Canada - Captain George Vancouver, R.N. Explorer of the Pacific North West, 1911
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Height: 25cm (9.75in)
Patinated bronze. A standing figure of Captain George Vancouver, Royal Navy. Modelled in undress uniform of a post captain, telescope in hand, raised on an integral bronze base cast with the subject’s name, and signed and dated ’Vernon March / 1911’.
The present statuette of Captain Vancouver was the first of several works of Canadian significance that the young Vernon March produced over a twenty year career - his most important being the Canadian National War Memorial, Ottawa with its twenty-three large scale foot and equestrian figures. Somewhat overlooked in his own time by the fact of his early death and the subsequent settlement of the Pacific north west, Vancouver is known for his 1791–95 expedition, which explored and charted North America's northwestern Pacific Coast regions, including the coasts of British Columbia as well as the Alaska, Washington, and Oregon. He also explored the Hawaiian Islands and the southwest coast of Australia.
Captain George Vancouver, R.N. (1757-1798) was born at King’s Lynn, Norfolk, the son of a customs official. Descended from Dutch nobility on his paternal side and from Sir Richard Grenville of Revenge fame on his maternal, he entered the Royal Navy in 1771 and the following year was found a place in H.M.S. Resolution then preparing for her second voyage of discovery under the greatest navigator of the age, Captain James Cook, R.N. In February 1776 Vancouver was appointed a midshipman in the Discovery, which was to accompany the Resolution on Cook’s third expedition, that went in search of a Pacific outlet to the fabled northwest passage. When Cook happened upon King George’s Sound (Nootka Sound, B.C.) on 29 March and refitted there, Vancouver and his shipmates became the first Europeans known to have landed on the coast of what is now British Columbia. After exploring the coast well to the north, Cook sailed to the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, where he was killed in a clash with the natives in 1779. Vancouver narrowly escaped a similar fate the previous day. The expedition returned to England in October 1780, whence Vancouver passed the examination for lieutenant.
Vancouver spent most of next three years on active service in the Caribbean patrolling the French held Leeward Islands. In April 1782 he distinguished himself as the fourth lieutenant in H.M.S. Fame in the the Battle of the Saintes. Thereafter he progressed steadily on the West Indies Station until returning to England in 1789. At about this time Britain and Spain came close to war as the Nootka Crisis (aka the Spanish Armament) heightened over the ownership of what is today Vancouver Island, and - of greater importance - over the right to colonise and settle the Pacific Northwest Coast. Accordingly in 1790, Vancouver was given command of Discovery with orders to take possession of the area and to survey the coasts north and south to California and in winter complete a survey of Hawaii. By August 1792 he was negotiating with the Spanish commander, Juan Francisco Bodega y Quadra, restoring lands to British settlers and in the absence of further instructions, they decided to name the large island on which Nootka was now proven to be located as Quadra and Vancouver Island. Years later, as Spanish influence declined, the name was shortened to simply Vancouver Island.
Vancouver’s explorations further determined that the elusive Northwest Passage did not exist at the latitudes that had long been suggested, while the accuracy of his charts proved so accurate that they served as the key reference for coastal navigation for generations to come. Vancouver was noted for his respect for indigenous peoples, rites and customs, and disapproving of European traders who them provided firearms thus fermenting local rivalries.
Vancouver’s return to Britain was marred by the complaints of a deranged but influential subordinate officer Thomas Pitt, 2nd Baron Camelford, whom Vancouver had disciplined for numerous infractions and eventually sent home in disgrace. Pitt's allies, including his cousin, Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger, attacked Vancouver in the press. Thomas Pitt took a more direct approach; on 29 August 1796 he sent Vancouver a letter heaping many insults on the head of his former captain, and challenging him to a duel. Vancouver gravely replied that he was unable 'in a private capacity to answer for his public conduct in his official duty,’ and offered instead to submit to formal examination by flag officers. Pitt chose instead to stalk Vancouver, ultimately assaulting him on a London street corner. The terms of their subsequent legal dispute required both parties to keep the peace, but nothing stopped Vancouver's civilian brother Charles from interposing and giving Pitt blow after blow until onlookers restrained the attacker. Charges and counter-charges flew in the press, with the wealthy Camelford faction having the greater firepower until Vancouver, ailing from his long naval service, died at the age of 40, less than three years after completing his voyages and expeditions
Vernon March (1891-1930) is best known as the sculptor of the Canadian National War Memorial in Ottawa, and the Cape Town Cenotaph, South Africa. The son of a builder’s clerk, he moved from Yorkshire with his family to London at the turn of the century and decided on a career in the arts, as did seven of his eight siblings. He had his first professional success in 1907 when he became the youngest exhibitor at the Royal Academy with a bronze statuette of Psyche. By 1911 the March family were living and working together at Goddendene. During the First World War Vernon served briefly with the Royal Flying Corps as an Air Mechanic. In 1925 Vernon oversaw the installation of the Samuel de Champlain Monument at Orillia, Ontario that he had begun a decade earlier after winning the competition over twenty-one other entries. in April 1925 Vernon won the competition to design and build the National War Memorial of Canada. He was one of seven finalists out of a total of 127 entrants, and was awarded the commission in January 1926. His design entitled ‘The Great Response of Canada’ included 23 figures representing eleven branches of the Canadian forces engaged in the First World War. Work on the memorial began in 1926 under the auspices of Canada's Department of Public Works. However, Vernon died of pneumonia in 1930 before completing the commission. Six of his siblings, including Elsie March, finished the large figure groups by 1932. The family are said to have cast the bronzes at Goddendene. In 1937, after the memorial groups had been shown in London, they were transported to Ottawa and the memorial arch was constructed. The unveiling ceremony by George VI took place on 21 May 1939.