Portrait of Admiral Sir George Seymour as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, with his flagship HMS Victory beyond. Sir George SEYMOUR, John Lindsay LUCAS.

Portrait of Admiral Sir George Seymour with HMS Victory beyond.
Portrait of Admiral Sir George Seymour as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, with his flagship HMS Victory beyond.

circa 1856-1859.

Signed and inscribed 'no 2 admiral/ Sir G.F. Seymour *.*.*./ John Lucas.' (on reverse); oil on canvas, unlined 1428 x 1118 mm.

Changing the course of Pacific history

A magnificent Pacific painting: the superb large portrait of Admiral Sir George Seymour as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth.

A magnificent Pacific painting: the superb large portrait of Admiral Sir George Seymour as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth.

This imposing full-length portrait depicts George Francis Seymour, not long after he had served as commander-in-chief of the Pacific Station, at one of the high-points of his career, as commander-in-chief at Portsmouth, with his flagship HMS Victory resting at anchor behind him and proudly wearing his naval uniform and all the regalia of his rank. "An intelligent and resourceful officer, successful in all his commands" (ODNB), Seymour had first shipped as a 10-year-old in 1797 under the command of Edward Riou, who had himself served with Cook on the third voyage and been captain of the Guardian when it wrecked en route for Port Jackson in 1789. After a brilliant naval career including some 20 years constant action against the French, Seymour became a key advisor to Parliament and King in the 1820s and 1830s, and a Lord of the Admiralty in 1840; frustrated by politics he was given another command when appointed to the 80-gun HMS Collingwood and sent to the Pacific to resolve a situation drifting towards open warfare with the French. During his command of the Pacific Station, and by insisting on diplomacy over armed conflict, Seymour would change the course of Pacific history with significant repercussions in Sydney and leading to substantial realignments within the broader Pacific region, and of the colonial relationship with Britain. Lucas, a prominent society painter of the early Victorian era, painted portraits of notables ranging from the Duke of Wellington to Queen Adelaide, and from the Duchess of Kent to Albert, Prince Consort. His accomplished and frequently very large portraits were much sought after – he "caught likenesses cleverly" (ODNB) – and his magnificent depiction of the Admiral in all of his splendour must have greatly pleased his subject.

The Sir George Seymour, built in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear in 1844 by Somes Brothers, was named for him, an indication of his significance at the time he took up his post as commander-in-chief in the Pacific in the same year. She made one voyage transporting convicts to Australia and at least one carrying emigrants to Australia and one to New Zealand. A portrait of the ship is held by the Royal Museums Greenwich (see https://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/15113.html). She was one of the "First Four Ships" to carry the Canterbury Association's first settlers to New Zealand (see http://www.firstfourships.co.nz/pics/georgeseymour.php).

Significance to Australia

Seymour's main task as defined in 1844 was to resolve the question of Tahiti and in particular the "Pritchard Affair", the tense stand-off between British and French naval officers about the colonial future of Tahiti. This had significant implications for "not merely Tahiti but the whole of the Pacific" (Bach, The Australia Station, p. 26). It is to be remembered that until the events which Seymour's careful diplomacy set in train, the Pacific Station was based in far-distant Valparaiso.

Apart from the obvious significance of the Pacific Station in general, the repercussions of Seymour's activities in the Pacific would reshape the geopolitics of the Pacific, and certainly caused significant consternation in New South Wales; the recognition of French sovereignty over Tahiti was found to be so alarming that serious petitions were sent to Whitehall begging the government to reconsider. At the same time Seymour's actions impacted on the strong trade that had existed between Sydney and Tahiti since the days of the First Fleet. Seymour was seen as a masterful diplomat, and returned to England in something like glory. However, while a few in Britain felt that a wrong step had been taken, it was really only in the Pacific that his decisions continued to be questioned, and only in Sydney – where some local politicians and traders looking further into the future saw the likely impact of ceding Tahiti to the French – that there was a real reluctance to accept what was otherwise the fait accompli.

Seymour not only witnessed, he was in a sense the midwife to, the creation of French Polynesia. His carefully conceived decision not to aggressively protect Tahiti against the French appalled policy hawks in Sydney, who made a strong case for armed intervention, petitioning Queen Victoria directly. In doing so they continued to express their anxiety about the apparent turning away of the British government.

To the closest stakeholders in the Pritchard Affair and the situation in the South Pacific, the colonial government in New South Wales, British recognition of French authority in Tahiti was both alarming and even incomprehensible: the events provided an important catalyst towards self-government (the first Legislative Assembly was sworn in a decade later in 1856).

One of the most significant long-term effects was that cannier politicians began to imagine a future in which Australia took the lead in the entire region, because they foresaw that by effectively cutting the southern Pacific in half, a major realignment would have to take place. The loss of Tahiti, and indeed the fading influence of Valparaiso as centre of command for the Pacific Station, left the field open for Sydney.

This may have been well understood by the Admiralty: in 1848 Sydney was upgraded to hosting an "Australian Division" of the East Indies Station (prior to that having been only a remote outpost of the East Indies Station). Just a decade later, in 1859 the Australia Station was inaugurated. The shape of the Pacific had changed.).

Provenance: Commissioned by Admiral Seymour personally, given by him to his third daughter Emily Charlotte (1825-1892, who had sailed with her parents on the <em>Collingwood</em> to the Pacific). She married William Richard Ormsby-Gore (second Baron Harlech, 1819-1904) in 1850. The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1860 (no. 203) but after this date remained in the private collection of the Harlechs, at the family seat Glyn Cywarch, near Talsarnau in Wales. The various successive Barons Harlech played significant roles in British politics with the sixth Lord Harlech the influential British ambassador to Washington during the Kennedy administration (an intimate friend of the president and his wife, he was later an unsuccessful suitor of Jacqueline Kennedy). The painting remained at Glyn Cywarch until 2017.

Price (AUD): $45,000.00  other currencies     Ref: #4504648

Condition Report