Could this be Mr Darcy?
My first thought was: it’s Mr Darcy! The hair, with the long sideburns, dates from about 1813, as does the cravat. It’s the right date, and, of course, he just looks right.
The selection of figureheads is interesting, and indicates a as a wide general knowledge on the part of those who named the ships. Some of the figureheads are from literature, like Hiawatha, dating it to around 1855 when Longfellow’s narrative poem on the American Indian hero was published and became a hit.
This is an unnamed classical female figure, who I think must be the Roman goddess Diana – she has a crescent moon in her hair which is one of Diana’s attributes.
There is also a figurehead labelled Zenobia, a powerful and ambitious woman who became Queen of Palmyra in 267 AD. Whoever named his ship after her was obviously a lover of the Classics.
Sir Lancelot (left) and Omar Pasha (right)
There are figureheads of literary heroes closer to home, too. Sir Lancelot, in his silver armour, somehow manages to look simultaneously both Medieval and Victorian. He, too, has a literary provenance: Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, a series of narrative poems telling the story of King Arthur, was immensely popular in the 1850s. Lancelot, who had sworn fealty to King Arthur, had an adulterous affair with Guinevere, King Arthur’s wife. Tennyson sums him up, unforgettably:
His honour rooted in dishonour stood,And faith unfaithful kept him falsely true.
Next to Sir Lancelot is the dashing Omar Pasha (1806-71). He was born a Serbian Christian but converted to Islam and became famous as an Ottoman general, winning several spectacular victories over the Russians during the Crimean War. The Turks were British allies during the war and Omar Pasha was much admired.
Giuseppe Garibaldi (1807-1882)
Other foreign heroes are represented, too, for example the politician and fighter for Italian Unification, Giuseppe Garibaldi – another fine figure of a man.
Florence Nightingale (1820-1910)
Female contemporary heroines are not forgotten with Florence Nightingale, ‘the lady with the lamp’; a figurehead which, in my opinion, doesn’t do her justice.
The beautiful Duchesse is one of my favourites. Who was she? French, obviously, but who? I thought that she might represent a French royal mistresses, Madame de Pompadour, for example. But Madame de Pompadour was a marquise, not a duchesse; the figure doesn’t look like her, and her hair isn’t powdered, as la Pompadour’s hair would have been.
But, back to Mr Darcy. Alas, I doubt whether it is him; the figureheads of literary heroes are men of action, like Hiawatha. Could it be Lord Byron? He was certainly well-known (or notorious) enough and famous for his good looks as well as his poetry.
Photos by Elizabeth Hawksley