Friday, June 8, 2012

1893 Hampton Roads Naval Rendezvous Print

This is a print of the 1893 International Naval Rendezvous that is currently on display in the museum's Steel Navy gallery. Local lithographer and book publisher Sam W. Bowman produced this elaborate and highly detailed image depicting the thirty-seven ships from around the world at anchor in Hampton Roads. Bowman published over 4,000 of the prints and many still survive today.

Along with two squadrons of U.S. Navy cruisers and gunboats, squadrons of ship from Great Britain, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Holland, Russia, and Spain all sent ships. The peaceful collection of ships was a minor diplomatic triumph as many of the nations present were fierce rivals. After a week in Hampton Roads, the fleet travelled as a group to New York City for a parade in the Hudson River. The event is also noteworthy for the experimental use of a carrier pigeons network to deliver official messages from the USS Dolphin in Hampton Roads to the Secretary of the Navy in Washington and newspapers in New York. Despite a fear that hawks would capture and eat the pigeons en route, the messages got through. Carrier pigeons would be used by the Navy for several more years after this experiment.

 Naval reviews and parades of ships is popular way Hampton Roads has marked historic events. Today is the official beginning of OPSAIL 2012 in Hampton Roads and it starts at Noon with an international parade of ships. OPSAIL 2012's theme is the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 and America's sea services' role in the conflict. See more at

In the case of the 1893 Rendezvous and review, the April event was supposed to mark the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival in the New World (never mind that they were a year late.) In addition to the ships in the print is a "Proposed Statue of Christopher Columbus" that was to be built on the Rip Raps. Thus, someone had an idea to build a Statue of Liberty-size statue of the Italian explorer at the entrance to Hampton Roads. The idea was quietly rejected when funding for the project was not forthcoming.

The Naval Rendezvous as photographed by Harper's Weekly.
In addition, the Library of Congress has several dozen photographs of the Naval Rendezvous.

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