- Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 3 May 1941
- Full Text
- Paging "Marquis of Lorne"
--Bouquet for FiremanSchooner Days CCCCXCIV (494)
by C. H. J. Snider
SOMEONE—Schooner Days' steady friend Norman W. Deer to be direct—recently sent in for the good of the cause the crayon drawing reproduced above, with his regrets that he could give no more information regarding it or its subject than that the artist once lived at the home of Mrs. John Bedley, in Toronto, and gave the picture to her son, William Bedley. and it had remained in the possession of his family until recently.
The picture is obviously that of a three-masted topsail schooner named the Marquis of Lorne, and the work of Charles I. Gibbons. But there the trail ends in water so to say. What was the Marquis of Lorne? Governor-General of Canada. Yes. But we are asking about the schooner. And that is where we are, so far, at sea.
There are three Marquis of Lornes discernible in the Dominion shipping registers of last century, and one Marquis.
This Marquis was built at Deseronto and owned by Capt. Hall, of Toronto, and towed behind a tug in the lumber trade. Neither her name nor dimensions nor description fit the picture. She was built in 1872, years before the anonymous Scot got off his pronouncement: "An' it's a prood leddy Queen Victoria maun be the noo, wi' her dochter marriet tae the Marquis o' Lorne." It was an antidote to the Sassenach concept of the Marquis as the husband of Princess Louise, which was one of the factors making him so popular in Canada that vessels were named after him.
Of the three Marquis of Lornes found in the Dominion register one was a full-rigged barque, built in the Maritimes and of double the possible tonnage of the picture-ship, another was a small two-masted schooner also built on salt water, and the third was an excursion steamer built at Kingston. None of these could be the one here portrayed.
Six captains who had been on the lakes in sail sixty years ago were appealed to, and not one of these could recall a vessel named the Marquis of Lorne on Lake Ontario, though they remembered when the marquis himself and his gracious young princess came to Canada, and the school children were lined up in stands on the Esplanade and sang the Maple Leaf for the vice-regal pair. They were immensely popular. They came in 1878 and were succeeded by Lord Lansdowne in 1882. Medals, flags and handkerchiefs were sold, stamped with their likenesses in united circles. That is the explanation of the triangular pendant at the fore truck of the pictured vessel. It may not be very plain in the reproduction, but in the original the artist has been at great pains to draw in bright blue circles portraits of the marquis and the princess, face to face. The white flag is bordered and paneled with red. Usually Gibbons put a Union Jack at the foremast head in his pictures. Improperly, for the Union Jack is a land flag, and when it is used in a commercial vessel it should have a white border around it. Then it is known as a Pilot Jack.
The swallow-tailed burgee with the ship's name is a white flag lettered and bordered in red and blue, carrying out the red-white-and-blue motif of the whole vessel—for with the exception of the green rail, that is her paint, a white hull with red bottom and beading and blue coveringboard. Pre-eminently patriotic. The red ensign of the new Canadian mercantile marine has the then "arms of Canada," or shield showing the emblems of the provinces, prominently displayed. And a red beaver is her figurehead.
Brother Roy has the idea that Capt. Frank Jackman once spoke of an American schooner from the Upper Lakes which was bought and re-named the Marquis of Lorne. The schooner in the picture has no particularly American characteristics, and the neat way the Canadian beaver has been posed on her cutwater as a figurehead rather emphasizes the opposite origin. So—if anyone can tell about the Marquis of Lorne and her history, he has the floor, with a marquetry border.
Capt. Frank Jackman was long the patron of Charles I. Gibbons, for Gibbons fired for him in the tug Frank Jackman and other vessels, and Capt. Frank bought some of his pictures and encouraged others to buy them. Before his death he told us that he had gathered together at least a hundred of Gibbons' pictures, for the decoration of the winter quarters of the Masters' and Mates' Association, but someone had carried them off while the rooms were closed.
Whatever the mystery of the Marquis of Lorne there is no question of the picture being the work of this fireman-artist, and it seems to belong to his best period, which was the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The colors are fresh as yesterday, but the white paper has yellowed and dried with age and become brittle.
Gibbons drew many vessel portraits. In this Marquis of Lorne is Gibbons at his best. Each reefpoint, ratline, lazy jack, vang, downhall, halliard, sheet and reef-tackle, is drawn in with complete care. He even shows the knots on the footropes of the mizzen boom, to give a sailor foothold in reefing. The curved lines representing the cloths or seams of the sails are swept in, freehand, with clean bold strokes and the steadiness of a compass. Each sheet and brace is led to its proper place or pin. The picture would serve as a spar and sail and rigging plan for the vessel to-day, if one had to fit her out. What an opportunity such a job would be! And what a headache! The picture was shown to six old sailors recently, and only one of them could name all the sails correctly, or remembered such a rig on the lakes. Some of those sails—the "single" foretopsail, for example, with its row of reefpoints — and the vangs which hold the heads of the gaffs in — these have not been in use on Lake Ontario for the last fifty or sixty years.
No wonder five of the six old timers could not name the sails and gear and wondered if they were only an artist's license.
"What are those little three cornered sails away up high?" one asked.
"Batwings," said Capt. Johnny Williams, aged 84.
"Was that the same as raffees?"
"Yes and no. Same shape, but what we called the raffee might be single or double, or diamond, and its clews went to the arms of the lower yard and its head to the eyes of the topmast rigging. If it was double or diamond it was gored and had two tacks, coming down each side of the headstays. The single raffee was the shape of one of these batwings. The batwing was really the same sort of sail, but carried higher, above the topsail yard or topgallant yard."
