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Blackwall Yard from the Thames
Artist Francis Holman
Date 1784
Repro ID BHC1866
Materials oil on canvas
Measurements Painting: 940 x 2020 mm; Frame: 1163 x 2257 x 125 mm
Credit line National Maritime Museum, London
Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Description
A view of Blackwall yard, on the north bank of the Thames, east of Greenwich, which was used for building of ships for the Royal Navy and the East India Company from the beginning of the 17th century. The yard flourished under the management of John Perry at the end of the 18th century and later under the Greens, who built the 'Blackwall frigates'.
On the left of the picture, the ship shown in starboard broadside is being launched. It is thought to be the fifth rate, 'Adventure', 44 guns, wearing (from bow to stern) a Union jack, the Admiralty flag, a royal standard, a Union flag and a white ensign. 'Adventure' was launched on 17 July 1784 and to her right, in the river a group of small boats centres round what is probably the barge of the Navy Board, with its officers watching the event. The ship on the extreme left, with a covered barge under its bow, is probably the 'Venerable', 74 guns, which had been launched in April 1784. The first and third ships from the right, on the stocks, are two merchantmen, the others warships.
Ships had been built at Blackwall since the Middle Ages but it was when it became the East India Company's yard in the early years of the 17th century that it expanded to be the premier private yard in the country. By the time this picture was painted, Blackwall was the biggest private yard in the world. The year 1784 was a high point in its history, when John Perry had three 74s, two 44s, an East Indiaman and a West Indiaman on the stocks. At that time there was a revival of trade and prosperity after the damaging effects of the War of American Independence.
In the background the shipyard can be glimpsed to the left and right, with houses, dockyard buildings and piles of logs visible. In the foreground there are a variety of small craft. On the left a group of people are being rowed in a boat. Several women wearing hats are seated and a man wearing a blue jacket and a wig stands to look at the launch. The ship ('Venerable') in the foreground on the left is also lined with sailors looking at the launch.
From 1767 Holman exhibited at the Free Society and later at the Royal Academy from addresses in Shadwell and Wapping, near the Thames. He was thoroughly acquainted with ships and ship-building and was the early master of Thomas Luny, another well-known marine artist. This painting, one of his last works, is signed and dated, lower left, 'F.Holman 1784'. It was probably the picture exhibited at the Royal Academy that year as 'A Shipyard on the Thames'.
Source: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich,

The Green Blackwall Collection comprises material presented to the Museum by members of the Green family between 1941 and 1977. The items are mainly from the 18th and 19th centuries and focus on the Blackwall shipyard, London. George Green became a partner in the shipyard in 1797. It was divided in 1843 and the family retained the eastern part in sole ownership. Over 90 prints, drawings and paintings illustrate the yard, the London docks and ships built by or for the Greens, both at Blackwall and elsewhere.

A group of ship models, relics and antiquities range from personal belongings collected by or given to Green family members, to house flags and ceramics from the Greens’ Blackwall shipping line. Naval and other uniforms of 20th-century pattern include a helmet and gas mask used by Edward Napier Green, Acting Temporary Commander, during the Second World War.

The Museum library holds items from the Collection, including maps and charts of Thames, and manuscripts and printed books concerning the Greens and their business activities. Green's of Blackwall

George Green (1767-1849) founded this important London shipbuilding and shipping family. He was the youngest and only surviving son of John Green, a successful Chelsea brewer and his wife Mary (née Pritzler), daughter of a London sugar refiner. In 1782 George was apprenticed to John Perry (1743-1810), whose family had managed the Blackwall shipyard on the Thames since 1708. He rose rapidly and married Perry’s second daughter Sarah early in 1796. Perry married Green’s younger sister Mary as his second wife in 1799.

In 1797 Perry’s two sons by his first marriage and Green were made partners. The firm became ‘Perry, Sons & Green’. In 1798 half the business was sold to John and William Wells junior, formerly Deptford shipbuilders, becoming ‘Perry, Wells & Green’. In 1803, at John Perry’s retirement, part of the Blackwall estate was sold to the East India Dock Company. His remaining half share was sold to the Wellses. Wigram and Green

In 1805 Sir Robert Wigram (1744-1830) bought a large share and the firm became ‘Wigram, Wells & Green’. By 1813 Wigram had taken over all the Wells interest and it became ‘Wigram & Green’. He owned half the business, his sons Money and Loftus Wigram a quarter, and Green the remaining quarter. Robert Wigram retired in 1819 and sold his half to the other partners.

George and Sarah Green’s first four children died young. Their fifth child, Richard (1803-63), was the sole survivor. After Sarah’s death in 1805 George married Elizabeth Unwin in 1806 and had six more children. The two oldest sons, Henry (1808-79) and Frederick (1814-76) continued the business with Richard. In 1829 Richard became a partner in the firm which was renamed ‘Green, Wigram & Green’. Blackwall Yard

Blackwall yard (est. 1612) was founded by the East India Company for the building and repair of its ships. It later passed into the hands of Sir Henry Johnson and his family, under whom the Perrys became involved. The yard estate included a 17th-century wet dock. Adjacent land used for storing timber and grazing allowed expansion and the sale of various parts over the years. The Perrys and Greens also lived on the site.

From the mid-18th century up to 1815 Blackwall was the largest private shipyard in the world. Warships for the Navy, Indiamen and other vessels were built there. In 1789-90, to the north of the original basin, John Perry excavated the Brunswick (or Perry’s) Dock. He built its flanking 120-foot mast house, a major Thames landmark until its demolition in 1862.

