'On The River Min'

In the early 1950's, I began collecting my nautical library. My interest was drawn to the magnificent British Tea Clippers and the description of these vessels loading tea at the famous Pagoda Anchorage in Foochow, China. This inspired me to one day recreate this scene and to portray these ships in the wonderful oriental environment.

In the painting, it is a balmy summer's day just before sunset. The wind is a light north-easterly. The hills towering over the Anchorage are some 700ft in height. The scene is looking southeast and is the view from the old Pagoda from which the Anchorage takes its name.

Foochow was the most important tea loading Port at this time; no fewer than 16 of these first rate tea clippers were loaded here in 1869. This busy scene depicts all types of watercraft going about their business. The Clyde built clipper Ariel, and Thermopylae from Aberdeen, are busily loading their first chop (one sampan of 600 tea chests comprises one chop). The Agent's Flag, Jardine, Matheson & Company, seen flying from the foremast guides the sampans approaching to their allocated ship.

I have tried to show the contrast between the weighty, age-old, Fukien sea going Junk and the graceful Clipper. The Fukien Junks (on the left) were well known for their beautifully decorated sterns. The two long narrow panels border the sides of the oval stern having a Phoenix on either side. The upper panel between these borders depicts a Yen Bird with outstretched wings on a rock in the midst of a troubled ocean. The Yen Bird's indifference to the tempest and its reputation for speed made it a most desirable emblem. Next amongst conventional devices appear three characters. The first refers to the family of the junk owner. The second is Gold, and the third refers to a successful and safe voyage. Halfway down the design, the eight immortals extend in a row across the stern at its broadest part. Two large medallions usually complete the last panel of the decoration. These may contain floral designs or everyday scenes.

The small sampan in the shadow of the big junk is a local water taxi (being propelled along by the ancient Chinese Yuloh). The taxi skulls amongst the river traffic in search of a fare back to the water front. Other Sampans hover around the junk, as she waits for a deck cargo of timber.

The sturdy gig, which belongs to the Thermopylae, is returning Captain Kemball and his wife back to his ship after they have completed business ashore. The models for these people in the boat are my daughter Virginia and myself.

Outward bound down river is a Fukien Pole Junk fully laden with timber. She is sailing full and by the wind and bound for Shanghai. The other small Sampan in the centre of the painting is operated by crossed oars and is hawking fresh vegetables around the fleet.

Serica, having just arrived at the Pagoda Anchorage, is drying her staysails before unbending and stowing them below in the sail locker. Captain Watts is seen at the taff-rail gazing across the Anchorage. For this figure, I have used my old friend, George Herbert. The Barquentine half hidden by Serica, belongs to the firm of Siemssen & Co. which started operating in Foochow in 1860. Like Jardine, Matheson & Company, they are still trading in Hong Kong today. (2004) The German ensign on the stern was in use from 1867 to 1919. The bird life in this area is the Chinese Black Headed Gull, the Grey Pelican and the common Cormorant, located on the right of the painting.

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Maritime and marine art by historical artist Richard Linton
 
                                                                                                                          On the River Min - click to expand

RICHARD LINTON ASMA
Australian Maritime, Marine & Historical Art

 

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