Four of the other captains, lads in their seventies, nodded approval They had seen raffees and handled them. But not one of them, nor the fifth, who was a younger man, had seen a square "single" topsail like the one in the picture, with lines of reefpoints in it. The nearest any of them could come to it was the odd double-topsail they could remember, where the deep sail was split in two, the lower half on a yard hung from a truss and the upper half on a yard which hoisted above it and could be lowered down to the cap. The last exponent of even this modified form of square topsail disappeared from Lake Ontario thirty years ago.
In the picture the artist has contrived to give a maximum of dash and life and action, while retaining much detail.
Gibbons never attempted such subtleties as the 17th century Vandeveldes or Bakhuysen, or the 20th century Spurling, who could suggest or paint in every detail, even to the clove-hitches of the ratlines of the rigging, as seen by the most appraising eye. Yet these great ones never spoiled the total effect by too much elaboration. Gibbons knew how a vessel should be rigged, and he knew his customers would know. He did the best he could with his knowledge, his lead pencil, and his straightedge. Consequently his standing-rigging is as rigid as iron rods and his running rigging as straight as the ruler could make it, ignoring in both cases the inevitable curvatures due to the stretch, weight, and windage of all rigging, and the impossibility of getting it or keeping it bar-taut without the use of turnbuckles and winches. These gadgets were not in use in the vessels he depicted.
Nor had he mastered the difficulty of depicting an anchor so as to show the stock, arms, flukes and shank in perspective. His anchors are as conventional as embroidery patterns, and he has the mediaeval weakness of showing the luffs, or weather edges of square sails always curving ahead, no matter which way the wind is blowing. As his sailing vessel is almost always on the starboard tack, close-hauled on a head wind, his square sails are usually in error as to the shape of their windward edges.
And he is as conventional as the College of Heraldry in some other ways; his flags are always rippling straight astern so as to display their shapes and colors. The water is always the same blue-green hollow waves, Lake Ontario's summer coloring. Foam escapes his pencil, for his media were colored crayons, lead pencil, and a stump for shading, and his only white was the white of his paper. His sky is always pale blue, with bright windy clouds well depicted without the resources of the modern airbrush. The vessel is always heeled towards the beholder, so as to permit of a view of the deck and its layout, and to emphasize the sauciness of her sheer, a matter of pride with all sailors. Similarly, the point of view is from forward of the beam, which gives the masts a jaunty rake and heightens the impression of speed. Gibbons was not happy in his results when he drew his pictures squarely broadside on. His steamers and yachts, drawn so, are less lively than his schooners. He was also very conventional in his backgrounds, usually a steamer on the horizon at one end of the picture and a sailing vessel or lighthouse at the other, with a few V-sectioned seagulls low down in the sky.
Yet with all these limitation or conventions of his style, he was observer and portrayer more faithful to his subject than ninety-nine of each hundred Canadian impressionists who conceal their own inability to see or draw by the thickness and indefiniteness of their brushmarks. He followed his conventions as strictly as the writers of detective fiction, and for the same reason—they paid. The captains, mates, sailors and owners who bought these crayon colorings of their beloved vessels at $1 to $5 a portrait, and paid as much more for a frame, had to be satisfied as to their accuracy as well as pleased by the style and tint. Hence the starboard tack, with its right-of-way, the fresh breeze, the streaming flags, ever new, the carefully colored underbody, topsides, coveringboard, beading, rail, bulwarks, deck and cabin-top, where even the cove-moulding had to be shown. If the capstan amidships was painted green and red with a white scroll, white scroll, red and green must show in the picture or no sale. No "impression" would satisfy purchaser. He has to have a "likeness." And he considered Charlie Gibbons' crayon likenesses better than photographs, because they showed him what he wanted to see and left out what he did not like. "It takes the hard look off her," was his warmest encomium.
Patched, coaldusty, misfitting sails, a hogged sheer, blistered paint, and nothing but a ragged fly aloft might be the camera's candid record. The Gibbons picture would replace these by smooth new canvas, rounding into seemly shadows, sweeping sheer-lines, shining paint, and gay bunting would flame at every masthead. The customer's eye would glisten with pride in what he would like his vessel to be, his dream ship. He would straighten his shoulders, peel four ones from a thin roll, fish for three quarters, two dimes and one of the little old five-cent pieces—finding it with a certain disappointment—and say gruffly, as he handed over the $5, "It's worth it." And he would be right. He would be getting more than $5 worth of paper, crayon and artistic skill. He would be getting $5 worth of satisfaction of his ideal of a vessel.
All Gibbons' work was not equally good. Sometimes perspective baffled him. Some of his "fancy sails" —raffees, squaresails, bluedevils, and so on which captains always promised themselves and never could afford except on paper—are badly drawn and out of proportion, like his flags. He never had a sailplan, or a photograph, or set of measurements, or a design to help him, and while he drew "by eye" many a time his eye had never lighted on the swelling sails he depicted so generously. Yet, speaking broadly, you could rig any canal-sized schooner Gibbons had drawn, from the deck up, from the picture he had made, and she would sail well and handle well and look well. But you would have to work out the scale for yourself; Gibbons' scale was in his own head; he himself could not tell you it.
- Snider, C. H. J.
- Item Type
- Date of Publication
- 3 May 1941
- Personal Name(s)
- Gibbons, Charles I.
- Language of Item
- Richard Palmer
- Copyright Statement
- Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
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