Coaling, 'S S City of Rome'
Research by Anne Matthews
The subject of this painting, the SS City of Rome, was an iron hulled steam clipper of the Inman Line launched on 14 June 1881. Whilst often regarded as the most beautiful liner to ever cross the Western Ocean her performance was a major disappointment, mainly regarding speed and cargo capacity, and she was returned to her builders at Barrow-in-Furness after only six voyages. After modifications she was transferred to the Anchor Line where, from 1883, she proved popular on the Liverpool to New York route, carrying 520 first class passengers in quarters of especially high quality along with 810 steerage. She was also one of the first liners lit entirely by electricity.
From 1891 she moved to the Glasgow to New York route and later, in 1898 she was chartered to repatriate Spanish naval POWs captured by the USA. The following year she was damaged in a collision with an iceberg but following repairs she was employed in 1900 as a troopship for the Boer War. Returning to transatlantic duty for a short period she was demolished in 1902 by a German scrap firm.
There are many images of the SS City of Rome to be found online, the most famous being by Antonio Nicolo Gasparo Jacobsen (1850-1921), the prolific ‘marine’ artist, who painted her no less than 14 times.
However, Greenhalgh chose not to provide the viewer with the romantic distant image of a ship riding the waves but instead to focus on the human endeavour required to move her through the water. His love of architectural painting and fine draughtsmanship are mentioned in his obituary and here we can see in sharp detail the upper deck of the ship with its immaculate white lifeboats and rails contrasting with the dark hull and the grimness portrayed in the activity below. As with many of his large subject paintings Greenhalgh includes figures, thus providing not only a sense of proportion but also adding movement and involvement; it is difficult to view this painting without envisaging the heat of the boiler rooms going at full pelt, the smoke already visible. Although on close inspection two figures can be seen balancing on a ledge just on the right above the portholes, and there are even smaller figures observing the scene, the eye remains focused on the numerous small boats and their crews responsible for the ferrying and loading of the coal. Typical of Greenhalgh’s style he limits his choice of colours, keeping the scene sombre. This is enhanced by the unbroken pale yellow washed sky, sunrise perhaps, which we see reflected in the smoke of the small boats and the blueness of the sea, albeit untypical of the Mersey.
An automaton of City of Rome, believed to be made in the 1880s as an advertising piece to illustrate the ship to potential passengers, was sold at auction in New Zealand in March 2010 for 7,000 NZ dollars. It featured the ship sailing in front of a revolving backdrop with waves undulating below it and a hot air balloon floating above.
Census records 1851, 1861, 1871, 1901
Southport Visiter, 12 February 1880
Southport Visiter, 22 February 1906
Professor D Child OBE,
Painters in the Northern Counties of England & Wales