Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Barque John Johnson

Today seems like a good day to post a bit of background on one of the artifacts in the Annapolis Heritage Society collection. By mandate, the AHS collects artifacts that have been made or used in the western part of Annapolis County (Annapolis, Granville and Clements townships to be precise). This mandate is a useful thing since it allows us to direct our collecting activities and it puts limits on what we can accept. Like most museums, we simply do not have enough room to store and properly care for all of the items we are offered. Our ability to preserve artifacts and tell the story of Annapolis County is best served if we concentrate on our specific geographic region.

I decided to take a walk through the O'Dell House Museum to see if anything would catch my eye. When I walked into the back parlour of the museum, the large ship portrait with the gilt frame seemed to be calling out for some attention. As I have previously stated, one of my personal interests is Annapolis Royal's during the age of sail in the 19th century. So, I was not all that surprised when this was the artifact catching my eye.

The painting of the Barque John Johnson was done by Heinrich Andreas Sophus Petersen and his father's half brother Peter Christian Holm in 1877. In the lower right corner it is signed "H. Petersen & P.C. Holm". As with all of their paintings, the medium for this one is oil on canvas. Along with his father Lorenz Petersen, Petersen and Holm can be considered among the leading ship portrait artists in Altona (near Hamburg, Germany) in the latter half of the 19th century.

Many of the paintings by Petersen and Holm feature the ship sailing by a prominent headland and this one is no different. In the lower left corner, the red cliffs of Heligoland can be seen. With its long flat tabletop appearance, Heligoland is immediately identifiable. This island lies off the coast of Germany in the southeastern corner of the North Sea. When this painting was completed, Heligoland was a possession of Britain but in 1890 the island was ceded to Germany.

As for the barque itself, the John Johnson was built for the Annapolis Royal firm of Pickels and Mills in 1874. This was the first ship launched by the company which had only been founded the year before. The John Johnson, 750 tons, was built by master shipbuilder Robert H. Young of Belleisle in the company's shipyard beside the Queen's Wharf in Annapolis Royal. The vessel was named for the father in law of both Christopher Pickels and A.D. Mills.

The John Johnson was mainly used to ship lumber. Its usual crossings were between New Brunswick and ports in Great Britain and western Europe. Records show that the vessel made at least one trip to South America. In 1879 the barque was sold to the Troop fleet of St. John, New Brunswick and it was later sold to owners in Norway.

This painting represents a period when the outside world began to open up for Nova Scotia and Annapolis Royal. Vessels from this province found their way to ports across the globe. Our products were brought to an international audience and, in return, ships returned carrying sugar, spices, furniture, porcelain and the occasional ship portrait.

All for now,
RGS

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