Tuesday, August 17, 2010

America's first yacht, Cleopatra's Barge 1816

1818 painting of Clepatra's Barge by George Ropes

Benjamin Crowninshield Jr. (1782–1864)Benjamin Crowninshield Jr. (1782–1864)

Cleopatra's Barge was the first American-built ocean-going luxury yacht, built in the year 1816 in Salem, Massachusetts for George Crowninshield Jr. (1766–1817), The fancy of America's 2th generation of wealth after the American Revolution. The 191-ton brig was 23-feet breadth, 83-feet waterline length, 140-feet sparred length, with a square stern, and two decks. Retire Becket designed her as a pleasure yacht for George Crowninshield and was fitted out in the grand style of a small palace at a cost of $50,000 to build and $50,000 in luxury furnishings, about three millions in today's money. A year ago this month I was in the reconstructed main cabin of the yacht in the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem.

reconstructed main cabin of the yacht

                                                      Reconstructed main cabin of the yacht

 Named after Egyptian Queen Cleopatra VII's pleasure barge and based on a play "Antony & Cleopatra". In 1817, the luxury yacht Cleopatra's Barge was launched and sailed to 16 ports in southern Europe and the Mediterranean . Up to 8,000 visitors would come out on a single day, just to feast their eyes on the opulent splendor of this extraordinary vessel. In Marseilles the ship was repainted and redecorated.

The design of the vessel was based upon Becket’s earlier design of the privateer America IV built for the Crowninshields in 1803. She was constructed with the finest craftsmanship and materials available and outfitted with fine furnishings in the late Federal and neo-classical styles with all the accoutrements of royalty. George Crowninshield’s intention was to sail her to Europe with the hope of marrying a European princess and hosting Napoleon himself on board and becoming the toast of the continent. By the time the yacht sailed former Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte was exiled on Saint Helena island. It was thought that Mr. Crowninshield was planning to take former Emperor Napoléon back to America. They did visit several of Napoleon's supporters and relatives on the island of Elba where Napoléon had escaped in 1815. In Rome they met with Napoleon's mother Letizia Ramolino, and siblings Prince Lucien and Princess Pauline. They took on board the captain of the ship on which Napoleon escaped Elba and his doctor, along with souvenirs such as a pair of Napoléon's boots and an gold & stone incrusted imperial snuffbox. Mr. Crowninshield returned home that year only to die unexpectedly the following year aboard the ship planning his next adventure.

Emperor Napoléon Bonaparte

The finest room on the yacht the main cabin it was 19 feet by 20 feet and was paneled with the finest flamed mahogany wood trimmed with birds-eye maple. The Custom made mahogany and birds-eye maple classical furniture, a pair of card tables and large pair of settees by Boston's finest cabinetmaker Thomas Seymour was covered with red silk velvet trimmed in gold lace. They featured inlayed birds-eye maple,brass, gilt ormolu mounts, stenciled gold leaf detail and the lyre or harp as the principal decorative element and were the most expensive made in America at the time. The settees have hooks upon the back legs that were probably to hold the settee to the wall in bad weather. There was custom made silver, porcelain, linens and cut glass for this vessel. Rare for this time the luxury yacht had indoor plumbing. In December of 1816 the yacht was open for public tours as this was a wonder in America, a show palace. On January 14, 1817, the Salem Gazette reported:

"The elegant equipment of this vessel, by Mr. Crowninshield, for a voyage of pleasure, as it is an entire novelty in this country, has excited universal curiosity and admiration."

English Regency gilt brass whale oil chandelier

Open card table by Thomas Seymour

Gold leaf mirror and card table by Thomas Seymour

Large settee by Thomas Seymour

Detail of gilt ormolu, birds-eye maple inlay and gold stenciling on the mahogany

Detail of gilt ormolu, birds-eye maple inlay on the mahogany

                                                   After his death, China traders purchased the vessel. They brought her to the Sandwich Islands in 1821 where she was sold to Liholiho (King Kamehameha II) for $80,000 of sandalwood. The Hawaiian wood was highly prized in the Orient by the Chinese artisans for its clear grain, texture, and sweet smell. Liholiho cherished the yacht and renamed her Ha'aheo o Hawaii (Pride of Hawaii) and thus she became the first Hawaiian “Ship of State.” The royal court traveled frequently aboard her as they sailed between the islands and foreign visitors often mentioned the King’s brig in their diaries and letters to friends. On April 6, 1824 in Hanalei Bay, on the northern coast of Kauaʻi island Haʻaheo o Hawaiʻi ran the aground on a shallow reef.
Paris porcelain Cabinet cup that might have been bought in Marseilles when ship was redecorated

     French pier table and ormolu clock in the corner that might have been bought in Marseilles when ship was redecorated                                                                                                                                         

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