Bonniwell Bonus: the Chatham dockyards

I’m gotten a good bit of research done on my Alfred and Sarah (Turck) Bonniwell project this week, but time (and focus) to write and edit posts has been at a premium. So while I’m still writing and editing, here’s a historic Bonniwell-related image for your enjoyment.

Chatham Dockyards, c. 1763-1789

Mitchell, Thomas (1735-1790), Chatham; view from a height over a dockyard with man-of-war being repaired at centre, a building with a clocktower at right and another building at right, brush drawing in grey wash, with watercolor, over graphite. Copyright, Trustees of the British Museum, (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license). Click to open larger image in new window.

The Bonniwells were an old English family, with deep roots in southeast England and, before that, France. The family had lived in Chatham, Kent, England, since 1741. Family patriarch William T. B. Bonniwell (1782-1832) was raised in Chatham and learned the shipwright’s trade there. Today’s watercolor is a view he would have recognized. Many of the Bonniwell sons followed their father’s trade. The Chatham dockyard of 1832—the year the Bonniwells said farewell to England and left for America—may have looked much the same.

The picture

The British Museum curators have this to say about our drawing:

Chatham; view from a height over a dockyard with man-of-war being repaired at centre, a building with a clocktower at right and another building at r[ight], brush drawing in grey wash, with watercolor, over graphite.

Originally catalogued as a view at Deptford, the view was identified as Chatham by Celina Fox (11.xi.2002; see her book, The Arts of Industry in the Age of Enlightenment, 2009, p. 68 and n 81, p. 511 for this drawing and other work by Mitchell).

The following catalogue entry is from K Sloan, Noble Art, exhibition catalogue, BM 2000: 
Thomas Mitchell combined service as shipwright to the Admiralty with his recreation of painting marine views in wash, watercolour and oils. He won a premium at the Society of Arts in 1766 in the category of ‘Original Sea Pieces in Oils’ of the artist’s own composition, 4 1/2 X 3′ or 5 1/2 X 3 1/2′ in size. Dossie, who recorded the premiums in 1782 (vol. III, p. 434) described Mitchell as a ‘ship painter, Chatham, Kent’, but the Admiralty records that he was a Builder’s Assistant at HM Dockyard, Chatham in 1771. He also worked at Deptford, and in 1774 conducted a supplement to the survey of the harbours, eventually becoming Assistant Surveyor of the Navy.

He exhibited large battle pieces at the Free Society of Artists and the Royal Academy from 1763-89 and the British Museum has a large collection of his drawings. A series in grey wash depict the main dockyards and harbours of southern England, especially around Plymouth, but his finished works rarely have colour or the spontaneity of the present view which retains the impression of having been sketched on the spot

Literature: Robert Dossie, Memoirs of Agriculture and Other Oeconomical Arts, III, 1782a

Two more Bonniwell views

In last year’s post, A Bonniwell Bonus: Views of Ramsgate and Chatham, England, we looked at two other scenes that would have been familiar to the Bonniwells. If you have a moment, click the link and enjoy those view(s).

I’ll be back with more, soon.

Until then, be well.

6 thoughts on “Bonniwell Bonus: the Chatham dockyards

  1. Pingback: Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 1: England to Canada | Clark House Historian

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  4. Pingback: Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 4: Wisconsin territorial census, 1842 | Clark House Historian

  5. Pingback: Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 5: Wisconsin, 1846-1847 | Clark House Historian

  6. Pingback: Alfred Bonniwell documents – part 6: U.S. Citizen, 1849 | Clark House Historian

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