Montague Dawson, RSMA, FRSA

(1890 - 1973)

The Heroic Speedy and Gamo

Signed, lower left: MONTAGUE DAWSON. 
Oil on canvas
28 x 42 in – 71.1 x 106.7 cm
Frame size
33¾ x 48 in – 85.5 x 122 cm

Tel.: +44 (0)20 7839 7693


Private collection, UK;
MacConnal-Mason Gallery, London, 1999;
Private collection, UK 
The action in the present work took place on 6th May 1801 off the Catalan coast. The 14-gun HMS ‘Speedy’ commanded by Lord Cochrane engaged the 32-gun xebec frigate ‘Gamo’ at 9.30am. Cochrane initially raised U.S. colours causing the Spanish Captain, Don Francisco de Torres, to hold fire. This delay allowed Cochrane to draw in close, at which point he raised his true, British colours but evaded the ensuing broadside. As the ‘Speedy’ ran alongside the ‘Gamo’ her yards became entagled in the enemy ship’s rigging. The ‘Gamo’ once again opened fire but being so much larger her guns’ trajectory was too high, meaning the shot simply passed through the ‘Speedy’s’ rigging, causing relatively little damage. Cochrane responded with fire from double and treble-shot loaded four-pounders, a broadside which killed Captain de Torres. The surviving Spanish second-in-command ordered a boarding party but the assembled crew were raked by shot and musket-fire. In spite of this, the ‘Speedy’s’ crew were still terribly outnumbered and were down to just fifty-four men, the rest having taken command of prizes captured earlier in the voyage. The ‘Gamo’ on the other hand, had a full compliment of over 300 men. Ignoring the disparity, Cochrane split his remaining crew into two boarding parties leaving only the ship’s doctor on the ‘Speedy’. In the ensuing battle Cochrane feigned reinforcements by ordering the Doctor to send the remaining crew and at the same time, cut down the ‘Gamo’s’ colours. The Spanish sailors took this as a sign of surrender and laid down their arms. This remarkable victory provided inspiration to novelist Patrick O’Brian, both in terms of the character, Jack Aubrey who was based on Cochrane, and the engagement in ‘Master and Commander’ between HMS ‘Sophie’ and the Spanish ship ‘Cacafuego’.


Montague Dawson was born in London, the son of a sea captain. His grandfather was the successful Midlands landscape painter, Henry Dawson (1811-1878) who had himself moved to Chiswick. Montague Dawson studied under the marine painter Charles Napier Hemy (1841-1917) who, born in Newcastle, lived in London for some years before moving to Falmouth. On completing his studies, Dawson joined a commercial studio specialising in nautical illustrations.

During the Great War, Dawson served in the Royal Navy, he contributed illustrations to magazines including “The Sphere”, and having witnessed the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet in 1918, a complete issue of The Sphere was dedicated to the event. After leaving the Navy, Dawson took up painting full-time, living first in London before moving to Milford-on-Sea in Hampshire. Dawson had first exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1917, a Naval subject “The Eyes of the Fleet”, and although frequently painting contemporary marine and naval compositions, his particular interest was in historical works, clipper ships and galleons. Whatever the subject, his paintings are marked by his acute attention to historical detail and his knowledge of ships and the sea. During the Second World War, Dawson worked as a war artist, portraying Royal Naval and US Navy actions.

His popularity was such that the New Mariners Museum in Newport Rhode Island opened a wing devoted to his works in 1975, and Presidents Eisenhower and Johnson owned paintings of the US Navy Frigate Constellation. A member of the Royal Society of Marine Artists and a fellow of the Royal Society of British Artists, Dawson was the foremost marine painter of the 20th century.

His works can be found in museums in: Cambridge; Edinburgh; London and Newport Rhode Island.

Dawson, RSMA, FRSA Montague