On the Caribbean (north) side of the Isthmus of Darien

PORTO BELLO

1739
9/7. Edward Vernon (1684-1757) promoted to Vice-Admiral.
20/7. Walpole allows Vernon to embark for Porto Bello. He sets sail.
23/10. War declared against Spain. War later merges with War of Austrian Succession.
21/11. Porto Bello captured by Vernon. Print (3) below says 22nd November.

1740
12/3. Report of Vernon's success reaches London, accompanied by a sketch-plan of the action by Lieut.Durell. There are earlier plans of the harbour, published in Paris and Amsterdam.


This sketch, in a simplified form, also appeared in an issue of The Monthly Chronologer, 1740, below.

Durell's sketch, or sketches, appear to form the main basis for prints and paintings of the event. Harry Parker, in Naval Battles, from the Cust collection of prints, 1911, lists the following, here given in chronological order: (1) Line engraving, 15 x 19¼, no artist's name, printed for Thomas Bowles, published April 21, 1740; (2) Line engraving,11¼ x 14½, no artist's name, published April 25, 1740; (3) Line engraving, 10½ x 14, after P.Monamy, engraved by R.Parr, printed for Bowles & Carver, (1743); (4) Line engraving, 13 x 18, no date or artist's name, printed for William Rayner. Also (5), unlisted by Parker, is a print published May 3, 1740, by an otherwise unknown person engagingly named Fred Shantoon. Nos (1), (3) and (5) are shown below:


(1) Engraving published by Thomas Bowles, April 21, 1740. This sketch was issued in a German atlas in 1740, with the preliminary drawing said to be by Lt.Durell, and the cartography by James Rentone. See here.


(5) Spanish Insolence Chastized. Drawn by Fred Shantoon, May 3, 1740. Sold by George Foster. NMM


(3) Published by Bowles & Carver, 1743, after Monamy's painting in Vauxhall Gardens


38½ x 55 indistinctly signed; private collection.

The remarkable canvas above appears to combine elements of prints (5) and (3). The size of the ships slightly recalls the Shantoon print, and the rendering of the Iron Fort, left, and the Gloria Castle, right, recalls the Vauxhall Gardens print. The bow view of the central ship is repeated in the next version, where the proportions of ships to fort are more realistic. However, the wind should be blowing from right to left, as correctly shown here.


49 x 40. Signed. Richard Green.


See here

The images below are included here to indicate the slight variations and likely number of the versions produced. Neither of the next two paintings is identical with the one above.


31½ x 45½; inscribed on back "Painted by P.Monamy". Luard Sale; Sotheby, 11/12/1929
This painting seems to have been confused with the others in Kingzett's Catalogue.
See his final paragraph, where he says this picture was sold in the Dashwood Sale.


32 x 47. "From a drawing by Capt.P.Durell. It bears his name and the date 1739"
Mitchell sale catalogue, c 1935 ?

The variations in the above three paintings are most easily seen in the cloud formations, but there are many other differences of detail. There may well be other similar versions, which must have been produced rapidly and systematically during 1740. Demand probably tailed off following disillusionment at Vernon's failure at Carthagena in 1741.


80 x 110. Sotheby, 25th April, 1934. Dashwood Collection. Sold as Monamy
National Maritime Museum: now ascribed to Scott: thought to be a collaborative work.

This painting is discussed in A Catalogue of the Works of Samuel Scott, by Richard Kingzett, The Walpole Society, Vol 48, 1980-1982, p.25. When it appeared at auction in 1934, it was sold as Monamy. The work is also related to the Thomas Bowles print (1) above, 1740, and Scott, apparently commissioned by the Vernon family to produce depictions of the triumph, unpalatable as it must have been to the Walpoles, was obliged to follow the print. Kingzett states that the painting is by two hands, with Scott only responsible for the ships. I date this picture to about 1765: see here. Scott also painted a sea level view, much more polished and naturalistic than Monamy's, which was engraved by W.H.Toms and published as a print, by subscription, on 23rd March 1741, a full year after the news reached London. The print is dedicated to James Vernon, the Admiral's elder brother, a Commissioner of Excise. Considering the full range of Monamy's works, and comparing Scott's portrayal of the capture with his, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that he was being deliberately populist in his Vauxhall paintings.

In the same collection as the above panorama, and sold in the same auction, the painting below was described as the 1741 attack on Carthagena. It is included in Kingzett's Catalogue Raisonné as the attack on Chagres, attributed to Scott and stated to be in the NMM. It was reproduced thus in Hartmann's 1953 biography of Vernon, The Angry Admiral. Whether or not these two paintings are by Scott, they may fairly certainly be said to be not by Monamy. Kingzett only mentions three Porto Bello paintings by Monamy, but I am aware of at least seven. As Kemp and Ormond, in The Great Age of Sail, p.68, express it, "as he got older and lazier, he allowed his work to degenerate into repetition and formula". No doubt Monamy was especially lazy in 1740-42, when he was 60 years old, although the noted expert, E.K.Chatterton, considered him lazy even before 1740. During these two years he also managed to produce 4 or 5 versions of the capture of the Princesa, and a similar number of the capture of the San Joseph, one of which was displayed in Vauxhall Gardens, along with the capture of Porto Bello. What a lazy old fellow he was! The truth, of course, is that his exceptional and indefatigable industry, commented on by Vertue, probably brought on the infirmity which is apparent in his works after about 1743.


