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H.M. Torpedo Boat 55, 1889

Watercolour on paper. Signed ‘William Frederick Mitchell’ and dated 1911. Image: 15.5cm x 23.5cm. Framed and glazed.

Provenance: The Parker Gallery

H.M. Torpedo Boat 55 was one of fifty-eight first-class torpedo boats classed as 125 Footers. Built in 1885 in reaction to the war scare with Russia of 187. They mounted a torpedo tube at the bow for Whitehead torpedoes, two 3-pounder guns and two twin barrel Nordenfelt machine guns. TB55 had two skippers in 1889, one of whom most probably commissioned the present watercolour from Fred Mitchell. The first was Lieutenant Frank Peyton who held command from July 1888 to April 1889. He was later invalided from a command on the China Station with the following damining assessment from his admiral - ‘this officer was so timid about the seagoing qualities of the ship he commanded, that I do not consider him a proper person to have a command.’ Peyton was succeeded in TB55 by Lieutenant The Hon. Stanley C. J. Colville who held the command for the Annual Manoeuvres of 1889. He later became Vice-Admiral and Commander-in-Chief at Portsmouth.

William Frederick Mitchell (1845-1914) was a deaf mute. He lost his hearing to scarlet fever in infancy. His father, an H.M. Coastguard stationed at Calshot Castle, taught him to speak, and he developed a career as a maritime artist. He lived most of his life around the Solent and had an arrangement with a Portsmouth bookshop which accepted commissions on his behalf, mostly from naval officers for portraits of their ships. He also illustrated the Naval Annual. In 1904 he recorded in The Messenger, a magazine for deaf people, his marriage in 1881 and that he settled at Ryde on the Isle of Wight. where his patrons included Queen Victoria, Albert Edward, Prince of Wales, Grand Duke Michael Mikhailovich and The Kaiser. His work can be found in the Royal Collection and the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

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