Oil on canvas; held in a gilt carved wood period frame; entire 18 by 16 in; 46 x 41 cm
Provenance: Private Collection, England
This small three-quarter-length portrait shows the Admiral turned to the left in a blue cloth coat and black full-bottomed wig. He stands against a background of rock and holds a baton in his right hand, whilst his arm rests on a cannon. His left hand is on the hilt of a sword hanging by his side. On the left there is a battle raging at sea, which is almost certainly Porto Bello. Such was Vernon’s success with this battle that it led to the production of a flood of commemoratives, particularly medals which have been described as “base but patriotic in sentiment”. This portrait was created around the same time by a English provincial artist who appears to have been influenced by several of the known images of the admiral. Elements of these compositions have been harnessed to create a striking new picture, which if not exactly truthful – he is depicted much younger than he would have been in reality – is certainly “patriotic in sentiment”. A painting by Thomas Bardwell known through the mezzotint by John Faber was clearly the main source of inspiration for the artist.
Vernon entered the navy in May 1700 and later served as a lieutenant in Sir Cloudisley Shovell’s flagship at the Battle of Malaga, 1704, and at the taking of Barcelona in the following year. For the next few years he served in the West Indies and later in the Baltic. In 1722 he was returned as MP for Penryn and became a powerful advocate for war with Spain during the 1730s. Vernon was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral and sent with a squadron to the West Indies. When the War of Jenkin’s Ear against the Spanish broke out in 1739, Vernon was promoted to the rank of Vice Admiral and sent with a squadron to the West Indies where he undertook to capture the enemy’s base at Porto Bello, Panama ‘with only six ships’. This he did in a famous landing against its Iron Castle, since the Spaniards had neglected preparations for its defence. However, in 1741 a subsequent assault in Catagena, Columbia, failed through poor collaboration with the army leading to ill feeling between Vernon and Brigadier General Wentworth. Vernon returned home and resumed his parliamentary career and several years later commanded the fleet in the North Sea during the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Though promoted to Admiral of the White in April 1745 his alleged participation in an anti government pamphlet campaign resulted in his name being struck off the list of flag officers. He died at his estate at Nacton in 1757.
Vernon is perhaps best remembered because in 1740 he ordered his men’s rum ration to be served diluted with water, for health reasons. This ‘grog’ – Vernon’s nickname- rapidly became the standard way of serving the naval rum ration until it was abolished in 1970.