Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait of Sir Henry William Bayntun (1766-1840) 1780

Thomas Hickey (1741-1824)

Portrait of Sir Henry William Bayntun (1766-1840), Thomas Hickey
Oil on canvas
18th Century
10¼ x 8¼ inches, 26 x 21 cm
English Private Collection
Signed lower left “T. H. / 1780”
Inscribed verso; “Henry William Bayntun / Aged 13 years 6 months / midshipman on the Cleopatra”.

Henry William Bayntun was one of the most successful naval officers during England’s wars against the French in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He fought at the Battle of Trafalgar, and took part in Nelson’s funeral procession. More recently, the destroyer HMS Bayntun was a successful U-Boat hunter in the Second World War. This rare and charming portrait shows Bayntun at the age of thirteen, when he was a midshipman aboard HMS Cleopatra. It is one of exceptionally few portraits of the Navy’s numerous ‘boy sailors’, and highlights the young age at which it was common to join the Navy; Nelson himself joined when he was twelve, while the youngest participant at Trafalgar was just eight years old.

After serving on board Cleopatra, Bayntun was made a Lieutenant in 1783 and sent to the West Indies. He was rapidly promoted to captain in 1794, of the Undaunted, and remained in the Caribbean for much of the next ten years. He achieved considerable success in capturing a number of French ships, such as the Bienvenue and the Creole, and also participated in the capture of the French islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique.

In 1804 Bayntun returned to England to take command of the third-rate HMS Leviathan, a ship of the line with seventy four guns. He immediately joined Nelson’s force, and was involved in the protracted chase of Admiral Villeneuve’s French fleet across the Atlantic. By late 1805 the English fleet had blockaded the combined Spanish and French fleets in the port of Cadiz, and hoped the lure the enemy into a confrontation in Cape Trafalgar. On October 21st Villeneuve sailed into Nelson’s trap.

Traditionally, major naval engagements were fought with two lines of opposing ships firing into each other with ‘broadsides’. However, Nelson, with fewer ships, planned a radical new assault on the French and Spanish line. He would form two separate battle lines and drive headfirst into the enemy. The English ships would be able to advance with relative safety, and then fire raking shots through the unprotected rear of the enemy ships, sending devastating ‘grapeshot’ along the lengths of the crowded lower decks. Bayntun’s Leviathan was the fourth ship in line behind Nelson’s flagship, Victory, and was to penetrate the French line at the position of the French flagship Bucentaur, and the enormous 144-gun Santissima Trinidada, thought to be the largest fighting ship in the world. Bayntun equipped himself well, engaging the Trinidad along with HMS Neptune. Bayntun was then ordered to intercept a breakaway Spanish flotilla, and boarded and captured the Spanish 74-gun San Augustin. Despite considerable damage to Leviathan, Bayntun lost just two men during the whole battle. The fate of the ship’s goat, which Bayntun kept on board during the battle, is not known.

In the fierce storm that followed the battle, Bayntun, like all his victorious English colleagues, lost his ‘prize’ ship, the Augustin. Back in England, he took part in Nelson’s funeral procession, and carried the ‘guidon’, or colours, behind the coffin. In 1807 he took part in the disastrous invasion of Argentina, but was cleared of any wrongdoing. He retired from active service after 1812, and rose steadily through the various ranks of admiral. He was appointed a knight of the Bath in 1812. He married, in 1809, Sophia Mayhew (d.1830), and lived in St James’ Square, Bath.

Thomas Hickey was born in Dublin in May 1741 and trained at the Royal Dublin Society Schools were he took prizes from 1753 to 1756. After visiting Italy c.1761-7 he returned to Dublin for three years and then moved to London, where he exhibited regularly at the Royal Academy between 1772 and 1775. By 1778 he was painting in Bath. Two years later, unable to establish a sufficient practice, he set out for India, where he would work prolifically as a portraitist to the soldiers and governors of the country, and as a pictorial recorder on expeditions such as that of Lord Macartney to Peking in 1792. He is particularly known for small-scale, elegant oval portraits such as the present example.

It was at the time of Hickey’s first voyage to India that this portrait of Henry Bayntun was painted. Bayntun was then a Midshipman aboard HMS Cleopatra, a new fifth-rate frigate built in Bristol in 1779. The Cleopatra, captained by George Murray, served in the Channel and the North Sea. While it is possible that Bayntun and Hickey traveled together, at least for the first part of the voyage towards Gibraltar, it is unlikely that Bayntun was involved in Hickey’s capture by Spanish ships on 9th August, in which he was arrested. Hickey was then sailing in one of five East Indiamen, whereas Cleopatra was a Royal Navy Frigate. It is instead more likely that the portrait was made before Hickey departed from Portsmouth on 27th July 1780. Sittings in early 1780 would accord well with Bayntun’s then age of thirteen years, six months.

Philip Mould Ltd, 18-19 Pall Mall, London, SW1Y 5LU.Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.