Rob Gorrell - Folk Artist

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Let's make an English Ship Lantern like the ones on the HMS Victory.

TinwareRob GorrellComment

I have a long list of tin items that I would like to learn to make in my shop. One item near the top of the list is the ship lanterns that are hanging on the HMS Victory in Portsmouth England.  Recently I have been asked by some reenacting groups to make up some examples that they might be able to use in their interpretation of late 18th and early 19th century navy crews.

A problem that I run into in trying to reproduce a period lantern from the late 18th/early 19th century is the difficulty in locating and seeing dated original lanterns.  For the most part they did not survive to our times.  There are various mid to late 19th century lanterns floating around, but earlier lanterns are scarce, or I haven't found them yet.  I have mostly worked from paintings, period drawings and assumptions based on later lanterns.

The best contemporary illustration of the lanterns on the Victory I have found to date is the painting "The Death of Admiral Lord Nelson" by Arthur Devis, 1807.  Devis made sketches for the painting on board the HMS Victory upon her return from the Battle of Trafalgar.

I also received some closeups and dimensions of the lanterns currently on display on the Victory from the museum staff.  The current lanterns look like the lanterns in the painting, but have some necessary modern adaptations.

Photo from HMS Victory website.

Working from this information and advise from other tinsmiths and historians, I started working up a pattern for the lantern.  The first couple of attempts were disasters, but in time I think I worked up a pattern that is a fair interpretation of the lantern.

The panes on this lantern are a modern compromise, being flakes of mica embedded in a resin material.  The original lanterns most likely had thin panes of horn for panes.  Every horn worker that I have talked to says that it would be difficult and expensive to reproduce the horn panes. It is a very labor intensive process and would probably triple the price of the lantern. There is a source for horn panes made from water buffalo horn, but in my opinion they are too dark to be useful. 

This lantern is painted with black oil paint to try to approximate a period oil finish. I do not know if the original Victory lanterns were painted or japanned.

This lantern is fitted for a candle, though the originals may have been whale oil lanterns.

The next step is to talk to the living history people and see what they think of this design.  This lantern is the same size as the originals, 21" tall by 7.5" in diameter.  We might need to compromise a little to make it a little easier to pack to events.  In the meantime I will be putting the current version in my store on this site.