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Lt. Warre’s Huangpu River (Part 1)

Welcome to the first of a multi part series on a single object in our collection! I have been working on an exhibition called Sailor Made which opens in January. While searching for objects I decided to look at a panoramic watercolor of a scene on the Huangpu River, Shanghai, China painted by Lt. John Frederick Warre of Britain’s Royal Navy in 1846 and 1847 (he arrived in China sometime in 1846 and died in Hong Kong in July 1847 after a severe illness). The piece is quite long, about 80” in length, and is made up of eight individual panels. I always knew the piece was cool I just didn’t realize its level of coolness until now!

After joining the Royal Navy on May 13, 1829 John Frederick Warre’s career took him all over the world. While he passed his examination for lieutenant in 1836 he wasn’t promoted until February 10, 1841 which makes it difficult to track his early naval assignments (the Navy List only identifies officers), but I was able to find him in 1840 listed as a mate in the HMS Princess Charlotte (104-guns) in the Mediterranean. Warre was promoted out of the ship in March 1841 which means he was on board the Princess Charlotte in the fall of 1840 when Britain and Austria took action against Egypt and France in an effort to preserve the Ottoman Empire. The actions that occurred at Sidon, Beirut and Acre from September to November 1840 were the last major actions by the Royal Navy in which sailing wooden ships-of-the-line played the leading role. In this particular battle they were, however, aided by several small steamships.

The Attack & Capture of Sidon, September 27, 1840

Obviously Warre was already an accomplished artist because there are numerous lithographs published for which he is given credit for. I found some in other collections online, but one showing the attack and capture of Sidon in September 1840 and another showing the fleet suffering through a gale near Beirut in December 1840 in our collection make it pretty obvious that Warre was a witness to the events that occurred.

HMS Princess Charlotte and part of the Allied Fleet at anchor in a heavy Gale at St. Georges Bay near Beyrout, December. 2, 1840.

On March 6, 1841 Warre was promoted to lieutenant into the HMS Vanguard (80) which was also stationed in the Mediterranean but he quickly moved to the HMS Formidable (80) which was fitting out at Sheerness in England. He was moved again in December 1841 to the 26-gun Volage which in January 1842 headed for the North America and West Indies station. It seems like Volage was given wide ranging tasks as the ship seems to have hit every port in North America and quite a few others–Halifax, Bermuda, Jamaica, it even traveled down the coast of Mexico just to name a few.

In April 1843 Warre transferred to the 4-gun steam sloop Hydra and then to the 16-gun sloop Racer which eventually sailed for Brazil (by this point Warre was serving as the first lieutenant). In February 1844 Warre was back on the southeast coast of America in the 50-gun ship Alfred. Finally in February 1846 he was sent to the 14-gun sloop Scout. It was this ship that took him to the East Indies and put Warre on the scene of the image I am going to show you.

As I mentioned, the piece is eight panels long so I’ll probably do just a few at a time. Since I have been rattling on for way too many paragraphs I’ll just leave you with a teaser showing the entire image.

Panorama of the Huangpu River, Shanghai, China, 1846-1847
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