The yachting photos of JS Johnston

JS Johnston photo collection Osprey and Sirene

JS Johnston photo collection Mayflower JS Johnston photo collection Merlin JS Johnston photo collection Volunteer

These fabulous old photos of old racing yachts come (with permission) from the JS Johnston collection of photographs taken by John S Johnstone of New York in the 1880s and 90s.

Although his work is widely acknowledged – he’s recognised for his cityscapes as well as yachting photos – but not too much seems to be known about the man, except that he lived until 1899, and was a keen canoeist.

An obituary described him as an old-time disciple of the legendary leisure canoeing pioneer MacGregor, and as having taken up the sport as a boy in England.

Johnston died of heart trouble at Niagra Falls after catching a cold photographing racing between Columbia and Shamrock – apparently he travelled there to recuperate. Photos of these races appear on the collection website.

For more posts about MacGregor and his canoes, click here.

A few more photos of famous old boats

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Shamrock III


Jolie Brise

And they couldn’t be much more famous, could they? Lulworth and Shamrock III are two giant racers from the days when racing was a mass spectator sport and the boats had to be big to be seen by crowds standing on cliff tops (that must have been frightening!), and Jolie Brise was a veteran of various races and cruising exploits. Read more about Lulworth at the Wikipedia and at, and there’s a section on persistent America’s Cup Challenger and ‘best of all losers’ Sir Thomas Lipton at the Wikipedia.

For more on Jolie Brise try the Dauntsey’s School site and the Wikipedia.

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More of Roger Davies’ classic marine paintings

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Roger Davies has been a marine artist for 30-odd years, although he claims it wasn’t a conscious decision – rather, it seems that living in a series of seaports had a powerful influence on his work. Over time, he lived in Newport, London, Belfast and Hull, and became drawn into the history of boats and ships, and those who sailed them. Perhaps unusually, his interest was caught by both the world of wealthy yacht-owners (and the crews, who were often fishermen also) and by the world of working sail.

The foundation of his very detailed work is undoubtedly his almost obsessive research. The atmospheric quality of his paintings probably derives from most of his career being spent as a watercolourist: ‘For a long time, I found I couldn’t develop sharp and precise detail with thick, sticky oil paint, and so I preferred working in watercolours.’ However, he’s now back working in oils, attracted by what he calls the extra ‘oomph’ of the medium. His classic yacht paintings in particular are almost exclusively in oils.

The Big Five
Named by journalists of the time, The Big Five were a mixed class of superyachts who raced on handicap throughout the mid-1920s. They were:(L to R) White Heather II, Westward, Lulworth, Shamrock, Britannia, and are shown here at the start of a race during Cowes Week 1926.

Lulworth dominated the class during the year, as she had the year before. This painting was commissioned by her owner to be the centrepiece of the newly restored Lulworth’s saloon below:

The Rebirth: Lulworth off Portonvere
After working for over two years on Lulworth commissions, Roger decided to commemorate her restoration himself with this painting of her sea trials in the waters of northern Italy. He was a privileged guest at her regatta debut at the Argentario Sailing Week in June 2006, and says that racing on Lulworth was unforgettable.

Sloop off Hessle Cliff
A Humber Sloop sailing eastwards past a mill at Hessle on the north bank of the Humber, circa 1920. Hessle Cliff refers to a nearby quarry visible from the river. This the site of the Humber Bridge today.

Sloop approaching the river hull

A Humber Sloop about to leave the Humber and enter the river Hull. The mate is beginning to work the foresail halyard winch to reduce sail for the journey through the confines of the narrow river. I should explain that the location is given by HMS Southampton in the background. She was a borstal ship moored just to the east of Hull until 1912.

Thames barge in a blow
Originating in the Thames region, these capable vessels ranged far and wide round Britain, wherever they could find work. They could be sailed by just a man and a boy.

In a Clearing Mist
Roger’s notes: The painting shows a Humber Sloop and Keel. These later barges were iron or steel hulled, while the earlier ones were wooden. The Sloop, being unladen, shows the typical bluff bow. Her mast is stepped further forward than the Keel’s to accommodate that long boom.

The Big Five and Sloop off Hessle Cliff are sold, but the other four are recent work and still available. These and other paintings and prints by Roger Davies can be seen at Top Pictures, 7 Hepworth Arcade, Silver Street, Hull, HU1 1JU. Go to:

Roger also undertakes commissions.