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Art Marine

Honouring Superb - John Christian

Honouring Superb - John Christian

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HMS Superb was built in 1798 and was the fastest "Ship of the Line" at the time.  After 7 years and overdue for a re-fit, she sailed to Portsmouth with HMS Victory and Lord Nelson in August 1805

She was the subject of Sir Henry Newbolt's famous poem "The Old Superb" and was the "lame duck" of the fleet by this time. It was only Captain Keat's determination that kept her with the rest. Ever conscious of the welfare of his officers and men, Nelson wrote to Captain Keats "I am fearful that you think that the Superb does not go as fast as I would wish. however, that may be (for if all went 10 knots, I should not think it fast enough) yet I would you assured that I know and feel the Superb does all that is possible for a ship to accomplish and I desire that you will not fret on the occasion". (How we fretted non but Nelson guessed - from the poem).

Superb missed the Battle of Trafalgar because of the need for a refit. She had the honour of returning to Portsmouth with Lord Nelson's Victory in August 1805.

The wind was rising easterly, the morning sky was blue,
The Straits before us opened wide and free;
We looked towards the Admiral, where high the Peter flew,
And all our hearts were dancing like the sea.
'The French are gone to Martinique with four and twenty sail!
The Old Superb is old and foul and slow,
But the French are gone to Martinique, and Nelson's on the trail.
And where he goes the Old Superb must go!'

So Westward ho! for Trinidad, and Eastward ho! for Spain,

And 'Ship ahoy!' a hundred times a day;
Round the world if need be, and round the world again,
With a lame duck lagging all the way.

The Old Superb was barnacled and green as grass below,
Her sticks were only fit for stirring grog;
The pride of all her midshipmen was silent long ago,
And long ago they ceased to heave the log.
Four year out from home she was, and ne'er a week in port,
And nothing save the guns aboard her bright;

But Captain Keats he knew the game, and swore to share the sport,
For he never yet came in too late to fight.

So Westward ho! for Trinidad, and Eastward ho! for Spain,
And 'Ship ahoy!' a hundred times a day;
Round the world if need be, and round the world again,
With a lame duck lagging all the way.

'Now up, my lads,' the Captain cried, 'for sure the case was hard
If the longest out were first to fall behind;
Aloft, aloft with studding sails, and lash them on the yard,
For night and day, the Trades are driving blind!'
So all day long and all day long behind the fleet we crept,
And how we fretted none but Nelson guessed;
But every night the Old Superb sailed when others slept,
Till we ran the French to earth with all the rest.

Oh, 'twas Westward ho! for Trinidad, and Eastward ho! for Spain,
And 'Ship ahoy!' a hundred times a day;
Round the world if need be, and round the world again,
With a lame duck lagging all the way.

Sir Henry Newbolt

They don't make poems like that these days!

Original watercolour on paper signed lower right. 

Image size: 15.5 x 11.5 inches
Mount size: 20 x 16 inches
Frame size: 23 x 19 inches

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