Antoine Melling watercolors

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Vue Générale du port de Constantinople Prise des hauters d’Eyoub (plate 14)

Yesterday I had a behind the scenes tour with a few Daily Press (our local newspaper) employees and I pulled one of my favorite watercolors (alright, alright, that’s a bit of a stretch–if I was hard pressed to pick just one piece I’d have trouble, but it is certainly at the top of the list!).  I pulled the image because I wanted to show the international aspect of our collection and this piece is pretty spectacular.

The image, titled “Vue Generale du Port de Constantinople prise des Hauteurs d’Eyoub,” is a panoramic view of Istanbul (at that time called Constantinople) and the Golden Horn drawn from the heights of the Eyüp neighborhood at the northeast corner of the city. The image shows the whole harbor and the east side of the city and the Galata neighborhood with its Galata Tower which is the northernmost observation point of the old city walls. Visible in the image are many recognizable buildings including the Topkapi palace, the Aya Sofia mosque, the Blue Mosque, the Osman Mosque, the Süleymaniye Mosque, the Bayezid II Mosque, Prophet Mohammed’s Mosque, Sultan Selim Mosque, Tekfur Palace, and the Eyüp Sultan Mosque.   Read more

This one is for all of you fans of oddball sports!

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While researching George Vancouver I ran across a very interesting watercolor in the collection that obviously documents a very specific event but the computer didn’t contain any information on what it might be. Whenever that happens I usually hit the Internet because 9 times out of 10 someone out there has already written or researched the event and there’s no point reinventing the wheel if I don’t have to!

The watercolor shows the HMS Modeste frozen in the Columbia River on January 26, 1847. There are people on the ice all around the ship, some are just walking and others look like they are fencing, skating or just having fun, but there is one particular group of individuals that seems to be doing something pretty specific—something important enough that the artist felt the need to document the event and the date it occurred.   Read more

Anniversary of the 1775 Battle of Hampton

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Today marks the anniversary of the Battle of Hampton, the first battle of the Revolutionary War to occur south of Massachusetts. The battle occurred thanks to a hurricane on September 2, 1775 which led to a squabble between Captain Matthew Squire of the HMS Otter and the residents of Hampton.

As the story goes the HMS Otter’s tender, named Liberty, was driven aground during the hurricane and the next day local inhabitants boarded the vessel, removed the guns, stores and parts of the vessel and then burned it. Apparently sailors from the Otter had been making a nuisance of themselves and this was how the residents of made their displeasure known.   Read more

SS Mosel and insurance fraud

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Alexander Keith, Jr., image found on Wikipedia

On December 11, 1875 a horrible explosion occurred at the dock in Bremerhaven, Germany, leaving over 80 people dead and many more maimed and injured.  The story of how this came to be starts with a man named Alexander Keith, Jr., also known by the alias William King Thomas.

Keith was born 1827 in Scotland and moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia when he was a boy.  As a young man he worked briefly for his uncle, Alexander Keith, who was a well-known and influential man in Halifax having served as mayor and owning a popular brewery, Alexander Keith’s.  The brewery still operates to this day.  When the Civil War broke out in the United States Keith saw an opportunity and aligned himself with the Confederacy although he seized every chance to take advantage of both the North and the South.  He was a ruthless man and eventually ran off with a chambermaid and investments worth $1 million.  His victims hired a detective to hunt him down, causing Keith to have to move further west until he eventually reached Highland, Illinois.  Keith married and settled down for a short time until the law came calling in December of 1865.  When he had the chance, he and his wife fled to Germany where they lived the high life.  But, as it usually happens, money ran out and so Keith had to come up with a scheme to get more.   Read more

October 21st–A Magnet for Naval Battles!

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The 1805 battle of Trafalgar at the moment Horatio Nelson was fatally wounded.

October 21st seems to have been a magnet for naval battles and important events in naval history. The most important was probably the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which a combined fleet of thirty-three French and Spanish ships were pretty much wiped out by a British fleet of twenty-seven ships under the command of Horatio Nelson. While it was a huge turning point in the long war with Napoleonic France (it pretty much wiped out France’s navy) it unfortunately also resulted in Nelson’s death.

There was also a battle on this day in 1757 off Cap-Français (these days known as Haiti) during the Seven Years War. In this battle three British ships tangled with seven French ships who were trying to protect a large convoy. Despite being outnumbered by more than 2 to 1 the British commanders had a conference and in less than a minute decided to accept the French squadron’s offer of battle. The battle was pretty much a draw but the British did manage to inflict a lot of damage on the French which delayed the departure of the convoy.   Read more