The horrific burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent off the coast of Bengal


Burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent by Theodore Gudin

Burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent Burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent Burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent

Burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent

The burning of the British East-Indiaman Kent, pictured by Théodore Gudin in 1825

I won’t be able to put up many posts at intheboatshed.net this week as we’ll be sailing on the Norfolk Broads for the next few days – though you can be sure I’ll try to come back with with a collection of stories and photos!

In the meantime, here are some more of my promised shots from the wonderful Paris Musée de la Marine.

Like the previous featured painting of Napoleon being feted by crowds at Antwerp, this is also by Théodore Gudin – but the subject couldn’t be more different.

Instead of a successful and adored leader surrounded by a cheering admirers, The Burning of the Kent shows the British East India Company ship sinking and burning in a storm off Bengal. The story goes that during the storm a lamp fell during a powerful gust and set fire to the ship close to the area where the gunpowder was kept.

Gudin pulls no punches in presenting the horror of the disastrous sinking, or the heroism of the rescuers from another British ship, the Cambria.

For more intheboatshed.net posts featuring Paris, click here.

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Napoleon III at Gênes

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Napoleon III at Genes, 1859

Detail from the painting Napoleon III at Genes Detail from the painting Napoleon III at Genes Detail from the painting Napoleon III at Genes

Detail from the painting Napoleon III at Genes

The arrival of Napoleon III at Gênes in 1859, by Théodore Gudin, and details

Apart from Napoleon’s canot, another striking feature in the first room at the Paris Musée de la Marine is this painting of the arrival of Napoleon III at Gênes in 1859, by Théodore Gudin.

Many of the paintings of this era at the Musée seem to have been created to be read like a book – they are crammed with details each requiring the viewer’s attention. Almost every where I pointed my camera I found painterly details that seemed to be worth recording.

I’ll be putting more of these photos from our brief Paris holiday trip up over the next few days and weeks. Often they show interesting boat details, though in this case the interest lies in the individual characters and scenes. For example, the look on that poor bride’s face as Napoleon III steals the limelight on her wedding day is a picture, so to speak. And what about the boy climbing the rudder, and those characters in the water?

I’m not particularly proud to admit that as an Englishman I know little of French history, but I had heard of Napeoleon III – in fact, I lived for a while in Chislehurst, where he spent his final years in exile.

Just yards from my flat were two landmarks associated with him, the Imperial Arms pub named in his memory and a quiet lane called Susan Wood, where legend has it that he installed a mistress of the same name. I later became friendly with a family who lived in the house she was said to have lived in, and often looked at what is said to be a stained-glass portrait of the lady set into their 19th century kitchen door. I should perhaps explain that the family’s three sons are all music and sailing enthusiasts, so we had and still have a lot in common!

To read more about Napoleon III, check his Wikipedia entry. There’s no mention of Susan Wood, sadly.

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Ship decorations at the Paris Musée de la Marine

Charlemagne, from the Real de France

The head of Charlemagne, from the ship Réal de France, built in 1694. He
makes a noble, striking figure at something like 5 feet tall, and it’s difficult
to believe he’s over 300 years old

La Reale de France stern La Réale de France fighting figures La Réale de France naval officer

La Réale de France stern, fighting figures, and a naval officer

Amphitrite figurehead from the Amphitrie, 1810 Figurehead of Brennus, from a cuirassée of the same name 1899

Figureheads. Amphitrite, goddess of the sea, from the French ship Amphitrie built
in 1810 – she should have been a mermaid!. Gaul leader Brennus from 1899

Figurehead of Napoleon from the Iéna, 1846 Figurehead of Napoleon from the Iéna, 1846

Figurehead of Napoleon from the Iéna, 1846

More photos from the Musée de la Marine in Paris.

The pomp and circumstance surrounding fighting ships of the past is astonishing to behold. They’re ornaments as well as instruments of war – and what ornaments! What these shots don’t really show is the scale of these carvings – Napoleon, for example was massive – the distance from his waist to the top of his head must have been six feet or so.

It’s striking to us Brits that the disgraced autocratic ruler Napoleon should be so honoured decades after his death. Someday I must learn something about the mysteries of history of France!