33 x 54. Sotheby, 25th April, 1934. Dashwood Collection. Sold as Monamy
Attack on Chagres ? Attack on Carthagena ?
Now in NMM, sensibly attributed to Scott.

The Aftermath

1741
23/3. Attack on Carthagena by Vernon. This was a successful action, but the enterprise was abandoned later, Brigadier-General Wentworth failing to support Vernon with his siege troops.
1/4. Vernon reported success to London, but the rejoicing was followed by disillusionment.
17/5. Vernon's withdrawal from Carthagena.

For more on Vernon's activities after Porto Bello, see here.


Columbus and the Egg. William Hogarth 1752

Vernon's achievement in taking Porto Bello has tended to be played down by later commentators, and it was not quite so remarkable as it appeared to the nation in 1740. However, almost everything is easy once it has been done. The lasting domestic significance of the matter was that it led inexorably to the fall from office, in 1742, of Prime Minister Walpole, and a fair measure of the jubilation expressed by the populace was in anticipation of this event. On the declaration of war with Spain in 1739, Walpole is famously recorded as having said "They now ring the bells, but they will soon wring their hands." He was right, up to a point, but he died in 1745. Ever since this affair, which determined the fate of the world for the next two centuries, those of the Robert and Horace Walpole faction and persuasion have withheld their approval of genuine marine painting.

"Apart from Sir Robert Walpole and his colleagues, most of Vernon's contemporaries honoured him as an upright man and brave and able officer. Walpole, who held that 'every man had his price', found in Old Grog an inconvenient exception to his cynical summary. He hated him accordingly, and his political henchmen followed suit." Comment by Douglas Ford, 1907.


http://www.pussers.com/pusser's_rum_and_history.htm
http://psephos.adam-carr.net/uk/britishpms.html

Cyril Hughes Hartmann's biography of Admiral Vernon, The Angry Admiral, is packed with information, but although he is aware of the complexity of the background politics to Vernon's career after Porto Bello, he is perhaps sometimes a little obscure in his presentation, and does not appear fully to appreciate the nature of the Whig opposition to Walpole. What is apparent from his book, however, is Horace Walpole's position as an "inveterate detractor" (p.105) of everything the Admiral did or said over many years. In the long run the pen tends to be mightier than the man-o-war, and the obeisance of English aesthetes to Walpole's authority in succeeding decades not only ensured the devaluation of the English marine genre, but has been permanently damaging to an accurate historical assessment of Vernon's character. The forced temporary defection of the Walpole poodle, Samuel Scott, into the Vernon camp during the Porto Bello hysteria, must also have rankled with Horace, as well as Scott's failure ever to win the true approbation of the Navy. Hence the obsessive presentation of Scott as England's "Vanderveldt". As remarked in my 1981 article footnote, Horace Walpole "was invariably the strenuous defender of his father Sir Robert Walpole, for whom he had a life-long reverence". It is ironic that Hartmann takes the trouble to thank "Mr Edward H.H.Archibald, Curator of Oil Paintings at the National Maritime Museum, for ..... help in the selection of the illustrations." Mr Archibald anachronistically recommended paintings by Brooking and Cleveley, as well as the two by Walpole's creature, shown above, and excluded anything by Monamy, or Philip Durell, the truly appropriate illustrators.

In Admiral Vernon and the Navy, 1907, Douglas Ford comments (p.148) on some apparently damaging evidence that Robert Walpole was actually involved in an intrigue to betray the House of Hanover. He quotes John Morley, a biographer of Robert Walpole, as declaring it "incredible", but goes on to say that "Nevertheless if the English leader was really in league with the Pretender, it certainly would go far to explain his conduct in reference to the war with Spain". The Americans had a higher appreciation of Vernon, since they named a mansion after him. In 1761, George Washington, aged 27, inherited the property. He never changed its name.


Another alleged depiction of the Capture of Porto Bello, attributed to Monamy
This does not look like a representation of Porto Bello,
but possibly of the Capture of Louisbourg, 1758.
Now positively identified as Port Louis, Cuba, 1748.
Beware the labels attached to old oils!

Admiral Vernon and Sir Robert Walpole

Closer Examination of Porto Bello Paintings
click on a or b


type a

type b

The Public House Signboard

Bruce Ruiz on the History of Porto Bello

timeline 1727-1750
carthagena
the navy & the guardian
porto bello map sources
porto bello image source

porto bello picture tiles
battle pages
monamy website index

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