Date Posted: 26/09/2010
Because the Fighting Temeraire is now out in paperback and selling like hotcakes I thought it would be worth running over some of the most important points.
1. The Temeraire in Turner’s painting was the second HMS Temeraire. The first was captured from the French at the height of the Seven Year’s War by Edward Boscawen in the dramatic but little known Battle of Lagos.
2. The first Temeraire went on to enjoy such a distinguished career that another ship, a huge second rate, was christened HMS Temeraire just after the outbreak of the next war with Revolutionary France. This was the ship that broke through the line behind Nelson’s HMS Victory at the Battle of Trafalgar.
3. That Temeraire was famous not only for her bravery but also for a violent mutiny after which several of her ringleaders were hanged. Her reputation in the navy was decidedly more mixed than Turner’s glorious painting suggests.
4. She spent several months as a prison ship in Plymouth before moving to Sheerness, and it was from there that she was taken to Rotherythe to be dismantled. That was the journey that Turner painted, but he did not witness it.
5. The Temeraire looked dramatically different on that journey than Turner implies. In particular, we know for certain that she had no masts.
6. Thousands upon thousands of people came to witness her destruction. Turner did not make her famous as such – she already was famous.