Green ships

By the 1820s Wigram and Green owned shares in East Indiamen. But with the end of the East India Company shipping monopoly due in 1834, the families diversified into ship-owning, separately and as partners. George Green’s first ship was the Sir Edward Paget in 1824 and he also became involved in building and operating South Sea whalers from 1829. After 1834 an increasing number of ships were built for both families at Blackwall and elsewhere.

The Wigram and Green house-flag, from 1824, was a blue square over a St George’s cross. This was retained by Wigram’s after 1843, and from 1896 by their successors, the Federal Steam Navigation Company. From 1843 the cross overlay the square as the new Green’s flag. According to tradition George Green ordered just a square St George’s flag to be flown on his first ship, the Paget. When the admiral commanding at Portsmouth saw this and objected, the change was rapidly improvised with a blue handkerchief. Until 1864 flying the St George was a naval prerogative, as squadronal flag of Admirals of the White. Reference to the company as Green’s ‘Blackwall line’ always seems to have been informal, not an official title. Passengers and cargoes

Having served his apprenticeship in the yard from 1822, Henry Green came to supervise it. Richard held overall direction (with his father until George’s retirement in 1838) and managed the ships. In 1836 Frederick took charge of Frederick Green & Co., which handled passengers and cargoes. The Greens set out to continue the high operating standards of the East India Company, although starting with smaller ships. They insisted on good officer qualifications. Their conditions of service attracted and retained good crews and they managed to establish regular voyage schedules, even in sailing ships.

Between 1837 and 1862 one or more ships were built annually for the firm and they lost only four in that period. They began to make Australian voyages in the late 1840s and established a monthly service after the discovery of gold in Port Victoria in 1852. By about 1860 they had a fleet of 30 ships.

In 1837 the Greens’s Blackwall-built Seringapatam introduced an advanced, larger design of vessel. Their general lines and smart operation gained the complimentary nickname of ‘Blackwall frigates’. In 1835 part of the Blackwall estate was sold to the Blackwall Railway Company for a maritime passenger terminus whose river interface was the Brunswick Wharf. In 1843, when the Wigram and Green partnership expired, the shipyard was divided down the middle. Money, Wigram & Sons retained the western half and what became ‘R. & H. Green’ the eastern. Steam ships

Although best known for their sailing vessels, the Greens were alive to the potential of steam. Wigram & Green built the first of many small steam vessels in the Blackwall Yard in 1821 and continued to do so for concerns like the General Steam Navigation Co. They experimented unsuccessfully in 1838-39 with auxiliary paddle power in their new Indiamen Earl of Hardwick and Vernon . After Richard Green’s death in January 1863 they acquired the auxiliary steamers Good Hope and James V. Stevenson for the Calcutta trade in 1871, and themselves built the full-powered Viceroy (1871) and Sultan (1873) for the same route.

In 1872, F. Green & Co. chartered the steamer Siracusa for the Australian trade and were involved in the charter of the Easby by Anderson, Anderson & Co. in 1874. In 1878 this link led to creation of the Orient Steam Navigation Company Ltd, with Anderson, Anderson & Co. and F. Green & Co. as joint managers. Sultan was chartered for one Orient line voyage in 1879 but later that year the first new Orient ship was delivered.

Orient subsequently developed as a high-class competitor to P & O on the Australian mail run until 1919, when P & O acquired a controlling interest in it. At the same time the remaining partners in F. Green & Co sold their interests to the P & O Chairman, Lord Inchcape, on his own behalf. A new firm, Anderson, Green & Company Ltd managed the Orient company until P & O bought out the minority interests in 1960. Anderson Green, by then also owned by P & O, became purely a shipbroker, maintaining the Green name until rationalization of P & O’s broking interests in 1975, when it was renamed Anderson Hughes. Ship repairing

In 1902, with the decline of Thames shipbuilding, R. & H. Green became part of the well-known ship repairing partnership, R. & H. Green and Silley Weir. The Blackwall yard remained in use, with a major graving dock, but the main site was at the Royal Albert Dry Docks. P & O acquired control of the business in 1918 but Green and Silley Weir still had 8000 employees in the 1960s. It was sold in 1977 to become part of the Government-owned River Thames Shiprepairers and closed in 1980. Notable philanthropists

The 19th-century Greens were notable philanthropists, especially in Poplar, the locality of the Blackwall yard. Here George Green built the Congregationalist Trinity Chapel (where both he and Richard were buried). They also founded the Poplar Hospital, built several schools and were involved in many other areas of benefaction. Richard’s included the founding of the training ship Worcester, on the Thames, for training merchant service officers. He never married and his death was regarded as a major public loss.

The Blackwall connection was continued in the family of his brother Henry. Frederick’s eldest son became a Director of the Suez Canal and was later knighted (as was his eldest son, also named Frederick). His younger brother Joseph played rugby for England in 1871 and married a daughter of the great marine engine builder, John Penn of Blackheath (1805-78). Otherwise the family tree from the mid-century shows the family’s commercial success underlying a familiar trend into ‘good marriages and gentlemanly professions’ including the church, army and navy, with distinction in various cases.

Published sources: H. Green and R. Wigram, Chronicles of Blackwall Yard (1881): Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Richard Green and Robert Wigram); John Maber, North Star to Southern Cross (Prescot, 1967)