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Trafalgar Dispatch, HMS Pickle

Winner of a dramatic race, H.M. Schooner Pickle“, carrying the Trafalgar dispatch… “HM Schooner Pickle approaching The Lizard Point.”  News_of_Trafalgar__HMS_Pickle_approaching_The_Lizard_Point_IMG_3436.JPG

The story of an historic moment, 4th November 1805,  and the painting.

News of the battle of Trafalgar was sensational news at that time, England was in real danger of invasion, the story lives on, read on and enjoy!

Pickle, a Plymouth based ship on this occasion famously put into Falmouth.

Pickle was first to Britain with the official news of Trafalgar – however Falmouth was according to some Cornishmen, not first place to receive the news of Trafalgar…

Pickle, seen here at first light, 04.11.05 is shaping her course to approach The Lizard.

A very human story inspired this picture.

In this calm painting there is a sense of excitement.

We witness fishermen calling boat to boat.


There are several details here not seen on any other representation of HMS Pickle which we now know existed and are discussed in the following texts.


Pickle is shown under full light weather sail including stunsails and ringtail; Pickle is ‘cutting along’, she is in a hurry!


You can view this painting at the Michael Wood Gallery, The Barbican Plymouth.

Price? Contact us and make an offer we can’t refuse!!!

If unsold  it will be displayed by the Brownstone Gallery, Modbury, HMS Nelson (Portsmouth) then go for exhibition at the Maritime Museum Paris together with “Trafalgar Dawn the French Perspective”, “Laperouse at Botany Bay” and others of French interest.


This painting was conceived because over subsequent years since the painting of the popular “I have urgent dispatches” a number of people asked for a picture of this the most famous of Royal Navy schooners in calm weather.


The artist wrote:
My intention is to show Pickle on her known course, on the calm hazy November morning of 04.11.05 as she ghosted under full sail across the Mounts Bay shaping her course for The Lizard (Most Southerly point of the British mainland) then onto Falmouth, Cornwall.

We know Pickle regularly patrolled Cornish waters between 1802 and 1805 so would have been ‘known’ to the men of Mounts Bay where it is locally proudly claimed the then sensational Trafalgar news was first announced in England.

Pickle was a Plymouth ship and often worked Cornish waters including fighting several sharp actions with French privateers.


A sailor’s yarn

This picture illustrates a tale denied by some academics.

A very human story inspired this picture.

In the far West of Cornwall, Penzance, it is claimed the first announcement was made and is celebrated to the present day of the momentous news of the saving of Britain from the very serious threat of invasion by Napoleon’s armada by the victory at the battle of Trafalgar.

The local story says crew of HM Schooner Pickle spoke with local fishermen who appreciating the importance of the Trafalgar news immediately stopped fishing and sailed to Penzance.

Could this be true?


Indecently the first place the news of the battle of Trafalgar appeared in print was at Plymouth, HMS Pickle’s home port.

We know from the surviving log of HMS Pickle she had a very rough passage through October storms in the tempestuous Bay of Biscay, as illustrated in “I have urgent dispatches”.

We have her course made good for the voyage and know that early in the morning of the 4th of November 1805 HMS Pickle was crossing Mounts Bay approaching The Lizard (Most Southerly point of the British mainland).

We can guess that any fishing boats in time of war at dawn would be keeping a fair look out so would have quickly seen Pickle.

It is very likely the fishermen would have recognised Pickle because being a Plymouth based ship Pickle had often patrolled those waters. It is further likely the fishermen would have known from local papers Pickle had been with Nelson so would guess was probably carrying news from Nelson’s fleet.

Many of Pickle’s crew including her commander Lt. Lapenotiere were Cornish and Devon men although unusually, her first officer was an American.  Pickle_approaching_The_Lizard_Point__detail___IMG_3441_d.JPG

Among the ‘cousin Jack’s’ in the various vessels there may even have been relatives or brothers.

Thus the artist, on the balance of probabilities, having sailed those waters and lived with Cornishmen concluded the incident and subject well worth recording.


I have urgent dispatches has appeared in several books and remains a steady seller.

The original of I have urgent dispatches (larger than this painting) is owned by a London based company and the last time we heard from them is to be offered for sale price £35,000.


This picture is painted intended as a pair with the print of the already renowned “I have urgent dispatches” (http://www.frickers.co.uk/marine-art/urgent_dispatches.html) so will be reproduced ‘same size, heritage quality.

You can order a copy securely online from page http://www.frickers.co.uk/blog/information-pages/making-a-payment/ or contact us for guidance.

Print No 1 of I have urgent dispatches was presented t the Princess Royal, Princess Anne by the officers of HMS Seahawk.

This original and the working sketches are open to offers.



These paintings are in part a reflection about communication, then (1805) and now.


About this Pickle painting:

HM Schooner Pickle as represented here shows the results of the latest research into her appearance.

