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Cape Race

10 January 2011 by stepheng

painting of a paddle steamer in rough sea

Image courtesy of the Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

I like rocky cliffs and crags, especially those descending straight into the sea – a mysterious meeting of rock and water. These are places not only of beauty and inspiration but also danger and death where many a ship has been wrecked.

South Stack island off Anglesey has always been a favourite where the Irish Sea crashes in, foaming and writhing. As a teenager I walked along the coastal paths of the South Hams in Devon and was mesmerised by crystal clean waters revealing the marine world. The tang of the sea coupled with sun-drenched light was incredibly stimulating.

Another rocky cape has 100 foot high cliffs and is often shrouded in dense fogs and sea mists but for millions of people this was a symbol of hope. Cape Race, on the southern tip of Newfoundland, was the first sight of land for ships travelling across the Atlantic. The headland symbolised a new life for emigrants settling in North America.

This landmark is featured in an impressive oil painting by top marine artist Samuel Walters (1811- 82) in Merseyside Maritime Museum’s Art and the Sea gallery. He shows the paddle steamer Scotia heading for port in 1863 (pictured).

Scotia was Cunard’s last paddle steamer, taking passengers across the Atlantic from 1861 to 1875. Paddle steamers paved the way for the great steamship lines providing, for the first time, regular routes across the Atlantic. Scotia held the Blue Riband for the fastest ship across the Atlantic from 1862 to 1867.

A detailed view of Cape Race can be seen to the left of the painting. A lighthouse stands above rugged cliffs and a rock-strewn shoreline.

Scotia’s funnels are painted in the Cunard colours of red and black. Lifelike figures crowd the decks while five men in a rowing boat are overtaken by the steamer as they struggle through rolling seas.

The ship contrasts with later Cunard steamers because of its almost complete lack of a superstructure. There are no cabins or other living quarters above the main deck. The bridge is literally just that – a metal-railed walkway crossing above the deck between the paddle wheels on which a solitary figure stands. A figurehead dressed in white adorns the bows, probably symbolising Scotia – the Latin term for Scotland.

Cunard later sold Scotia and she became a cable ship after being converted to twin screws. She sank in 1904 after being wrecked on a reef off Guam in the Pacific’s Mariana Islands.

A new Maritime Tale by Stephen Guy appears every Saturday in the Liverpool Echo. A paperback – Mersey Maritime Tales (£3.99) – is available from the museum, newsagents or bookshops.

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