The Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition is a wonderful survey of contemporary marine painting, which includes depictions of historical scenes, often from British Naval history. In this short series of blog posts, we delve into the historical events that inspired some of the paintings on display, starting with the work of Geoffrey Huband ARSMA.

St George’s Day 1947: Penlee Lifeboat The “W & S” rescues the salvage crew from HMS Warspite, ashore in Prussia Cove.

"One of my earliest childhood memories is of a breezy day on a Cornish clifftop, when my father lifted me up to glimpse a scene of great local interest", says artist, Geoffrey Huband. "It was the Battleship HMS Warspite, run aground on the rocks of Prussia Cove. I was about two and a half year’s old at the time.”

“In the years that followed, I watched with interest as the Warspite deteriorated under the shadow of St Michael’s Mount, until 1947, when tugs attempted to tow the battleship to the breaker’s yard on The Clydeside. When heavy weather and a strong westerly gale caused the Warspite to break away from the tugs, it looked as though the Warspite might capsize – she was bows down and listing to port.”

The W & S at Mousehole - photograph from the Dudley Penrose Collection.

“Penlee Lifeboat, the ‘W & S’, endured thirty-foot waves, navigating between cliffs and a rocky ledge, to rescue the salvage crew one by one. Coxswain Edwin Madron’s skilful operation took just half an hour, and the RNLI awarded medals to both Madron and his motor mechanic, Johnny Drew, for the rescue.”

“Johnny Drew, who passed away in 1988, was a close friend of mine since childhood. His account of the rescue inspired this painting, which is a tribute to him and the extraordinary bravery of the crew of The W & S."

The Loss of HMS Anson on Loe Bar - 29 December  1807

“In the early hours of December 29th 1807, the forty-four gun frigate HMS Anson ran ashore one mile east of Porthleven. The vessel had attempted to escape a strong south-westerly gale, only to find itself embayed, with the waves becoming mountainous.”

“To save the lives of his crew, Captain Charles Lydiard ordered the ship to be run ashore, where it struck the beach and broached - the fore and main mast falling, providentially forming a bridge between the vessel and dry land.”

“Onlookers gathered to pull survivors from the surf, and as the ship broke up around him, Captain Lydiard attempted to evacuate his crew. Before making the passage to shore himself, Lydiard insisted on returning to the wreck to save a younger crew member. Both men were swept away by the waves.”

Illustration made at the scene of the shipwreck.

“Among the onlookers that morning was Henry Trengrouse, who was horrified by the spectacle and resolved to find a better means of rescuing shipwrecked sailors. Trengrouse created a ‘Rocket Line Thrower’, which is the prototype for the Line Throwing systems used today.”

“I was inspired to paint this scene from frequent walks along the wreck site. It pays tribute to early attempts by individuals to save the lives of others at sea.”

See the paintings in the Royal Society of Marine Artists Annual Exhibition from 11 to 20 October.