Watercolour on paper. Starboard view of the Canopus class battleship H.M.S. Canopus. Signed and dated lower right ‘W. Fred. Mitchell / 1905’ and numbered ‘No 2486’ lower left. Image size: 12.5cm (4.8in) x 17.5cm (7in). Framed and glazed.
H.M.S. Canopus was a pre-dreadnought battleship and the lead ship of the Canopus class. She was launched in 1897 and was intended for service in Asia. Canopus and her sister ships were smaller and faster than the preceding battleships. They retained the same fire power from a battery of four 12-inch guns, but incorporated new Krupp steel. Canopus served in the Mediterranean Fleet from 1899 until 1903. In 1905, she was sent to East Asia, but the renewal of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance that year rendered her presence in Asian waters unnecessary.
She instead returned home and served with several fleet commands in British waters, including the Atlantic Fleet, the Channel Fleet, and finally the Home Fleet. Another short deployment to the Mediterranean followed in 1908–1909. Upon returning to Britain, she was placed in reserve. At the start of the First World War in August 1914, she was mobilised for service on the South America Station, where she patrolled for German commerce raiders. She was involved in the search for the German East Asia Squadron of Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee. Too slow to follow Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock's cruisers, she missed the Battle of Coronel in November 1914, where Cradock was defeated and met his end. Moored at Port Stanley as a defensive battery, she fired the first shots of the Battle of the Falklands in December, which led Spee to break off the attack before being chased down and destroyed by Admiral Doveton Sturdee's battlecruisers.
Canopus was transferred to the Mediterranean in early 1915 for the Dardanelles Campaign. She participated in major attacks on the Ottoman coastal fortifications defending the Dardanelles in March 1915, but the British and French fleets proved incapable of forcing the straits. After the Gallipoli Campaign ended with the withdrawal of Allied forces in January 1916, Canopus patrolled the eastern Mediterranean, but saw no further action. She was removed from service in April 1916 and was converted into a barracks ship in early 1918. She was broken up in 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.