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Porcher, Edwin A., 1824–1878

Edwin Augustus Porcher collection.

Physical Description:
6 linear feet
Rare Books and Manuscripts
MSS 38
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection
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Copyright Status:
Copyright Not Evaluated
Related Content:
View a description and listing of collection contents in the finding aid
Archives & Manuscripts
Note on attribution: the frontispiece drawing includes an erased signature at bottom right: “H.S. Melville.” It matches the known signature of Harden S. Melville and indicates that Porcher and Melville may have collaborated on this, or possibly many, of Porcher's watercolors. Harden S. Melville was trained by his father, the London engraver, lithographer and watercolor painter Henry Melville (1826-41). Unlike Porcher, Melville was a trained artist, having earned a medal from the Society of Artists and exhibiting three paintings at the Royal Academy exhibitions between 1837 and 1841. In 1841, he accepted the position as draughtsman on board HMS Fly, where he would have likely met Porcher, who was Mate on the voyage. Melville supplied nineteen drawings and two maps for Joseph Beete Jukes's Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of H.M.S. Fly [...] (2 vols, London, 1847) and published twenty-five lithographs entitled Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands (London, 1849) (YCBA Rare Books holds a copy).
The collection is open without restriction.
For a summary of related Porcher material in other repositories, please consult the full finding aid for the present collection.
After short training cruises as Volunteer First Class aboard vessels such as the Donegal, Porcher commenced his first tour of duty as Mate aboard the HMS Fly in 1842. The Fly and HMS Bramble embarked on a four year voyage to Australia, New Guinea, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Porcher accompanied the Fly on its scientific survey of the Northern Australian coastline, particularly the Great Barrier Reef and the Torres Strait. Naturalist Joseph Beete Jukes produced a Narrative of the Surveying Voyage of HMS Fly During the years 1842-1846. Porcher is sometimes recognized as the expedition's “unofficial” artist, involved in the documentation of geological, zoological and anthropological information (Wright 276). The title of official draughtsman went to the artist Harden S. Melville, who published Sketches in Australia and the Adjacent Islands, selected from a number taken during the surveying voyage of H.M.S. "Fly" and "Bramble" [...]. The resemblance between their work suggests Porcher and Melville may have been close collaborators.
Edwin Augustus Porcher (also sometimes cited as EDMUND Augustus Porcher) was born second son to Reverend George Porcher of Maiden Erlegh, Berks. and Francis Amelia Chamier. Their two sons were George Du Pré Porcher, Esq., barrister, and Edwin Augustus Porcher (Baird 105). Porcher had many family connections to the Royal Navy: his maternal uncle was Commander Frederick Chamier RN, his paternal grandfather Admiral Sir William Burnaby, and his paternal uncle Henry Porcher, Esq., of Arborfield, Berks. (later MP for Clitheroe) (Naval Biographical Dictionary 915).
In February of 1857, Porcher was appointed First Lieutenant of the HMS Hibernia, a 104-gun flag ship stationed at Malta. He departed Southampton via the screw steam ship Colombo, arriving at Malta on March 1st. This was not Porcher's first visit at Malta, having previous docked there with the HMS Sidon in 1848. The history of the British occupation of Malta began in 1798, when Lord Nelson, commander of the British fleet, assisted in the overthrow of the French (who, under Napoleon, had overtaken the Order of St. John). Malta became a Crown Colony in 1813 and served as the central Mediterranean base of the British Empire and Navy. A campaign to “Anglicize” Malta emerged in the 1860s, when British naval supremacy began to experience pressure from Prussia and particularly France, which began expanding its imperial ambitions in North Africa. While stationed on the Hibernia, Porcher made a series of outbound trips aboard the HMS Harpy, the HMS Kertch, and the HMS Boxer. On May 1st, 1858, he was appointed to the command of the Harpy, a paddle wheel vessel, in lieu of the ailing Lieutenant Bruce. The Harpy and its crew were instrumental in assisting Nathan Davis in his archaeological excavations of Carthage and nearby remains, especially Utica, and transported the antique sculptures and mosaic pavements that Davis and his team unearthed. The 467 objects that were unearthed, including twenty-eight Roman mosaics dating from the late first to the mid sixth century AD and a number of Punic votive stelae, were transported to the British Museum on naval vessels. Five of Porcher's watercolors were published in Nathan Davis's Carthage and Her Remains. Aboard the Kertch, Porcher made four major outbound journeys: to “Leghorn” (Livorno) and Naples (October 29, 1859 - November 22, 1859); to Tunis (February, 1860); to Tunis, Bizerta, Tabakah (June 7, 1860 - July 4, 1860); and to Lata and Messina (July 21, 1860 - July 30, 1860). It appears that three of Porcher's watercolors from these journeys to North Africa illustrate Nathan Davis's travels through these regions, suggesting that Davis might have commissioned Porcher to complete these views retroactively: “70. Tunis. The Ruins of Baal Hammon Molech [...],” “71. The Mosque of Dowar-Eshutt [...],” and “75. Village of Camart [...].”
