Attempting to avoid paying import taxes -as well as capital punishment or imprisonment- a small square-rigged ship attempts an escape of the cannon-fire from a British Revenue Cutter. Note both fly British red streaming pennants on the main mast, the first likely as a ruse. This highly dramatic work is a great early marine by the American artist Burnham.
Showing the Dover Cliffs to starboard, the English Channel waters were common to smugglers and government preventive men in the 18TH and 19TH Centuries. Smuggling was practically an accepted profession in historic Great Britain, where the avoidance of import tarriffs on spirits, tobacco and fabrics, or the lucrative trade with French buyers of English goods during wartime, drew many sailors into the trade. British maritime interests paid the working sailor poorly at best. A crew working in the shadows could make 10 to 100 times as much, and some individuals achieved the status of romantic local heroes while others merely found the gallows.
Boston-born Burnham is recorded in art books as having traveled at least twice to Britain, of course by ship. It is quite likely that this is his record from firsthand observation of a chase. The atmosphere, although secondary to the subject matter, is spectacular, with its realistic heavy chop of swells and heavy clouds with a sunlight break. Sails before and beyond complete the work in the fashion of the busy channel.
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