HMS BENBOW, HMS ESSEX and SS ZEPPELIN at Devonport: Keyham Engineering College in the background

. Watercolour signed Frank Wood, and dated 1919; annotated along the bottom with ships' names.

HMS BENBOW, HMS ESSEX and SS ZEPPELIN at Devonport: Keyham Engineering College in the background

29.1/2 x 9 inches (74.9 x 22.8 cms) approx

Price on application

This original has been sold and is no longer available.


As was often the case, Frank Watson Wood has painted here a bit of what became interesting nautical history.

Its a greyish, misty day; rain is not very far away.   The great naval base of Devonport lies in the background, a dreadnought alongside on one of the wharfs;  Weston Mill Lake is on the left and the Torr ferry and Plymouth Sound lie to the right and beyond the scope of the painting.  In the background and right of centre  are the two distinctive foundry chimneys of the old engineering college,  one of very few paintings (known to me anyway) of this college at Keyham in Plymouth which was demolished in 1985.  The painting also depicts (left of centre) a merchant ship with a fascinating history, annotated here beneath the ship, at the bottom of the watercolour by Wood, as “ZEPPLIN”. 

ZEPPELIN (to give her the correct spelling!) was launched in 1914 by the German yard of Bremer Vulkan for the Dutch NDL company. War intervened before she was ready for sea and she was laid up at Bremen until 1919 when, as part of war reparations, she was transferred to Great Britain (and see also under EMPRESS OF AUSTRALIA on this site who, as the German liner SS TIRPITZ, was similarly transferred as war reparations to Great Britain).  Placed under the administrative management of the White Star Line in March 1919 she was then acquired by the US Government, anxious to repatriate thousands of its troops from Europe.  USS ZEPPELIN (new owners again, new ensign again) was then employed on two round trips carrying a total of 15,800 US troops from Europe to the US.  Come November 1919 she had reverted to UK control.  Its hard to be sure but the ensign Wood has painted at her stern seems more like a stars and stripes than a red duster so this painting depicts perhaps the 8 months in 1919 when she was serving as USS ZEPPELIN and was alongside the naval base in Plymouth for repair or fitting out.  

Within a year she had been sold to the Orient Line, renamed ORMUZ and once again wore a red duster.  For 6 years she plied the Australia-UK run before in 1927 NDL bought her back again, put her on the  Bremen – New York run (the run for which she had been originally designed by NDL back in the days before the war) and renamed her DRESDEN – another name , another ensign!  Then in 1934 she was chartered for cruising by a Nazi organisation who were out to show impressionable German citizens the advantages of belonging to this party: but she ran aground off the Norwegian island of Bokn.  A total loss she was subsequently broken up where she lay.

HMS BENBOW, at centre, was a dreadnought of the Iron Duke Class and at the date of this painting was commanded by Captain C D Carpendale CB RN. A unit of the Grand Fleet throughout the war BENBOW had shared the hard work, endless rough weather patrols at sea interspersed with periods at Scapa Flow, and moments of intense activity when the High Seas Fleet did appear (including at Jutland  when she was commanded by Captain H W Parker RN, flag captain to Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee Bt KCB CVO CMG who had made his name at the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914).  Together with  the rest of her class (IRON DUKE, EMPEROR OF INDIA and MARLBOROUGH) she joined the Mediterranean Fleet in 1919 and remained there, heavily employed for a while in Black Sea operations, until 1926 when  the battle squadron returned to the Atlantic Fleet.  Three years later and the Washington Treaty began to bite: the class was required to be discarded and with the exception of IRON DUKE who was largely disarmed for use as a training ship, all had been de-commissioned and by 1931  were awaiting scrapping.

HMS ESSEX on the right – which puts her over towards Will Cove in the Tamar Estuary -  was a Monmouth Class cruiser of 1901.  Originally 10 in the class, BEDFORD was wrecked off  China in 1910 and  MONMOUTH was sunk by Graf Spee’s Squadron off Chile at the Battle of Coronel in 1914:  under Sir Doveton Sturdee, KENT and CORNWALL of the class however managed to sink Graf Spee’s NURNBERG and LEIPZIG off the Falklands 6 weeks later.  ESSEX was scrapped in 1921.