An impressively large, well carved 19th Century figurehead, this figure was in service during the most important Age of Sail, the 19th Century era of the Clipper Ships. This artifact has the large size and proper positioning of the plugs to have been the centerpiece of the bow on one of the great ships.
Clearly a Scotsman in full Highland gear, this figure likely graced the bow of a clipper built on the Clyde River, near Glasgow. By the mid-1700's Glasgow had become one of the most important port cities in England, mainly for tobacco from the American Colonies. With the outbreak of the American War of Independence the tobacco trade collapsed, and shipbuilding was established to replace the trade and revenue lost to war.
It was a perfect and timely turn of events. Scottish engineering expertise was already famous worldwide, Glasgow was a bustling trade port and decades of progress improving the Clyde's shipping channel near Glasgow made setting up shipyards on the riverbanks an easy choice. By the 1800's the Clyde had a reputation for being the best location for shipbuilding in the British Empire, and grew to become the world's pre-eminent shipbuilding center. "Clydebuilt" was a mark of the finest ships to sail.
What better to grace the bows of Scotland's prized ships, than the heroes of her past- bringing the pride of Scotland wherever her ships sailed. From the tartan on his kilt and hose, we believe this figure to be Rob Roy MacGregor (1671-1734). Though not normally a MacGregor tartan, this was the plaid Rob Roy wore in all portraits done during his lifetime, and it was thereafter named for him.
Sometimes called Scotland's Robin Hood, Rob Roy was known for brave exploits against what many Scots felt was tyrannical and unjust British rule. A known Jacobite, he participated in early rebellions to restore the House of Stuart to the throne of Scotland.
Rob Roy was famous in his own time, but he skyrocketed to legend in 1812 when author Sir Walter Scott published the somewhat fictionalized biography "Rob Roy". The book was popular for decades, and likely inspired the carver who created this figurehead. His kilt, hose and sporran are long tradition, but the dark blue jacket, waistcoat, wide collar shirt with Ruche Tie and Glengarry Bonnet with Cockade rosette and trailing ribbons were the height of style in the 1850's. It's this high attention to every detail of the complex Highland clothing of nobility that shows how important this figurehead was to its builders and ship.
Each curve of this figure gives the impression of power and grace. His face is strong, raised high and looking up, with curling hair and mutton chop beard. His kilt is swept back in folds, as he steps forward in action. Fine carving gives lifelike detail on every part of this figurehead, from the tufts of fur on the sporran to the creases in his waistcoat, wrinkling like real cloth as he stretches out to point skyward. With excellent proportion throughout, this is a skilled portrait of a man at the height of his strength. Assured and commanding, this is a leader.
The raised right arm was made to be removed, a practical feature when rough seas could easily snap off the outstretched limb. The arm would have been reattached when entering a port or at anchor. Included is the sturdy iron stand to which this 850lb. figure can be attached so that it stands at the same angle as it would have been seen on its ship.
In great condition, with no rot, this figure has many rare touches of its original paint. Full sized figureheads of this quality and size are amongst the rarest of marine artifacts. His years of service at sea have only added to his dignified and imposing appearance. One of the finest figureheads we have offered.
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