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Illustration Art, Maritime, Buried Ship Hull, Antique Drawing, c. 1920


George F. Morrell (d. 1962)
Buried Hull, Believed to Have Been “the Great Harry”
British: 1st Half 20th Century (but after 1912)
Pen and ink with wash and white gouache on illustration board
Signed lower left
18.5 x 14.75 inches, overall
15.5 x 11.5 inches, image

Original illustration art, done with meticulous attention to detail and historical accuracy, documenting the remains of a buried ship’s hull discovered in 1912 in Woolwich, England, in the course of excavating the area for the construction of the Woolwich electricity works near Steamboat Pier Wharf. The upper stories of city buildings and a smokestack can be seen in the background. At the time the ship was unearthed, some experts thought it might be the Henry Grace a Dieu, also known as the Great Harry, a huge battleship of the early 16th century ordered by King Henry VIII. However, by 1970, the consensus was that it was more likely the Sovereign, a ship built in 1488 and known to have been docked in Woolwich in 1521 due to unseaworthy condition.

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Around the drawing of the lower central parts of the hull and masts, the artist has also outlined in white the contours of what the ship would have looked like whole, and included informational captions, showing that the prow and stern remained buried, that the hold was 40 feet wide and contained stone cannon balls. Another caption explains, “A small CREEK originally existed above this site, later on, in the last century, two small Graving Docks were built; these were filled in & subsequently dug out again for the Electricity Works now in course of construction above the unexcavated parts of the vessel.”

Surrounding the drawing are handwritten pencil notations, probably by the artist, that explain that the drawing shows what has been found so far, but does not show the present state of things “for a vast skeleton in reinforced concrete & its footings” had been built over it. He also noted that the boat was found piecemeal at first, and not all of it was unearthed because parts of it lay beneath existing homes and gardens on the right, and beneath the riverbank on the left. The notes also state that unfortunately, at first the workers did not realize what it was and some of the pieces were probably mistaken for old docks and debris and thrown away. Morrell further points out that the discovery caused added an expense of “many thousands of pounds” to the construction because the crews had to dig deeper to find solid ground for the footings of the building and they had to get the “great beams out of the way.”

George F. Morrell was an illustrator and writer and combined these talents as a pioneer of visual educational materials, active for over 50 years. He was a regular contributor to the British periodical The Children’s Newspaper from its first issue in 1919 until shortly before his death in 1962, including a regular column on astronomy.

Condition: Generally good with the usual overall toning and wear. Numerous notations in margins by artist. Scattered foxing, particularly in margins, can be matted out, though notations would be matted out too in that case. Likely intended for publication.


“History of The Children’s Newspaper.” Look and Learn. 2005-2011. (18 July 2011).

Wickham, D.E. “The Woolwich Ship.” Kent Archaeological Review. Autumn 1970, Issue 21. Online at (18 July 2011).