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Royal Navy - H.M.S. St. George, 1911

Watercolour on paper. Starboard view of the 1892 Edgar-class cruiser H.M.S. St. George. Signed and dated lower right 'W. Fred. Mitchell / 1911' and numbered ‘No. 2901' lower left. Image size: 9.5cm (3.75in) x 13.5cm (5.25in). Framed and glazed.

Fred Mitchell’s watercolour depicts H.M.S. St. George in her role as the Depot Ship of the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla of the Third Division of the Home Fleet at the Nore from 1910 to 1912. Her successive Captains during the period were Captain Guy L. Sclater, R.N. (March 1910- May 1911) and Captain Edward G. Lowther-Crofton, R.N. (May 1911-May 1912). Sclater, the son of an eminent zoologist, was killed in the explosion that decimated H.M.S. Bulwark in 1914.

Earlier in her career St. George was the flagship of squadron that took part in the Zanzibar War (27 August 1896) ‒ sometimes referred to as shortest war in history. It lasted between 38 and 45 minutes. Following the death of the Sultan of Zanzibar, his nephew proclaimed himself Sultan. H.M. Government preferred Hamud bin Muhammed and sent an ultimatum to the would be sultan to quit the palace. On his refusal, Rear-Admiral Harry Rawson aboard St. George hoisted the signal to prepare for action. At 9.00am H.M. Ships Racoon, Thrush and Sparrow opened fire on the sultan’s palace, while St. George was engaged by sultan’s armed yacht H.H.S. Glasgow which was holed beneath the waterline and sunk without casualties. Continuing as the flagship of the Cape & West Africa Station St. George was deployed in punitive Benin Expedition of 1897. In 1901 she was one of two ships that escorted the furure George V and Queen Mary in the royal yacht Ophir on their tour of the Empire. St. George afterwards served in the Mediterranean, on the Home Station and South Atlantic Station before being assigned a Boys’ training ship with the 4th Cruiser Squadron on the America & West Indies Station. She underwent her conversion as Depot Ship in 1909 at Devonport, completing in March 1910. At the outbreak of the First World War she was assigned to the 9th Destroyer Flotilla in the Forth and from November 1914 formed part of the Humber Patrol in support of the 7th D.F. until October 1915. In 1917 she was converted to support submarines, and went to the Aegean with 2nd Submarine Flotilla. She was paid off early 1920 and sold for breaking at Plymouth.

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.

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