Historical Portraits Picture Archive

Portrait drawing of Captain Robert Fanshawe (1740-1823), wearing naval uniform 

John Smart (1741-1811)

Portrait drawing of Captain Robert Fanshawe (1740-1823), wearing naval uniform, John Smart
Pencil and watercolour on paper
Rectangular, 52 x 42mm (2 1/16 x 1 5/8 in.)
The artist; His widow Mary Morton; By family descent to William Henry Bose Esq., by whom sold; Christies, London, 15 February 1937, Lot 7 (with three other works); Bought from above by Spink (£22); Karin Henninger-Tavcar by 1991; Private Collection, Germany.
Foskett, 1964, p.66, 82.
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The present portrait depicts Captain Robert Fanshawe who was, according to one naval biographer; ‘one of the ablest officers the British fleet can boast – cool, collected, brave and active’[1] and was probably painted soon after his promotion to captain in 1768.

Fanshawe was born in America, the son of Rear Admiral Charles Fanshawe and Elizabeth Rogers. Fanshawe’s naval career began in 1753 when he was appointed midshipman on board the Salisbury, which was sent to the West Indies under the command of Vice-Admiral Charles Watson to suppress the opposing European powers at the outbreak of the Seven Years War (1756-63). Whilst in the West Indies Fanshawe gained plenty of combat experience and was subsequently present at the Siege of Calcutta (1756), the taking of Chandannagar (1757) and the Battle of Cuddalore in 1758.

On 11 September 1759 Fanshawe was promoted to Lieutenant and three years later to Commander, serving first on Carcuss and later on Speedwell. In 1768 Fanshawe was promoted to Captain and for the following two years served on board the Lively before taking a period of leave, returning in 1775 when he is listed on the Carysfort.[2]

Whilst commanding officer of the Carysfort, Fanshawe saw action during the campaigns of New York and New Jersey in 1776 under Lord Howe and was later transferred to the Monmouth, which suffered badly during the conflict with the French off the coast of Grenada in 1779. One of the most celebrated moments in Fanshawe’s career came in 1780 when he evaded the capture of a large fleet he was escorting back to England, for which he received the freedom of Edinburgh.

In 1784 Fanshawe was in Plymouth as a commanding officer on the Bombay Castle and later that year was elected to represent Plymouth in parliament, a position he maintained until 1789 when he was appointed Commissioner of Plymouth Dockyard.[3] Fanshawe held this position until his death in 1823 in Stonehouse, Plymouth.

[1] J. Marshall, Royal Naval Biography; or Memoirs of all the Flag-Officers, superannuated Rear-Admirals, Retired Captains, Post Captains and Commanders whose names appeared on the Admiralty List of Sea Officers at the commencement of the late year, or who have since been promoted, (London, 1824). Vol.II, p.53.
[2] His period of leave can perhaps be explained by his marriage in December 1769 to Christiana Gennys (d.1824) of Plymouth, with whom he had fifteen children.
[3] S.L. Namier & J. Brooke (ed.) The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-90, (London, 1985), Vol.II, p.414.
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