Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was a distinguished officer in the Royal Navy, serving from 1806 to 1830, seeing action during the Napoleonic War and in the War of 1812. When Napoleon died on St. Helena, Marryat was entrusted with command of the vessel with the responsibility of delivering the official despatch to London.
With the arrival of peace in 1815, Marryat was inspired to devote part of his leisure time to writing and drawing. As an author, he was perhaps the first novelist to focus on a life at sea, inspiring several generations of later writers, notably C. S. Forrester and his eponymous hero Horatio Hornblower. When Marryat’s writing career began to overtake his naval career, he resigned his commission. He is also known as an enthusiastic, but perhaps amateurish, artist of scenes from his naval life, best known for his drawing of Napoleon’s body laid out after his death and for a series of sketches made for George Cruikshank.
George Cruikshank (1792-1878) was one of the greatest English caricaturists of his day, along with his contemporaries James Gillray (1756-1815) and Thomas Rowlandson (1756-1827). Cruikshank was perhaps the most commercially successful of the three, producing nearly 10,000 images over more than a half century. While he aimed his barbs at a wide range of targets, the royal family was a favourite, as also the ever-more outlandish fads and fashions of the English upper-classes.
This charming caricature of the “Heavy Lurch” was presumably based around a real-life event from Marryat’s career as supplied to Cruickshank, with the latter tweaking the image to appeal to buyers, exaggerating the scene for comic ribald effect. The passengers, land-lubbers all, taken by surprise by the violent rocking of the ship, are thrown about and grasp wildly for handholds, while the seamen look on, amused at the mayhem. The central figure, a plump, rather busty lady, falls backwards her legs all-but-akimbo, the man to her left trying to protect her modesty, while she grabs his nose and the privates of the man seated on her left. Another passenger has hot coffee poured into his lap.
This print was published by George Humphrey (1773?-1831?), nephew and successor to the leading London printseller and publisher Hannah Humphrey (1745-1818). For reasons not clear, the name of artist Frederick Marryat has been imperfectly burnished from the plate, the traces still visible below the neat line at lower left.
Cohn, George Cruikshank, catalogue raisonné (London, 1924), #1238. Dorothy George, Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires in the British Museum, vol. IX, (1949), #13044. Reid, Descriptive catalogue of the works of George Cruikshank (London, 1871), #785.
The British Museum describes the print as follows:
“Passengers seated at a table in the state cabin under six windows in the stern, are flung violently about as the ship slants steeply to the left. There is much humorous incident. A naval officer remains seated and watches with amusement, and another man drinks with determination though kicked on the chin by a man who falls on top of a lady. A man spills scalding coffee down the mouth of his neighbour, whose leg is being bitten by a frantic bull-dog. Two small children have been flung to the floor across which cannon-balls roll and spirit-bottles slide (from an overturned canteen), as do plates and leg of mutton (from a basket); powder-flasks and a rammer fall from the roof. A fashionably dressed negro servant bringing in a bowl of steaming punch falls backwards. A sailor leaning against a cannon on the right exclaims: “My precious eyes Tom!!! heres a smash!!!!—hold on my hearties!! hang on by yr eyelids.” He speaks to a sailor behind him who drinks from a bottle.””