London Carington Bowles next the Chapter House in St Pauls Churchyard, 1721. First edition. Folio (52 x 37.5 cm), engraved allegorical title-page, 21 engraved naval plates, one double-page, one folding, contemporary sprinkled calf, rebacked, neat restoration to corners and edges, pinhole paper flaw to one plate, an excellent example.
A rare and beautiful series of prints of the ships that built an empire. “During the first quarter of the eighteenth century there flourished Thomas Baston, who deserves our attention because he has left us some very spirited illustrations of English men-of-war. Himself a seascape painter, he also did a few etchings from his own designs, but some of his pictures were engraved by Harris, Kirkall, and others. This desirable Baston series is entitled Twenty-two Prints of several of the Capital ships of his Majesties Royal Navy, which will be found in the Print Room of the British Museum.”
Thomas Baston’s view of The Greenland Fishery (1721) is a wonderful piece of engraving after his drawing of an Arctic Scene. Baston had been a Clerk of the Admiralty during the late 1690s, when his brother Samuel became a significant whistle blower over corruption within the Navy. Soon afterwards, Thomas Baston began producing remarkable drawings of Royal Navy vessels complete with grandiloquent dedications to royalty and numerous Admiralty Dignitaries. He would continue to do so over the next decade and more as his brother pressed repeatedly in print for virtuous wartime government demands for which he was imprisoned and ultimately identified as the king’s potential assassin!
Given Thomas Baston’s beautifully calligraphed petitions to the Crown for financial assistance, his repeated involvement in extraordinarily ambitious commercial print projects (such as the whaling scene). He had a long spell in a debtor’s prison during the 1710-14, and would seem to have lost his Admiralty post by association, desperate to salvage his reputation and his livelihood as a consequence.
Like his drawings, each of these prints is lavishly dedicated to a member of the military or commercial Establishment. The Greenland Fishery engraving is no exception, dedicated to Sir John Eyles, who was a major investor in the transatlantic slave trade during this period. Eyles had come into this business via his father, one of the original subscribers to the Royal Africa Company and subsequently an agent dealing directly in Barbados sugar and slaves. The profits from these ventures had enabled Eyles’s father to acquire an estate in Wiltshire and qualify for the knighthood which was passed onto his son, Baston’s dedicatee, a “sub-governor” of the South Sea Company, which (like the Royal Africa Company) had been established to invest in and profit from the transatlantic slave trade.
A splendid and scarce work, rarely offered as a complete book.