Thursday, 18 May 2006

Royal Charter shipwreck - great art born out of a maritime tragedy

walker royal charterentwistle royal charter
by Christopher Proudlove©
Inspiration for these weekly missives, as I've said before, comes in many mysterious ways. This week's is as bizarre as any. Knowing that I write it, a long-standing contact in the antiques business - he frames and sells fine art prints for a living - presented me with a cassette tape he had recorded for me and implored me to listen to one song in particular. It was by Tom Russell, a musician I'd never heard of and it was about someone called Isaac Lewis about whom I knew even less. And so I listened to it. Gosh it's good.

So I started to do some research, the results of which have served to remind me why I enjoy my hobby of antiques and collecting so much. Turns out that Isaac Lewis was returning from Australia aboard the Royal Charter, a steam clipper bringing gold miners home from Australia to Liverpool. In one of the worst storms ever recorded, the ship sank off Moelfre on the Anglesey coast on October 26 1859 with the loss of more than 450 lives. Lewis was one of just 39 survivors, while others less fortunate are said to have tried to swim ashore with their pockets stuffed with gold nuggets, hence the incident was named "The Golden Wreck".

It also turns out that the Royal Charter, a sailing clipper with an auxiliary steam engine and an iron hull, was built at the Sandycroft works on the River Dee in Flintshire. Apparently the remains of the slipway are still visible with some of the lignum vitae fittings still intact. Visit the Seawatch Centre at Moelfre, on Anglesey, and you can see an exhibition of artefacts salvaged from the wreckage including a large section of her hull, which sits in the car park. An obelisk in St Gallgo churchyard in Llanalgo, where some of the victims are buried, commemorates the sad event.

So then I wondered what excuse I could find to write about it. Fate and a little perseverance found two local artists who have each recorded the event and their work is illustrated here.

One is by Edward 'Ted' Walker, who was born in Kingston-upon-Hull in 1937 but moved to Merseyside during the Second World War. His family include captains and shipowners going back to 1617 and were based mainly in the north east of England with a branch coming from Stornoway in the Outer Hebrides.

From the age of 10 Ted was always interested in drawing and he could often be found in a quiet corner busily sketching vessels of all types. After leaving Liverpool College of Art of prematurely due to family commitments he took up several occupations to subsidise his career as a marine artist. Today works hang in public and private collections worldwide including British and European royal circles.

He has had several successful one-man exhibitions and his work has been exhibited throughout the USA and Europe, notably at the Paris Salon at the invitation of the Society of French Artists. He was the official artist for the Titanic artefacts exhibitions and he has illustrated some the many books on the Titanic, notably those by the prestigious American historians John P Eaton and Charles Haas, both of whom have been close friends of hisfor the past 25 years. Earlier this month he was one of the guest speakers at Belfast City Council's Titanic Festival.

Among Ted's prestigious clients is the Cunard Line and several of his paintings hang in Cunard's Southampton and Miami offices, while in 2003, he was commissioned by the Post Office to paint a postage stamp to mark the launch of the new Cunard liner, Queen Mary 2.

royal charter shard

Ted is also noted for his pictures of the naval conflict between the opposing sides in the American Civil War. They include "The CSS Alabama leaving the Mersey", the "Duel between Alabama and Kearsage" and "The Shenandoah surrendering in the River Mersey" six months after the Civil War ended. This occasion witnessed the firing of the last shot of the American Civil War.

Ted's work can be seen on his website at, while enquiries about purchasing his prints including that of the Royal Charter can be made by email at ed-walker "at"

By sheer coincidence, the other local professional artist, Brian Entwistle, who was born in Liverpool but has lived in Rhosneigr, Anglesey for the last 30 years, told me had just taken delivery of the first batch of his prints of the Royal Charter. Strictly limited to an edition of just 150, signed and numbered and of the highest quality. They are now on sale in local galleries priced at £80.

Brian, a former trainee journalist, trained at the Liverpool College of Art and worked for 20 years in advertising as an illustrator and copywriter. These days he describes himself a marine artist whose subject matter is based on historical reconstructions of sail and steam vessels, although he also leans towards coastal landscapes and indeed some landscape in general. He works in oil, watercolour, ink, and some pastel and he has exhibited at the Royal Society of Marine Artists, in London, and in Liverpool and Anglesey. Like Ted Walker, Brian has worked on private commissions and from many of Liverpool’s shipping companies including the Blue Funnel and Elder Dempsey lines and his work is in collections both public and private around the world.

His print shows the scene off Meolfre about eight hours before disaster struck. It shows the vessel under reduced sail having just passed the Skerries as she makes her way slowly up the coast of Anglesey. Lights in the side of the vessel indicate that passengers were settling down for their evening meal, confident that they would arrive in Liverpool safely the next day. In the background and to the left of the print is Point Lynas light, while to the right of the vessel is Carmel Head with Holyhead Mountain in the far distance.

Brian’s inspiration for the picture came from The Golden Wreck, a book by Alexander McKee which tells the story of the Royal Charter in all its stark detail. Brian’s monumental oil painting from which the print was taken took him two months to complete and was snapped up by one of the first people to see it.

Pictures show, top, left: Ted Walker’s print of the Royal Charter, the clipper dwarfed by mountainous seas off Moelfre

Right: Brian Entwistle’s rendition of the Royal Charter. Set some eight hours before the tragedy, the view shows the clipper under reduced sail off Anglesey. In the background and to the left of the print is Point Lynas light, while to the right of the vessel is Carmel Head with Holyhead Mountain in the far distance.

The wreck of the Royal Charter has been combed for salvage of the years. This shard of pottery bearing the ship’s registered mark was given to Ted Walker many years ago by a diver who found it on the seabed

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