Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait miniature of Captain Jonathan Birch, wearing blue coat and white waistcoat 

William Wood (1769-1810)

Portrait miniature of Captain Jonathan Birch, wearing blue coat and white waistcoat, William Wood
Watercolour on ivory
18th Century
Oval, 83mm. (3 ¼ in.) high
Williamson, 1921, p.277 Daphne Foskett, ‘Miniatures Dictionary and Guide’, 1979, pl.112E, p.388 (where described as ‘a well drawn and strong portrait’) William Wood, Memorandum if Miniatures Painted and Finished by William Wood, 1790-1808, where he states his sitter's complexion was 'fair and clear, with a fine colour'
Jonathan Birch was sworn in as the Commander of a ship named the Britannia in June 1803. According to the Register of Ships employed in the Service of the Honourable the United East India Company (1760-1810) Birch is listed as undertaking voyages on several other ships owned by the company between 1793 and 1805. Under his captaincy, the Britannia was ‘lost off the Brazils’ in December 1805, the year of this portrait. Rebuilt in 1806 by Wells & Co. of London, the new Britannia was sailed by Birch to Bombay and China in 1807. In January 1809, Britannia was back in action again with Birch as commander, only to be run aground in bad weather ‘off the South foreland’ (Goodwin Sands) on a voyage to Madras and China.

If he ran aground in 1809, it is possible that Captain Birch returned to England in time for the birth of his son, who was born in London on the 4th February. This was possibly the second child for the family, as a identically-framed miniature exists in a private collection showing Mrs. Birch and child, also by William Wood, dated 1807.

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