Peter Finer

A French Prisoner-of-War Bone Ship Model of the HMS Canopus, c. 1810

Item Ref: 2917 Price on application

2917 10
2917 13

England. Wood, bone, mesh netting, metal, textile, glass.


The Safra Family Collection
Mallet, London, United Kingdom
Private collection, Switzerland

HMS Canopus was an 80-gun French ship-of-the line called the Franklin until the 1 August 1798, when she was captured by the Rear Admiral Sir Horatio Nelson during the battle of the Nile.

She had a crew of 718, her weight was 2223 tone and her length was 197 feet. She was renamed HMS Canopus and saw action with the British fleet in the major operations against the French between 1798 and 1815. She was used as the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Louis, Bart., and was commanded during the campaign by Captain John Conn, Captain Francis William Austen and later by Captain Thomas George Shortland from, 1807 and Captain Charles Inglis from 1809.

Rear Admiral Sir Thomas Louis died in board on the 17 May 1807 during the British action against Turkey in the Straits of the Dardanelles.

During the Napoleonic wars which continued from 1793 until 1815 with only a brief interlude in 1802 at the time of the Peace of Amiens, large numbers of French sailors were taken prisoner. They were held at over thirty prisons in the British Isles, most notoriously Norman Cross near Huntington and in prison hulks on the south coast. Conditions for the prisoners were appalling, due in part to a dispute between the warring nations as to who was responsible for the maintenance of the prisoners. They had to survive and find a means of paying for necessities, so prison markets grew up in which goods were sold and bartered; these included straw pictures, hair bracelets and chains and famously, models of ships made in both boxwood and bone.

The later were sought after and often sold for high prices, and as the market developed some were probably made to commission and perhaps with materials brought into the prisons. Only a few were made to scale, in which case the craftsman must have been supplied with drawings and many, despite being named, bear little resemblance to an actual ship and are often typically French in design. The fact that this model is named HMS Canopus would be accounted for by the fact that she was captured by the popular hero, Admiral Nelson.

The three-masted, second rate, eighty gun ship-of-the-line, is flying the White ensign and also the Union flag on a forward mast. She has a figure of a warrior holding a spear and shield as a figurehead and her stern board is decorated in relief with portrait bust with mermaids on either side. The three masts have standing and running rigging and two strings at the stern of retracting the guns. The model rests on an ornate wood and bone marquetry base with a balustrade and stands within a glass case.

Size: Case: Height 67 cm / 26.5 in Width 94 cm / 37 in Depth 38.5 cm / 15 in; Ship: Height 58 cm / 23 in Width 81 cm / 32 in Depth 28 cm / 11 in