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GENERAL DOMVILLE in Split, Croatia

The fine art collection of the Croatian Maritime Museum Split holds the portrait of a sailing vessel which played an important role in New Brunswick’s maritime history. The oil on canvas showing a three-masted wooden sailing ship, the General Domville, dates from the second half of the 19th century. Unusually, the ship depicted in this painting never sailed to the Mediterranean, let alone the eastern shore of the Adriatic, where the city of Split, Croatia, is located. There are no details of the circumstances under which this artwork arrived in Split, but we assume its status as a museum object dates to the 1930s.  It is likely connected to the former Adriatic Guard Maritime Museum (Pomorski muzej Jadranske straze) which was founded in 1926 as the first maritime museum in Split. The Croatian Maritime Museum Split ( Hrvatski Pomorski Muzej Split https://www.hpms.hr/) was established in 1997 and took over the majority of artefacts previously held by the maritime museums of the city.

Artist Unknown [possibly Pun Woo, active 1880s in Hong Kong], Indo-Chinese/Anglo-Chinese School
The Ship General Domville in Hong Kong Harbour, c. 1884
Oil on canvas
44 cm high x 59 cm wide
Collection of Croatian Maritime Museum Split (Accession #HPMS-775:SLT-1742-ZL)

Ship portraiture developed in Europe in the 16th century and by the 19th century was a well-established style in Europe and North America.  This painting of the General Domville is not signed, however it bears great resemblance with the works of the Chinese School (sometimes referred to as Indo-Chinese or Anglo-Chinese School) dedicated to ship portraiture. The painting style of this school was shared by marine painters of Chinese heritage who worked in ports of India, China and other parts of Asia between approximately 1850 and 1910. A large portion of their profit came from European and North American shipowners and mariners who often commissioned local artists to create works to take back home as souvenirs of their international voyages. Since the General Domville sailed in Far Eastern waters, specifically to the ports of Bombay (1877), Calcutta (1880), Karachi and Rangoon (1881), Hong Kong (1884) and Yokohama (1888), records allow us to date the painting to approximately 1884.  Research also indicates that it was possibly painted by Pun Woo, who was working in Hong Kong in the 1880s.  The painting shows the General Domville in almost full sail, entering Hong Kong Harbour with an unidentified house flag atop the main mast and the British red ensign is flying from the signal hoist off the spanker gaff.  In the background, to the right, are some other vessels including a Chinese junk as well as a steam vessel.


The Ship General Domville in Hong Kong Harbour – Detail

The General Domville, a 1605-ton ship, was built in 1876 in the Cruickshank & Pittfield shipyard in Saint John, New Brunswick, as part of the Ring Fleet owned by Zebedee Ring. The shipyard’s co-owner, James F. Cruickshank, often was recorded as Master on Ring Fleet ships and was listed as the first captain of the General Domville. The ownership of sailing vessels during this time period was organized into sixty-four shares. The original owners, all from Saint John, NB, were: Zebedee Ring, Merchant (sixteen shares), James Domville, Merchant (sixteen shares), Charles George Turnbull, Merchant (eight shares), James Frederick Cruickshank, Shipbuilder (fourteen shares), Gideon Prescott, Gentleman (eight shares) and Susannah Robertson, Widow (two shares). The vessel owed its name to Lieutenant General James William Domville, who was born in the English town of Greenwich in 1817. From the 1840s onward Domville commanded garrison troops in the British Honduras (now Belize), moving to Rothesay, New Brunswick, upon retirement in 1875. He died in November 1883 and is buried in Fernhill Cemetery in Saint John.  He was the father of James Domville (1842-1921), one of the major shareholders of the vessel.

Under the Marine Intelligence data published in the New York Times on 11 May 1876, it states that a new sailing ship, General Domville, arrived at Saint John, NB, on the 10th of May launched at nearby Courtenay Bay. According to archival records, on June 7th she sailed on her first voyage destined for the port of Liverpool, England, where she arrived on July 7th.

Following Zebedee Ring’s death in Liverpool, England, in 1878, his fleet was taken over by Oliver Pittfield, one of the owners of the shipyard where the General Domville was built.  However, running a business in the last years of wooden sailing ship era had proven to be too difficult and Pittfield went into bankruptcy in 1888. Apart from being part of the Ring Fleet, the General Domville sailed under the flag of the Wright Brothers and Cruickshank, Gass & Co. At one time, she was also owned by James F. Cruickshank in whose shipyard she had been built, and after 1888 she became part of the Thomson Fleet.

