Watercolour on paper. Portside view of the Duncan class battleship H.M.S. Exmouth flying the flag of a Vice-Admiral. Signed and dated lower right ‘W. Fred. Mitchell / 1906’ and numbered ‘No 2486’ lower left. Image size: 12.5cm (4.8in) x 17.5cm (7in). Framed and glazed.
H.M.S. Exmouth was HMS Exmouth was a Duncan-class pre-dreadnought battleship built to counter the Russian Peresvet-class battleships. Exmouth and her sister ships were capable of steaming at 19 knots, making them the fastest battleships in the world. Exmouth served as a flagship for various fleets including the Mediterranean Fleet, the Channel Fleet and the Atlantic Fleet from her commissioning in 1903 until the start of the First World War in 1914. Originally she was to join the 6th Battle Squadron and serve in the Channel Fleet, but this squadron was temporarily disbanded and she joined the 3rd Battle Squadron at Scapa Flow. Exmouth participated in the Northern Patrol and was then moved to the newly reformed 6th Squadron in late 1914, where she bombarded the German-occupied port at Zeebrugge in late November.
In mid-1915, the ship was transferred to the Dardanelles campaign, where she supported operations ashore. She was thereafter moved to Greece and later to the East Indies Station starting in March 1917. She performed convoy escort duties in the Indian Ocean between Colombo and Bombay before returning to the United Kingdom, calling at The Cape and Sierra Leone. She arrived at Devonport in August 1917, and paid off to provide crews for antisubmarine vessels. Exmouth remained in reserve at Devonport until April 1919, and was used as an accommodation ship beginning in January 1918. She was placed on the sale list in April 1919 and sold for scrapping to Forth Shipbreaking Company in January 1920.
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. William, known as Fred, 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 to illustrate steps in their careers. Fred also illustrated the Brassey’s 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.