10 June 2016 by Lisa
Curator, Alex Patterson, tells us some of the stories behind the watercolours in the Walker Art Gallery’s collection…
“Digitising the works on paper collection is such a great project to work on. I get to see all the wonderful watercolours and drawings that are rarely displayed due to their light sensitivity. I always get side-tracked, eager to find out more about them. I stumbled across a little gem a couple of weeks ago, a fabulous album of seventy two watercolours recording a voyage on the Steam Yacht ‘Argo’.
‘Argo’ belonged to Liverpool shipping merchant Alfred Holt (1829 – 1911). It was built in 1875 at Greenock by Scotts Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. Alfred used it as a private yacht and invited his friends and family on board to travel the western hemisphere. The album contains watercolours that were painted by the passengers on board, and they provide a visual representation of one particular voyage to the Mediterranean in 1877.
There were seventeen passengers on board including American General Lucius Fairchild (1831-1896), the renowned local scientist Dr Richard Caton (1842 – 1926) and artist Gertrude Martineau (about 1837 – 1924). Family members included Alfred Holt’s younger brother George (1825-1896) and his wife Bessie (1833-1920), who were the previous owners of Sudley House at Mossley Hill. His older brother Philip (1830-1914) and his wife Anna (1833-1899) were also on board.
There are some really fascinating stories about ‘Argo’ and its adventures, written in Alfred Holt’s journal. I visited the Liverpool Record Office to see what else I could find and discovered that George Holt’s daughter Emma (1862-1944) was also on board. We had no record of her being a passenger in the Walker’s files, but it’s possible that she is the child in the photograph. The Liverpool Record Office even has the diary Emma kept while on board ‘Argo’, detailing the day-to-day lives of the passengers. Emma became a noted Liverpool philanthropist and supporter of women’s higher education and she bequeathed Sudley House to the City of Liverpool in 1944.
The Mediterranean trip was full of activity and explorations. ‘Argo’ departed from the River Mersey on 20 April 1877. The album, presumably assembled by Alfred, is arranged in chronological order of the places they visited, which included various ports in Spain, Portugal, Italy and Greece. At Brindisi, Italy, some of the passengers departed the ship and the voyage continued with a smaller party.
‘Argo’ continued to make its way home via Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Holyhead. The yacht was met by a tug carrying Alfred and some of the other passengers near New Brighton, and finally landed at Princes Dock, Liverpool on 18 June 1877. Unfortunately ‘Argo’ was sold in 1881 because it was too large for private use.
This beautiful album was bequeathed to the Walker Art Gallery by Alfred and George’s great-nephew, George Palmer Holt, who was a former Trustee of National Museums Liverpool. Alongside the family journals held at the Liverpool Record Office, it gives real insight into the everyday lives and leisure time of the Holt family on board ‘Argo’.”
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