Frederick Hickey was born in Wales at Island House, Llaugherne, Carmarthanshire, and entered the Navy in 1787, as a midshipman, on board the `Porcupine’ until he transferred in 1792 to the `Lion’ then being fitted for the reception of Lord Macartney, who was about to proceed on a diplomatic mission to the court of Peking. He was immediately promoted on his return from China to the `Hind’ in which he served as first Lieutenant until the mutiny at Spithead in 1797 when all the officers were turned on shore; at the subsequent mutiny at the Nore he joined the `Neptune’ manned with volunteers. Due to unfortunate circumstances several disappointing positions on other vessels followed until, whilst serving on the `Isis’ in Newfoundland in January 1806, he received the good news of his promotion to the rank of Commander. In April the next year Hickey was appointed to the `Atlanta’ a sloop that was used throughout this period in affording protection to the trade routes between Nova Scotia and the West Indies or later in the blockades of American ports. In November 1813, during the war with America, she was wrecked near the entrance to Halifax harbour with Hickey and fellow officers being court-martialled but later cleared of any wrong doing. In fact Hickey’s actions were later praised as quite exemplary, a passenger finding that “to the honour of Capt. Hickey, he was the last who left the wreck; his calmness, his humanity, and courage during the entire of this awful scene was superior to man”.
Afterwards Hickey was promoted to post rank by commission dated February 19th 1814 and subsequently commanded the `Prince Regent’ on Lake Ontario; the `St. Lawrence 102′ in which he continued until the peace with America; and the `Blossom’ on the South American station, until returning home in August 1819. However due to an incident involving an American vessel that was accidently run down by the `Atlanta’ in 1810, Hickey was arrested whilst travelling through the United States in 1815. The trial eventually took place in New York in 1820 when Hickey, cleared of blame for the occurrence, also saw certain costs met by the Admiralty who looked favourably on the case.
He returned from America to reside in Bath for many years, until his death in May, 1839 when an obituary noted “his long residence in our neighbourhood and the esteem in which he was generally held”.
Gilbert Stuart moved to Boston in 1805 where he was to live and work until his death in 1828. During this time he attracted pupils such as Matthew Harris Jouett, Bass Otis and his nephew Gilbert Stuart Newton. His particular style, instantly recognizable to both Americans and British visitors – Stuart having worked in London 1775-87 – meant that those who studied with him or observed his working practices often emulated his style. This particular portrait of Frederick Hickey demonstrates this method perfectly. The portrait, dated 1810, means that Hickey was stationed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, making Boston easily accessible: before the war with America in 1812 the region welcomed English sailors and gentleman. The artist in this case has adopted many aspects of Stuart’s work, not least in using a mahogany panel as a support, something Stuart increasingly favoured.