The Pretty Book of Pictures for Little Masters and Misses is the best known natural history book John Newbery issued. Its fame does not rest on the quality of the illustrations as much as the fact that the majority of them were copied from out-of-date seventeenth-century sources like Edward Topsell’s History of Four-footed Beasts (1659) and Francis Willughby’s Ornithology (1674).
The one mythological creature, the lamia, is often mentioned, but almost never the handful of pictures that are not of mammals and birds. Master Tommy and Miss Polly are shown taking the air in their coach and dancing a minuet. Mother Bunch stands beside her cottage under the hill, while a natural philosopher observes the night sky. A student reads as he walks through the countryside.
The one of a sinking man-of-war Victory never caught my eye before this week. Whoever wrote the caption below seems to take it for granted that little readers would know what he was alluding to. The Pretty Book of Pictures was first published in 1752, which makes it unlikely that it was a reference to the HMS Victory that was Admiral Nelson’s flagship at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 where he met his death. Drydocked in Portsmouth since 1923, she is the oldest naval ship still in commission, with 245 years’ of service.
Nelson’s Victory, launched in 1765, was the sixth of her name in the Royal Navy. The Victory depicted in the Pretty Book of Pictures, was the fifth and famous in her own right. A 100-gun first-rate ship of the line launched in 1737, she was the flagship of the navy squadron charged with protecting the Channel waters in the 1740s. In the War of the Austrian Succession, she was Admiral Sir John Balchen’s flagship during the blockade of Tagus in Spain. When Balchen’s fleet reached the Channel in early October, a storm scattered the ships, the Victory was separated from the group and was believed to have gone down at Black Rock in the Casquets in the Channel Islands. The design with high sides for the draft of her hull were said to make her unstable in heavy or rough weather. All 1100 men on board were lost, making it the worst disaster in British naval history. Naval histories revised after 1744 included accounts of the tragedy. It was a natural subject for a marine painting like the one by Peter Monamy to the left. Allusions can be found in contemporary literature, including Eliza Haywood’s The Female Spectator (1746).
Many attempts over the next two hundred and sixty years were made to find the HMS Victor and in May 2008 Florida-based Odyssey Marine Exploration succeeded in finding the wreck in over 300 feet of water a good 80 kilometers past the Casquets. Two of her brass cannons were salvaged and are on display in the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. Because of the complexity of maritime law regarding salvage, it is unclear if and when the wreck will be raised from the seabed.