The McManus: Dundee's Art Gallery and Museum are pleased to share the news of a significant new donation to the City's permanent collection by The Fraternity of the Seamen, Dundee. The material, which previously had been on long term loan to the museum since 1876, has been formally donated to the City's permanent collection. The collection includes eight artworks and three ship of the line models.
This significant and important collection has had a long association with the museum, having first been offered for display by the Fraternity in 1876. An 1879 Free Library Report describes the collection as 'a valuable and interesting collection of pictures and models belonging to the Seamen Fraternity'. Ever since, they have played an essential role in the museum's offerings, displayed and enjoyed across our various venues over the years.
Dundee's fine art collection is recognised as being of national significance to Scotland. In common with much of the art collection, all eight paintings tell stories of national importance with a strong Dundee accent. While the models represent Dundee's rich shipbuilding and maritime heritage.
As you might expect, all of the eight paintings have a connection to the sea, but in considering the paintings in detail, two strong themes dominate. The first theme celebrates engineering. Innovations in engineering were used to design ships such as the PS Dundee and PS Perth, seen in William Clark's painting off the coast of Whitby. DP&L commissioned the vessels to open up a rapid trade route between the rivers Tay and Thames that positively impacted the Tayside economy. Engineers were also at the forefront of lighthouse design that enabled the safe navigation of often treacherous waters. Three paintings by George McGilivray show local lighthouses at the mouth of the Tay estuary at Tayport and Barry. Clearly, the Fraternity was proud to have commissioned The Tayport lighthouses in 1823. They and the Barry Lights were based on Stevenson family designs. The third painting shows Tayport's distinctive Pile lighthouse.
The second theme commemorates bravery – both in war and in peace. The son of a Dundee provost, Adam Duncan (1731–1804), is remembered as the hero of the Battle of Camperdown. On 11 October 1797, during the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy engaged a Dutch fleet at Camperdown, north of Haarlem. Aboard HMS Venerable, Duncan took considerable risks in departing from the approved tactics – and defeated the Dutch fleet. This victory was considered one of the most significant actions in naval history, akin to Nelson's victory at the Battle of Trafalgar. The head and shoulders portrait of Duncan by an Unknown artist, owned by the Fraternity, was based on the full-length portrait by John Hoppner.
In peacetime, the bravery of a father and daughter captured the nation's imagination. On 7 September 1838, en-route to London, the Paddle Steamer Forfarshire was wrecked within sight of the Longstone Lighthouse off the coast of Northumberland. Grace Darling and her father William set forth to reach the survivors, knowing they would be unable to return without the assistance of the shipwrecked crew. They reached the wreck through their courage, strength, and skill and brought back four men and a woman to the lighthouse. William returned to the wreck with two of the rescued men to save four more survivors.
In addition, the donation includes three impressive ship of the line models, which are beautiful examples of Dundee craftsmanship at its finest. Dating from the early nineteenth century and built by local shipbuilders and seamen who were also members of the Fraternity. Displayed in their headquarters, Trinity House, Dundee, the models would have been familiar to the Fraternity's members. Purpose built in 1790, Trinity House was situated on the south side of Yeamans Shore it was a sign of the Fraternity's prosperity at the time. They remained there until the building was demolished in 1890. They were then loaned to the museum for display in the 1892 Old Dundee Exhibition and have remained since then played an important role in the museum's offerings across our various venues over the years. Always a popular exhibit, they are currently on display at the Collection Unit on Barrack Street, where they always catch visitors' eyes.
Judy Dobbie, Managing Director of Leisure & Culture Dundee, said
"We are delighted that the Fraternity of Seamen has donated this material to the permanent collection. Their donation will ensure that the importance of the Fraternity of Masters and Seamen of Dundee will remain a vital part of the City's heritage. We want to thank them for this wonderful donation and support. They continue to take an active interest in our work here, supporting us both financially and with their time and expertise. This donation will continue to be enjoyed by our audience now and in the future."
Captain John Watson OBE, Archivist, The Fraternity of Masters and Seamen, said
"It is important that items of Dundee's maritime history are conserved for the education and enjoyment of future generations. The Fraternity of Masters and Seamen in Dundee in making these donations do so in the sure and certain knowledge that they will be retained and cared for locally in perpetuity and that provides it with great comfort."
The history and importance of the Fraternity of Masters and Seamen of Dundee is a vital part of the City's heritage as a port. Their growth and wealth followed that of the port. Founded in the mid-sixteenth century to look after the interest and businesses of its members, the Fraternity received a royal charter in the second half of the eighteenth century. By the late eighteenth century, Dundee was one of the UK's finest, safest, and most convenient ports. Throughout the nineteenth century the port continued to flourish supporting the Jute industry, Whaling, and Shipbuilding. Today, these industries have gone but the Fraternity still exists today, mainly for charitable purposes.
In 2019 members of the Fraternity decided it was time, after nearly 130 years, to donate those historical assets, loaned all those years ago, formally to Dundee City Council to benefit the education and enjoyment of the whole community for all time to come.
Photo L-R. Fraternity Archivist - Captain John Watson, Fraternity Boxmaster - Captain Keith Berry, Mary Clark (Wife of former Boxmaster), Conservator - Rebecca Jackson-Hunt, Curator - Julie McCombie