A quick post to share this image of a delightful watercolour by Thomas Rowlandson that will be going under the hammer in London in a couple of days time.

It’s titled Careening a boat on the beach, Ramsgate. Careening was the practice of deliberately grounding a vessel at low tide and winching it over to one side to carry out repairs on the underside of the hull. These repairs might have involved repairing battle-damage, removing dry rot, re-tarring the surface, or simply scraping off the barnacles and seaweed which would accumulate beneath a ship and impede its performance at sea.

Careening could also be carried out at sea, but this was a far more dangerous operation which usually involved tipping the vessel to one side by moving the ships ballast, cannon and crew to one side of the vessel. Miscalculate the amount of weight required to tip the vessel and it could easily capsize, as happened with HMS Royal George in 1782, when an entire 100-gun warship and some 1,200 sailors were lost off Spithead.

Ramsgate had been a small fishing village at the start of the eighteenth-century but had grown rapidly thanks to its position as a safe harbour at the eastern extremity of the English Channel. Merchant vessels returning to London and other ports on the east coast of England would often use Ramsgate as a ‘port of respite’ to shelter from storms or take on fresh supplies before embarking on the final leg of their journey, while the town’s proximity to the coast of France also made it the ideal setting for a military base.

The picture not dated but the presence of the lighthouse and John Smeaton’s jetty in the background indicates that it must have been painted sometime after those features were added to the harbour in 1791.