James Wolfe RN

Nephew of Sir John Franklin


As a young lad, James Wolfe probably looked up to his uncle John Franklin who had an active career with the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars and had been present at the Battle of Trafalgar. His uncle’s tales of adventure at sea would have fired the boy’s imagination and were probably what prompted the 13-year-old James to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and join the Royal Navy as a midshipman in June 1814.

Shown here four years later in 1818, James Wolfe RN is wearing his naval uniform of blue coat with anchor buttons and gold braid. The two sailing ships in the background appear to be mid-battle.

In 1821, James Wolfe joined HM Adventure, a surveying ship in the Mediterranean. Subsequently he joined Captain Beechey on Blossom and spent over three years sailing round the world. Surveying became his area of expertise with the rest of his career being spent on surveying ships. Having been promoted, he was appointed Commander of the Tartarus steamer in 1843 and was tasked with surveying the coast of Ireland. The plans and charts from this voyage were subsequently published by the Hydrographical Office of the Admiralty and copies of them are held at Royal Museums Greenwich.

In his personal life, James married Katherine Maynard at St Martins in the Fields in March 1830; the couple had two children, William Smyth Maynard (b.1832) and Katherine Gordon (b.1834). He died on 28 November 1849, aged 48 and was buried at Greenwich. His memorial describes him as “a sincere friend, a kind parent, an affectionate husband and a pious Christian”.

The watercolour is signed reverse “J. W. Childe Pinxt / 1818 / No 125 Strand, London”. A London-based artist, James Warren Childe (1778-1862) was primarily known for his portraits of actors and actresses. Some of his portraits were engraved; the National Portrait Gallery and the V & A Museum hold examples of his work.

The watercolour is in excellent condition and resides in a period bird’s eye maple veneer frame with a gilt slip. The old backing paper is inscribed with the sitter’s details and has an interesting old letter written in 1819 on the reverse side which may have some, as yet undetermined, connection.

Item Ref. 6707

Size: framed, 260 x 210mm (10¼ x 8¼")

Provenance: Family descent