'A Liverpool Slave Ship' about 1780, by William Jackson (active about 1770-1803)

painting of a ship with 3 masts

Jackson is listed as a painter in the Liverpool directories from 1777 to 1803 and exhibited in the town in 1774, 1784 and 1787. He was also a painter of porcelain ship bowls. Currently only two signed paintings and a handful of attributed works are known.

Jackson portrays an unidentified 16-gun ship of about 1780 in port profile. A second view of the vessel is sketchily shown in a port quarter view in the middle distance to the right and in the far distance a wooded coastline is indicated.

The ship is shown in some detail in the main view, including the decorated topsides which are painted with flags and trophies and the figurehead in classical dress. In addition to the guns, there is a small swivel gun at the bow. She flies the pilot jack at the stern and a union flag at the end of her bowsprit. Despite the many details the ship is unidentified.

The vessel is almost certainly involved in slaving as the four ventilation ports in her lower hull confirm. Three small boats are approaching the ship from the shore. Each boat is being rowed by a number of Africans, who all use a standing position.

The coastline is almost certainly intended to be West Africa. There are huts in the trees and various Black figures, including a man with a stick, children and women with bundles, can be seen on the shore.

The approaching small boats and some of the figures on the shoreline had been painted over prior to the painting's acquisition by the museum and were only revealed as a result of conservation treatment in 1994.

The stylised sails are typical of the few works by Jackson which are known at present.

  • Oil on canvas, 102cm x 127cm
  • Accession number MMM 1964.227.2