Pickle is shown under full light weather sail including stunsails and ringtail; Pickle is ‘cutting along’, she is in a hurry!

Following very recent research these 2 paintings probably represents HMS Pickle more accurately than any painting since Robert Dodd’s coloured aquatint engraving which may have been supervised by Lt. Lapenotiere.

A suggestion of Anne Maddever, a descendant of Lt. Lapenotiere has been followed, to show the Popham’s code “I have urgent dispatches” signal flying.

I have also sneaked in a St Piran’s cross just in case people don’t recognise St Michael’s Mount and the Cornish coast in the background.


Points of note:

You will have noticed this painting is rich in detail, here follows some of the more unusual points to note.

HM Schooner Pickle – The ‘Nelson’s yellow strake. This exact colour results from new research by Peter Goodwin and Gordon Frickers. Peter found a letter from Nelson specifying the exact mix for the famous Nelson bright yellow. Gordon carried out a series colour of tests and “Nelson at Gibraltar” has been the first full scale painting to benefit. Nelson’s bright yellow was confirmed by Gordon at H.M. Hydrographic office, Taunton where he saw very accurate original large colour watercolours made as navigational aids which have never been displayed so are unaffected by fade or chemical change.

Painted by Serres while at sea with the Royal Navy as official marine artist to King George III.

Very unusually Pickle had a thin tapered black strake in her yellow strake.

The proportion of her lofty rig can be seen in a Dodd engraving of the battle of Trafalgar which was probably supervised by Lt. Lapenotiere soon after his arrival in London and is confirmed by other information about British and French schooners of the period.

A glimpse can be had of Pickle’s copper bottom. Readers may recall from further reading on page http://www.frickers.co.uk/blog/2006/11/22/useful-facts-excellent-stories-about-hm-schooner-pickle-carrying-the-news-of-the-battle-of-trafalgar/#more-995 she was purchased by Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, C in C Jamaica in December 1800, the Sting as she was then known was described as a ‘clever, fast schooner, coppered’.

Not all Pickle’s guns are shown. We know Pickle dumped six of her guns overboard on passage while in great danger in a Biscay storm.

A rare dockyard report researched by Peter Goodwin mentions her gunwale was curved as shown over the gun ports (a detail not shown on the Dodd picture).

This feature was shared with some other small ships of the period.

This is probably the most accurate rending of HM Schooner Pickle since living memory.



Cornish Luggers:

In this painting there is a sense of excitement. We witness men calling boat to boat, one lugger is putting up her helm to speak having has sailed to intercept Pickle, another is over hastily, clumsily raising sail.


In 1805 luggers differed little from modern luggers the principal difference being 3 masts.

Many French ‘Chasse Marie’ (sea hunters) still set 3 masts with topsails as in the early 19th century style. The city of Brest traditional boat festival is probably the best place to see for yourself.

Most Cornish luggers were around 35 feet length between verticals so about 40 feet length on deck. Some were smaller some as large as 90 feet overall on deck.

Mike Hope wrote and kindly gave his permission for the following text to appear here:

As you know there has, and always will be, controversy between Penzance and Falmouth over the “Trafalgar dispatch”; but it is a well known fact that Pickle passed by Mounts Bay, and there are artifacts present in Madron Church and the Union Hotel in Chapel Street Penzance that indicate that a fishing vessel communicated the news first from Pickle to Penzance.

The luggers of West Cornwall changed their rig around the 1840’s from three to two masted.

This new yacht style offered more speed to meet the introduction of the railways in 1853.

The best surviving example of the three masted luggers is a model of Emily on display in the County Museum at Truro; this is illustrated on page 65 of A. S, Oliver’s book “Boats and Boatbuilding in West Cornwall”.

The rigging is also shown on page 17 and of Boy Willie on page 34.

Another invaluable source is Edgar March’s book “Sailing Drifters”, but I think the former has all the information.

The one person who knows absolutely everything about luggers is the historian Tony Pawlyn, a trustee of the National Maritime Museum Cornwall at Falmouth; http://www.swmaritime.org.uk/contact.php?contactid=17

Another is Professor Jan Pentreath.




Credits due:

The distinguished author Peter Goodwin generously contributed new research information here.

Much guidance and assistance was freely and generously given researching the Cornish Mounts Bay luggers period 1805 shown here which are so much part of this story.

My thanks in particular to Bob Brennan, Mike Hope, Mike Halse, (a Mousehole man), Tony Pawlyn, Professor Jan Pentreath.



See also blog entry The great race, HMS Pickle, 16th April 2012



Related paintings in the Nelsonian series of The News of Trafalgar – HMS Pickle off Mounts Bay, Nelson’s Bright Yellow, and Nelson at Gibraltar.



Gordon Frickers, Plymouth 09.05.2012