On the Water

Oil Painting, Black Ball Packet Ship Isaac Webb

Operating out of New York, the Black Ball Line pioneered scheduled packet ship service to Liverpool, England in 1818, and the firm continued operating until it was dissolved in 1879. Its success resulted from focusing on the lucrative passenger trade, at a time when immigration to the United States was at its highest level.

In 1851, the massive three-deck packet Isaac Webb was the seventh and last Black Baller launched from the shipyard of famous New York shipbuilder William H. Webb, who also owned a 1/16 share of the ship. Named after the builder’s father, the Isaac Webb measured 185 feet in length and 1,359 tons. It made about four round trips per year between New York and Liverpool, England from 1851–1879. The average length of a passage was 37 days, with the shortest voyage recorded as 25 days.

In June 1863, while westbound from Liverpool to New York with 658 passengers, the Isaac Webb was captured by the Confederate commerce raider Florida. A bond for a $40,000 ransom freed the ship to complete the passage. In late December 1866, while westbound for New York, the Webb encountered a gale so cold that it killed three crew, and several others were badly frostbitten. On the same passage nearly two years later, another powerful gale killed the captain.

The Isaac Webb continued to sail after the Black Ball Line closed. In late October 1880, while bound from Europe to New York, it was abandoned at sea by its crew of 24, who were rescued by a passing steamship bound for Boston. British marine painter Samuel Walters completed this oil painting around 1851, when the ship was new.

ID Number:
Walters, Samuel
oil on canvas
35 1/2 x 50 in.; 90.17 x 127 cm