During her service, the General Domville completed at least thirteen long distance journeys. She anchored in numerous ports, of which the ones in western France, Belgium and Germany are the closest to the Adriatic Sea where her portrait is kept today. During her lifespan, there were forty-five transfers of shares recorded and the last transaction lists eighteen owners, each possessing between one and eight shares.  Facts about her ownership, commanders and routes are unknown for the period from November 1883 when she arrived in French port of Le Havre until February 1884 when she sailed from Ardrossan, Scotland, to Hong Kong. She likely sailed from Le Havre to Ardrossan to get cargo for Hong Kong. Her date of arrival in Hong Kong is unknown, but it was probably during 1884 and when the ship portrait was painted.  Her next known port of call was Liverpool in August 1885. Another unknown period of her travels was from February 1887 when she arrived in Hamburg, Germany, until March 1888 when she left Yokohama, Japan.

On May 5th1891, the General Domville, loaded with a cargo of wool and nitrate, set sail from the port of Taltal, Chile, for New York with Captain James A. Corbett as Master. She never arrived. The captain’s family in Great Village, Nova Scotia, never heard of him again and none of the crew members survived the loss of General Domville. Her records were closed on December 4th 1891 and under her crew’s resting place was written, ”Pacific Ocean”.

Authors: Ljubomir Radić, Director/Curator, Croatian Maritime Museum Split and Peter J. Larocque, Head of Humanities Department, New Brunswick Museum
Photographs:  Mario Javorčić, Arts Academy of the University of Split
Translation: Petra Blažević, Curator, Croatian Maritime Museum Split
2009 Conservation/Restoration: Mariana Benković, Independent Contractor
Research: Tina R. McBriarty, Curatorial Assistant, New Brunswick Museum


The Ship General Domville in Hong Kong Harbour – Before treatment

The Ship General Domville in Hong Kong Harbour – After treatment

List of voyages

  • Saint John – Liverpool: 7 June – 7 July 1876
  • Liverpool – Bombay – Le Havre: 13 September 1876 – 11 January 1877
  • Le Havre – Cardiff: 8 November – 19 November 1877
  • Cardiff – Rio de Janeiro – Callao – Huanillos – Antwerp: 1 December 1877 – 22 February 1879
  • Antwerp – Cardiff – Aden – Calcutta – Dunkirk: 3 May 1879 – 10 August 1880
  • Dunkirk – Cardiff: 26 August – 1 September 1880
  • Cardiff – Karachi – Rangoon – Plymouth – Bremerhaven: 3 September 1880 – 6 December 1881
  • Bremerhaven – Penarth (Wales) – Rio de Janeiro – Newcastle (Australia) – San Francisco – Le Havre: 3 January 1882 – 19 November 1883
  • Ardrossan – Hong Kong: 27 February 1884 – 2022
  • Liverpool – Wilmington – Valparaiso – Lobos – Hamburg: 15 August 1885 – 5 February 1887
  • Yokohama – New York: 12 March 1888 – [before 2 December 1888]
  • New York – Melbourne – Newcastle (Australia) – Manila – Boston – Saint John: 2 December 1888 – 21 July 1890
  • Liverpool – Cardiff – Rio de Janeiro – Talcahuano – Taltal (sank in the Pacific Ocean on the way to New York): 18 August 1890 – May 1891

Shipowners

Zebedee Ring (Ring Fleet): June – July 1876
Wright Brothers: September 1876 – October 1877
Zebedee Ring (Ring Fleet): October 1877 – September 1880
Cruickshank, Gass & Co.: September 1880 – October 1883
James Frederick Cruickshank: October 1885 – February 1887
William Thomson (Thomson Fleet): December 1888 – May 1891

Masters

James Frederick Cruickshank, born in Saint John, New Brunswick: June – July 1876
George William Stanton, born in Saint John, New Brunswick: September 1876 – 10 November 1883
J. Jardalla, born in Aberdeen, Scotland, 10 August 1885 – February 1887
Henry A. Everett, born in Plympton, Nova Scotia, 10 December 1888 – 20 July 1890
James A. Corbett, born in Londonderry, Nova Scotia, 10 December 1888 – May 1891

Online sources

Books

  • Esther Clark Wright: Saint John ships and their builders, Saint John, 1976
  • Anthony Tibbles: Illustrated Catalogue of Marine Paintings in the Merseyside Maritime Museum Liverpool, Liverpool, 1999
  • Robert S. Elliot and Alan D. McNairn, Reflections of an Era: Portraits of 19th Century New Brunswick Ships, 1987
  • Norton Wyse, New Brunswick Shipbuilders Checklist

Microfilm

  • Shipping Registers, Saint John, New Brunswick, Volumes 273-283 (Archives & Research Library, New Brunswick Museum)