Porcher likely met Lieutenant Rupert Murdoch Smith of the Royal Engineers through Nathan Davis, Smith having just arrived in Malta from his excavations with the British Museum's Keeper of Antiquities, Charles Newton, at Halicarnassus and Cnidus. Inspired by their recent archaeological activities, Porcher and Smith devised a plan to explore the ancient archaeological sites of Cyrene: “I have formed a project of going to examine Cyrene and the Pentapolis and hope to be able to carry it out. The only information about it is Captain Beechey's book ... I should like to go and make plans of the principal sites between Cyrene and Bengazi but chiefly Cyrene itself." The Hibernia log-book includes entries for the HMS Boxer, which took Porcher and Smith as far as Benghazi. Their self-funded ten month expedition yielded the earliest photographic views of the Necropolis at Cyrene and at least 89 drawings (views and plans), a number of which Porcher donated to the British Museum in 1865. Smith and Porcher arrived in Cyrene on Dec 23, 1860 and began clearing debris from rock-cut tombs, using a tomb near the Fountain of Apollo as their “tomb of residence”, and a range of rock-cut chambers as kitchen, stables, and store rooms.
Porcher set sail on the HMS Cleopatra in May 1849, bound for South and East Asia (as 2nd Lieutenant under Captain Thomas L. Massie). During this tour, Porcher records excursions to Macau, Borneo, and the new treaty ports of Shanghai and Amoy. In his letters to his sister, Madelina, Porcher also indicates that he made two trips to Canton in the company of other officers, meeting with diplomatic officials on these occasions. The Cleopatra was stationed at Hong Kong during the transitional period between the first and second Opium Wars, when Britain's gunboats protected its trading interests and combatted piracy in the region. By the 1840s, large fleets of pirates were forming in the South China Seas, and the Royal Navy was dispatched to police the waters around Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta. The region was at the crossroads of several shipping routes and became the refuge for smuggling and plundering. European involvement in these practices certainly did not help diplomatic relations with the Chinese. The Royal Navy did not protect small Chinese merchant vessels, however it was willing to exterminate larger fleets if they were a threat to the British presence. Head money paid for every pirate captured was divided among officers and crew. Piracy increased in the 1850s due to an influx of populations from conflict-ridden Guangdong. The Royal Navy, along with Portuguese, American and Chinese forces, organized campaigns and bombardments of pirate fleets, sometimes destroying villages associated with pirate activity. The Cleopatra also patrolled the South China Sea, and was dispatched to Borneo to contend with the Iranun (Illanoon or Lanun) pirates, who had attacked the crew of the HMS Dolphin.
When the British Museum learned of Porcher and Smith's discoveries, the Trustees awarded them 100 pounds towards expenses and 500 pounds to hire a team of workmen to carry out more extensive excavations. 148 sculptures and sculptural fragments were retrieved at their dig sites, which forms an important component of the British Museum's antiquities collection. An illustrated publication of their expedition, History of the Recent Discoveries at Cyrene Made During an Expedition to the Cyrenaica in 1860-61 was published by Day & Son in 1864. The lithographic plates are adapted from Porcher's watercolors, plans, and maps. Porcher sailed back to Malta via the HMS Melpomene in October 1861, which also transported 63 cases of antiquities (22 cases were shipped with the Assurance in June 1861). There is indication that he was assigned to the Hibernia once more, and reported for duty on the Bustler and Redpole, steam tugs tendered to the Hibernia. As of 1861, Porcher was classified with the Transport Service Agents Afloat and on Dec 27 1861, he was appointed to rank of Commander.
The collection comprises: one watercolor frontispiece and 84 watercolors depicting scenes from Porcher's voyages (36 watercolors from 1850-53, 48 watercolors from 1857-60). Also present is a Porcher's diary with descriptions of the ports visited between September 1851 and April 1853, including Hong Kong, Borneo, Shanghai, and Rangoon. The journal includes eight meticulously drawn maps, charts, and diagrams. There are also three letters written by Porcher to his sister Madelina: two from Hong Kong in 1849 and 1852 and the other from Moulmein in April 1853. The collection also includes two logbooks and three certificates, which document Porcher's service to the Royal Navy.
The collection is arranged into three series: I. Drawings; II. Diary and logbooks; III. Miscellaneous.
Subject Terms:
Anglo-Burmese War, 2nd, 1852.
Boxer (Ship : 1855-1865)
Carthage (Extinct city) -- Pictorial works.
China Sea -- Description and travel.
Cleopatra (Ship : 1843)
Cyrene (Extinct city) -- Pictorial works.
Davis, N. (Nathan), 1812-1882.
East Asia -- Description and travel.
Excavations (Archaeology)
Gozo Island (Malta) -- Pictorial works.
Grand Harbour (Malta) -- Pictorial works.
Great Britain -- Colonies -- Asia.
Great Britain. Royal Navy -- Officers.
Great Britain. Royal Navy.
Guangzhou (China) -- Description and travel.
Harbors -- China -- Pictorial works.
Harpy (Ship : 1845-1909)
Hibernia (Ship : 1804-1902)
Hong Kong (China) -- Description and travel.
Hong Kong (China) -- Pictorial works.
Junks -- Pictorial works.
Kertch (Ship)
Malta -- Antiquities.
Malta -- Description and travel.
Malta -- History, Naval.
Malta -- Pictorial works.
Mellieh̳a (Malta) -- Pictorial works.
Melville, Harden Sidney, active 1837-1882.
Pagodas -- Burma -- Pictorial works.
Piracy -- China.
Pirates -- China.
Porcher, Edwin A., 1824-1878.
Porcher, Madelina -- Correspondence.
Pulau Pinang (Malaysia : State) -- Pictorial works.
Punic antiquities.
Qrendi (Malta) -- Pictorial works.
Ships -- Pictorial works.
Singapore -- Pictorial works.
Temples -- China -- Pictorial works.
Trincomalee (Sri Lanka) -- Pictorial works.
Tunis (Tunisia) -- Pictorial works.
Tunisia -- Antiquities, Roman -- Pictorial works.
Utica (Extinct city) -- Pictorial works.
Valletta (Malta) -- Pictorial works.
Voyages and travels -- 1850-1900.
Ships' logs.
Watercolors (paintings)
Melville, Harden Sidney, active 1837-1882.

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