report ‘Her figure-head was carved by Mr. Duke, and represents a female in a beckoning attitude, and is 6 feet 3 inches in height’. 1 The ship was intended for regular trade between Hobart and London, and in September that year Henry Degraves and Brown & Co. placed an advertised freight services to London in the Colonial Times.

In depicting the The Derwent, Duke has taken a direct cue from the work of Huggins by placing the ship off the White Cliffs of Dover and having ship repeated, sailing into the distance, on the right-hand side of the work. The painting was discovered following the dispersal of the Simon Brown collection, Ellenthorpe Hall, in 2006. 3

1. The Courier (22 August 1849, Hobart), ‘The “Derwent”‘, p. 2
2. Colonial Times (28 September 1849, Hobart), ‘Advertising’, p. 3
3. Stevenson, M, The Examiner (1 July 2006), ‘Rare 1825 Sideboard is sold for $94,000’