Eighteenth century oil portrait of the convict transport Pitt following her return from New South Wales.

Original oil on canvas, signed by the artist and dated 1793; excellent condition.

In a mid-nineteenth century gilt frame with caption label reading ‘Thomas Whitcombe c.1752-1828. Mr. John Wells East Indiaman “Pitt” in two positions off the Needles’.

SKU SF001131 Category


Fine early oil painting of the convict transport Pitt of the Third Fleet, revealing in remarkable detail numerous details of the vessel including rigging, cannons and her ornamental figurehead.

This magnificent depiction of the large vessel is an important and most unusual visual record of one of the earliest convict ships to reach New South Wales, and is of further significance because Pitt was one of the first such ships to be contracted by the famous East India Company, with the overt desire to take advantage of the trading possibilities in the colony and the wider region.

This ‘portrait’ of Pitt was specially commissioned by her owner from English marine artist Thomas Whitcombe. Dated 1793 in the lower corner of the canvas, the painting was executed soon after her return from NSW where she landed 368 convicts in February 1792. The vessel is here depicted in two positions sailing off ‘The Needles’ in the Isle of Wight. The first view shows the rigging and cannonades while the second perspective clearly reveals her name “Pitt London” lettered across the stern.

Among others, Pitt carried two particularly notable passengers, one free and one detained in the hold. Major Francis Grose was the most significant person aboard as recently appointed commander of the newly formed New South Wales Corps. His fame is now matched by that of the convict artist Thomas Watling, who had been transferred on board from a hulk at Portsmouth. Watling accomplished a daring escape in Cape Town, where he was captured and held in custody awaiting the arrival of the next English convict ship: hence, although Watling was originally transported on Pitt, he finally arrived on the Royal Admiral (another vessel of the Third Fleet).

As indicated by the early label attached to the frame, Pitt was built by the shipwright John Wells at his yards at Gravesend on the Thames. Completed in 1780, she was owned by London Alderman George Macauley and was deployed for most of her career as an ‘East Indiaman’, running trade routes from China and India for the East India Company. Macauley had previously provided a convict transport as part owner of the Lady Penhryn of the First Fleet. Accordingly, this painting is significant as an accurate ‘portrait’ undertaken at the wishes of the owner.

Although little is known of the origins and education of the artist, by the early 1780s Thomas Whitcombe was well established in London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy most years between 1783 and 1824. He is regarded as a leading English marine painter of the later eighteenth century, and paintings by Whitcombe relating to the early history of Australia hold pride of place in leading collections.

Additional information



Thomas Whitcombe


Oil on canvas