On the Water

Ship Model, Tobacco Ship Brilliant

This is a 1/8-scale model of the tobacco ship Brilliant, a 250-ton vessel built in Virginia in 1775 for British owners. The Brilliant's first and probably only commercial venture from Virginia took place when it set sail for Liverpool, with a full hold of tobacco, in the summer of 1775. Typically the Brilliant would have returned with manufactured goods, but because of growing hostilities between Britain and the colonies, the ship remained in England. Records show that the Brilliant made one voyage to Jamaica and returned to London in 1776. Later that year, the Royal Navy purchased the vessel for just over £3,000 and converted it to a ship of war for service in the American Revolution.

The ship Brilliant had three masts and square-rigged sails. Its lower deck was 89'-3" long, its breadth was 27'-1/2", and the depth of the hold was 12'-2". The ship was built of oak, pine, and cedar. When purchased for war service, the Royal Navy assessed its hull, masts, and yards at £2,143. The cordage, including halyards, sheets, tack, and anchor cables, were assessed at £340. Brilliant's sails, 27 in all, were valued at £143. Five anchors were assessed at £58, while a long boat with a sailing rig and oars was estimated to be worth £45. Other items aboard the Brilliant were inventoried, including block and tackle, metal fittings, iron-bound water casks, hour and minute glasses, compasses, hammocks, an iron fire hearth, and 10 tons of coal.

After its conversion in 1776 as a ship of war in the Royal Navy, the Brilliant was commissioned as the HMS Druid. Its first voyage westbound across the Atlantic was as an escort for a convoy to the West Indies. The vessel served as the Druid until 1779, after which it became the fire ship Blast. In 1783, it was sold out of the service for £940 and, for the next 15 years, the former Virginia tobacco ship served as a whaler in Greenland. The vessel was lost in the Arctic in 1798.

This model was built by Charles and N. David Newcomb of Bolingbroke Marine in Trappe, Md. The model makers began their work in March 1975, scaling every timber to size and making everything out of the same type of wood as the original. They devised miniature rope-making equipment to manufacture the 5,000 feet of rigging and anchor cable required in 20 different sizes. Women from the Newcomb family and the surrounding community made the rigging and sails.

The model makers left the starboard side of the vessel unplanked to reveal the timbering and joinery of the hull and to permit a view of the vessel’s living accommodations in the stern and cargo stowage, complete with tobacco hogsheads.

ID Number:
Newcombe, Charles J.
Newcomb, N. David
includes cradle: 12 1/2 x 14 x 4 ft.; 381 x 426.72 x 121.92 cm
Gift of The Tobacco Institute, Inc. (through Horace R. Kornegay)