This painting suggests shipping off the coast of Madras, with the harbour and buildings of the city in the distance. Here, the British flag flies prominently from Fort St George. Sir Edward Hughes took over the East Indies command from Commodore Sir Edward Vernon (1723–1794), arriving at Madras on 19th January 1780 with six small ships of the line. It is possible that they may feature among the British shipping in the painting. The difficulties for the British in India increased at this time and they were fully occupied waging war against various local rulers, and against the French fleet at sea in a number of actions, until the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783
The painting shows two ships to the left. The larger in the foreground, with its stern prominent, is a man-of-war under topsails flying the red ensign and a naval pennant. It is apparently taking in sail and coming in to anchor under topsails only. Among the local small craft in the centre foreground the most prominent is a local surf-boat, used at Madras to both load and disembark people and cargo on the beach since the city had no natural harbour. The ship to the right of centre flies the flag of the Honourable East India Company, while the ship to the far right flies the red ensign and there are a number of smaller boats anchored close by. This picture is one of a pair with 'Shipping off St Helena' (BHC1926).
Where to see this painting?
National Maritime Museum
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