Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Print of USS Delaware at Dry Dock Number 1

This is a print of the 74-gun ship-of-the-line USS Delaware at Dry Dock Number 1 at Gosport Navy Yard.  It illustrates the first dry docking in North America.  The print is in the museum's Age of Sail gallery.   Published by the firm Childs and Inman of Philadelphia, the artist sketched the original illustration on stone.   At the bottom of the prints reads a dedication: "To the Officers, Sailors, and Marines, this View of the Delaware 74, Secured in the Dry dock U.S. Navy Yard Gosport, Dedicated with Great Respect (Signed) Joseph Goldsborough Bruff."
The illustration is a popular print that has been reproduced many times and in many different forms.   Some of the prints, like the museum's copy, are in the original black and white, while some were published in full color.  Bruff produced variations on this illustration.  One, for example, shows the ship dramatically entering the dry dock (shown below).  Another shows the ship in the dry dock, but with the crowd of Naval officers removed and Marines standing guard in their place. 
Bruff took great license with the first variation.  In the print, he shows a large crowd of people witnessing the battleship entering the dry dock.  Unfortunately, few people actually witnessed the event due to the local newspapers both reporting that it would take place at 10 a.m., instead of the actual time of 8:45.
The print illustrates one of the great milestones not only for Gosport and the U.S. Navy, but for the United States as a whole.  As part of the post-War of 1812 naval expansion, Congress authorized a dry dock for Gosport and one for the Boston Navy Yard in 1824.  Both dry-docks were finished in 1833.  However, Gosport beat Boston by one week for the title "First dry-docking in North America," much to the embarrassment of the Secretary of the Navy Levi Woodbury.  The SECNAV had informed President Andrew Jackson, Vice-President Martin Van Buren, and Governor of Massachusetts Levi Lincoln, Jr., that Boston was going to be first and that they should attend in person.
The print represents one of Bruff's early works as an artist, though it does not seem he ever had any formal schooling.   At the time of this event, Bruff was working as a draftsman at the Yard.  He soon quit this job to serve on John Fremont's expedition to explore California and the West.  Ever the restless spirit, he later quit that job to open up his own gold mine.  He later published Gold Rush: The Journals, Drawings, and Other Papers of J. Goldsborough Bruff based on his experiences and it is considered to be one of the finest accounts of the California Gold Rush ever written.  He returned to Government service for the remainder of his life to serve as one of the Department of the Treasury’s senior architects.

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