Telling tales and making sales
If you know where to look in the saleroom, there are plenty of lots with intriguing pasts, from loyal toasts to royal boats
ALMOST nothing to do with the collier Betsy Cains is clear cut, except her end; she struck the Black Midden rocks off Tynemouth on February 17, 1827, and broke up, helped by souvenir hunters, soon afterwards. The name is sometimes given as Betsey Cairns. By some accounts, she was originally Charles II’S yacht the Princess Mary, which perhaps became the Saint Anna, otherwise known as the Anna Willhelmina, and, thanks to captures, saw action in British, French and Prussian service during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.
The reason that the Betsy Cains still excites buyers of those souvenirs is the claim that, in 1688, the RY Princess Mary had carried William of Orange to Torbay when he invaded England.
In July, one of the snuffboxes carved from salvaged timber from the wreck by Francis Johnson of North Shields for members of Tynemouth town council (Fig 2) was sold for £1,612 by Lawrences, Crewkerne, following considerable interest from Northern Irish Orange Lodges. It had been estimated to £160 by the auctioneers, who noted that the legend was questionable.
Indeed, it is. William is clearly documented as having invaded aboard the frigate Brill. Furthermore, it was established as long ago as 1911 that there never was a RY Princess Mary. There were, however two Marys. The first, built in 1660, had actually been used by William on visits to his uncle, Charles II, but had been wrecked off Anglesey in 1675.
Two years later, a new Mary was launched and this one did bring William’s wife, by then Queen Mary, over from Amsterdam in 1689.
Unfortunately, even though she survived to a great age, this second Mary cannot have become the Betsy Cains either, as she was broken up in 1816. It is more likely that the Betsy Cains had formerly been the much captured Anna, which also seems to have been a Mary at some point. The adage that it is unchancy to change a ship’s name seems to be borne out. However, the second Mary yacht is still making waves. She was painted several times by the van de Veldes and, a week before the snuffbox sale, the younger Willem van de Velde’s 49¾in by 70in canvas The English Royal Yacht Mary about to fire a salute (Fig 1) was sold for £812,750 at Sotheby’s in London. It is an element in a court case before the Supreme Court of the State of New York involving the widow of the 4th Viscount Hambleden, greatgrandson of the founder of the retailer W. H. Smith.
The court is seeking the extradition of Timothy Sammons, a Mayfair art dealer and former Sotheby’s specialist, who is accused of running a ‘Ponzi scheme’, acquiring paintings, including the van de Velde, against an advance, and then selling them for much more without informing the clients.
Lady Hambleden claims the van de Velde was among at least 14 of these works. Mr Sammons, who has been declared bankrupt, denies all charges and is fighting extradition.
Two undoubted royal relics also came to auction during the summer. In Edinburgh in mid August, Lyon & Turnbull took £25,000 for a broken wine glass (Fig 4). It was a simple 18thcentury teardrop glass from which Bonnie Prince Charlie is said to have drunk a toast to his father while on his way to take Edinburgh in 1745.
The stem was then snapped so that no lesser toast could be drunk from it, but Patrick Murray, a goldsmith in nearby Stirling, was commissioned to provide a new silver foot, which was engraved ‘God blis King James the Eight’.
Murray was not only a smith —a handful of marked pieces are known—but also a JP and Sheriff-clerk of Stirling. He was also a Jacobite and signed up with Lord George Murray’s Brigade, however, he surrendered or was captured soon after and, on November 15, 1746, he was among the last batch of prisoners to be hung, drawn and quartered on Harraby Hill, Carlisle.
Presumably, the severity of the sentence was due to his having held public office. He was buried with his fellows in St Cuthbert’s, Carlisle.
No blood attached to a Victorian amboyna wood and specimen marble table (Fig 5) sold for £6,720 by Eldreds of Plymouth in July. It came from the very crowded house of the late Sir Owen Morshead, Royal Librarian from 1926 to 1958— at first, a stamped crown, inscription ‘VR 1866 Windsor Castle Room 233’ and inventory label under the pedestal were overlooked. When they were noticed, the initial £500 estimate was doubled.
The Morsheads had lived in a grace-and-favour house while at Windsor and their own furniture was stored by the Lord Chamberlain’s department. However, some pieces were lost and this table was given them in compensation.
Another item that did well despite damage was in a July sale at Halls in Shrewsbury. An 18th-century, 141 ∕3in-diameter Chinese export ‘Hongs of Canton’ punchbowl (Fig 3), finely decorated en grisaille with the bustling waterfront and the be-flagged European Hongs on the Pearl River, had been dropped at some time and, in the auctioneer Jeremy Lamond’s words ‘passably restored’.
Among the national flags was an early Stars and Stripes, which boosted interest and pushed the price to £33,480.
Next week A very long bow indeed
Fig 1: Willem van de Velde’s The English Royal Yacht Mary about to fire a salute. £812,750
Fig 2: Snuffbox made from the salvaged timbers of the Betsy Cains. £1,612
‘Hongs of Canton’ punchbowl showing an early Stars and Stripes. £33,480
Wine glass broken after use by Bonnie Prince Charlie with added silver foot. £25,000
Fig 5: Victorian amboyna wood and specimen marble table originally from Windsor Castle. £6,720