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Portrait Miniature of Lt. Pring, R.N., Senior British Survivor of The Battle of Lake Champlain - ‘The False Nile’, 1810
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Portrait Miniature of Lt. Pring, R.N., Senior British Survivor of The Battle of Lake Champlain - ‘The False Nile’, 1810

Measurements: Oval: 6.5cm (2.5in) x 5.5cm (2.2in)

£2600

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Watercolour on ivory. Attributed to Thomas Richmond (1771-1837). Contained within a glazed gold frame, the reverse further containing woven locks of hair and applied with gold monograms ‘DP’ for the sitter and ‘AP’ for his wife Anne.

The Battle of Lake Champlain, also known as the Battle of Plattsburgh, and to subsequent generations as ‘The False Nile’, was the naval affair that ended the threat of British invasion of the northern United States during the War of 1812. It also saw Daniel Pring fight his ship to the last before surrendering to the American hero Captain Thomas Macdonough U.S.N.. Naval historians have likened Macdonough's position on the American shore to that of the French fleet at Aboukir Bay in 1798, and have observed ‘nearly every circumstance that had worked to Nelson's advantage at the Nile prove disadvantageous’ to the Royal Navy on the Great Lakes in 1814.

Captain Daniel Pring R.N. (fl.1788-1846) was born in Devon and entered the navy as a midshipman in 1800. The following year he was  present at the battle of Copenhagen where his ship ran aground in the midst of the action and Nelson famously made use of his blind eye. Early in 1805 he was appointed master’s mate in Narcissus, 32, which took part in the capture of the Cape of Good Hope and made several captures of enemy vessels. After a brief return to England he went to South America in Ardent, 64, and, going ashore with the army, took part in the storming of Montevideo in February 1807. In April 1808, he was promoted lieutenant and transferred to the captured 12-gun schooner Paz which cruised for the next three years in the Channel and off North America taking several prizes. On 27 August 1810, Pring returned home and married Anne (‘A.P.’, fl.1792-1866) whose maiden name is unknown is to history.

Pring’s next appointment was to the North American station and at the outbreak of war with the United States he was sent as one of three lieutenants to take command of vessels on the Great Lakes with the rank of Commander.  In July 1813 he was charged by Captain Sir James Yeo to oversee the dockyard at Île aux Noix and to assume command on Lake Champlain. Pring – first in H.M.Ships Royal George, 22 guns, then Wolfe, 20 guns – led boat attacks on United States’ facilities at Sackett’s Harbour on Lake Ontario and military installations at Plattsburgh and Cumberland Head where he destroyed enemy barracks, arsenals and stores. On his return from Cumberland Head he was forced to cut a channel for his vessels through several miles of ice. During the early months of 1814, Pring commanded gunboats in the Battle of Lacolle Mills.

In the spring of 1814, the Americans constructed a substantial flotilla on Lake Champlain which outmatched Pring's force. In response, the British laid down the fifth rate frigate H.M.S. Confiance, 36, which required a Post Captain to command it. Accordingly Pring was superseded by Captain George Downie R.N., leaving Pring to take charge of the 16-gun brig Linnet prior to the joint naval and military operation to capture Plattsburg.

In the ensuing naval attack against Macdonough’s harbour anchorage on 11 September, Pring anchored Linnet across the head of the American line of battle and did great damage, but as the exchange developed, the British squadron incurred considerable damage from close-range cannon fire. In the process an American cannon shot blasted a British cannon off its mount, crushing and killing Downie. Through the use of anchor and cable tactics Macdonough in command of U.S.S. Saratoga was able to swing his ship around the undamaged side of Confiance, gaining firepower superiority over the British flotilla. As the poorly and hurriedly equipped Confiance with its inexperienced crew attempted the same tactic, Macdonough seized the opportunity and fired a broadside, severely damaging the captain-less British vessel and forcing its surrender along with Pring’s brig which had been battered almost to the point of sinking.

In his report, Pring paid tribute to the gallantry of Downie, and also to the care paid to the prisoners and wounded by his opponent, the celebrated Macdonough, in the following words; ‘I have much satisfaction in making you acquainted with the humane treatment the wounded have received from Commodore Macdonough; they were immediately removed to his own hospital on Crab Island, and furnished with every requisite. His generous and polite attention to myself, the officers, and men, will ever hereafter be gratefully remembered.’

As was customary after any defeat, Pring faced a court-martial between 18 and 21 August 1815 aboard H.M.S. Gladiator, but was exonerated and honourably commended. The next year, he was promoted Post Captain and in June 1816 was placed in command of the naval establishment on Lake Erie. In 1838, after some twenty years on half pay at his home Ivedon House near Honiton, Devon he carried out his final sea-going appointment  conveying Governor-General Lord Durham back to England from Canada in H.M.S. Inconstant. He was latterly senior naval officer in Jamaica where he breathed his last in 1846.

Thomas Richmond (1771-1837), miniature painter, was born at Kew, Surrey, on 28 March 1771, the younger son of Thomas Richmond (1740-1794), originally from Bawtry, Yorkshire. His father was groom of the stables to the duke of Gloucester and proprietor of the Coach and Horses inn at Kew, and his mother, Ann Bone, was a cousin of the miniature painter George Engleheart (1750-1829). Thomas Richmond consequently became Engleheart's pupil and also studied at St Martin's Lane Academy, London. He exhibited miniatures at the Royal Academy from 1795 to 1829, many of them in a style close to that of Engleheart but somewhat coarser. He practised from a studio at 42 Half Moon Street, Mayfair, Westminster, from 1800 to 1829 but also worked for a time from Portsmouth, and he appears to have established a large clientele of naval and army officers. As well as painting miniatures from life he also appears to have made copies after portraits by Richard Cosway and Engleheart, possibly for the royal family. He also copied in miniature many of the portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds in royal collections. Although his miniatures were denigrated by the critic G. C. Williamson at the beginning of the twentieth century, they have been more favourably assessed in recent years, and he has been classed as "a good artist who drew with strength and vitality". Thomas Richmond died in London on 15 November 1837 and was buried in Paddington churchyard, near the grave of the actress Sarah Siddons.

Sources:

Laird Clowes, Sir William (1903) The Royal Navy: A History from the Earliest Times to the Present’

Dictionary of Canadian Biography
James, William (1826) ‘Naval History of Great Britain’, 6 vols. Harding, Lepard and Co., London

Forester, C. S. (1968) ‘The Age of Fighting Sail’, New English Library, London

Hitsman, J. Mackay (1965) ‘The Incredible War of 1812’, University of Toronto Press

O’Byrne, W.R. (1849 ) ‘A naval biographical dictionary ... ‘ London

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