On the Water

Oil Painting, The Queen of the Ocean Going to the Rescue of the Ocean Monarch

The Ocean Monarch was one of nine large packet ships built by the famous shipbuilder Donald McKay in Boston for Enoch Train’s White Diamond Line of Boston-Liverpool vessels. The Monarch measured 179 feet in length and 1,301 tons and was launched in July 1847. On August 24, 1848 the vessel cleared Liverpool for Boston with 396 passengers, including 322 Irish emigrants. Just a few hours later a few miles off the coast of Wales, a fire around the mainmast was reported, probably started by a passenger smoking. The Monarch stopped and dropped two anchors to gain control of the fire, but it spread too quickly, starting a panic among the passengers.

Commander Thomas Littledale of the yacht Queen of the Ocean was first on the scene. Returning to Liverpool with a group of friends after the Beaumaris regatta, he managed to rescue 32 people from the burning ship, including Captain Murdoch. Other ships picked up another 188 persons; the ship and 178 passengers were lost when the ship sank at its anchors in 85 feet of water.

The painting shows the middle stage of the fire, with one mast down and red flames at the stern and amidships. Panicked people are crowded forward of the smoke and flames, overflowing out on the bowsprit and to the very tip of the jib-boom. Some survivors can be seen in the sea clinging to the wreckage of the mizzenmast. To the right is the yacht Queen of the Ocean and a sailboat.

This painting is believed to have been commissioned by Capt. Littledale to feature his heroic rescue. The Museum owns another Walters painting of the disaster that features another vessel in the foreground, and two other Walters paintings in different collections highlight still other vessels’ rescue of the passengers and crew.

The dramatic loss of the Ocean Monarch and so many of its passengers so close to shore so soon after departure, as well as its thrilling rescue, touched off an international wave of sympathy and a media storm on both sides of the Atlantic.

ID Number:
Walters, Samuel
oil on canvas
without frame: 31 3/8 x 47 3/4 in.; 79.6925 x 121.285 cm; with frame: 38 3/8 x 54 3/8 in.; 97.4725 x 138.1125 cm
CIGNA Museum and Art Collection