Captain Skinner’s Painting

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

One of the museum’s most valued items is an original oil painting from 1828 completed by James Sparrow, who at that time was a customs official at Holyhead and also a long standing friend and mentor of Captain John Macgregor Skinner RN, the main subject of the painting.

Captain Skinner’s House in 1828 by James Sparrow

The oil painting is of Stanley House, Captain’s Skinner’s residence. It was said that Sparrow’s original intention was to portray several humorous incidents concerning Skinner himself. However, following the captain’s untimely death in 1832, the artist’s intentions changed and he decided to fill much of the foreground to include several of his friends and a number of recipients of his charity. Captain Skinner can be seen on his bay horse in the centre of the painting offering charity to one of Holyhead’s poor.

Not shown in the above image is the gilded frame where James Sparrow inscribed the names of all the individuals depicted in the painting. It is not only a special work of art but also a valuable historical and social record of Holyhead at that time.

Commander John Macgregor Skinner

Of all the sailing packet commanders who carried the mails between Holyhead and Dublin, it may be argued that American born, John Macgregor Skinner is probably the most remembered. Popular with the social elite and renowned for his boundless acts of charity, there is no wonder that an obelisk, paid for by public subscription, was erected on Alltran Rock, above the Holyhead Harbour, in his memory.

Skinner’s Monument above Holyhead Harbour

Captain Skinner was an accomplished Packet Captain, who in 1821 had the honour of carrying KIng George IV to Ireland on his ship, Lightening. Refusing a knighthood from the King, he graciously accepted a promotion to RN Commander. He had, during his service with the Royal Navy, lost part of his right arm and was further disadvantaged by the loss of sight in one eye. Despite this he served as a distinguished Packet Captain for more than 30 years at Holyhead until he was sadly washed overboard from his ship The Escape in 1832. His loss was greatly felt by the people of his adoptive town.

Stanley House as it is now

Contributed by Peter Scott Roberts, author of the book – ‘The Ancestry, Life and Times of Commander John Macgregor Skinner RN’.

The oil painting and other artefacts that once belonged to Captain Skinner were kindly donated to the museum by Mrs. Kathleen Hughes of Birmingham. They are on display in the museum’s main gallery.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here –

2 thoughts on “Captain Skinner’s Painting

  1. Wyn Edwards September 25, 2020 / 8:23 am

    Very interesting article and to have a monument built in his honour he obviously thought a lot of Holyhead and it’s people as did they of him.
    On a lighter note I remember watching Holyhead town play football from Skinners monument with my mates as we didn’t have the money to get in the ground and what a great view we had.
    I always look forward to these stories of Holyhead keep up the good work.
    Many thanks Wyn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Gareth Huws September 30, 2020 / 4:37 pm

    Peter has excelled himself yet again with this wonderful article (on what I suspect is his favourite subject!). I’m wondering if George Borrow ever saw this painting. He visited Holyhead in 1854 (see his book ‘Wild Wales’) and he states that the town has a “Moorish Air”. If you look closely at the painting the artist has made Holyhead look like a Mediterranean settlement – the idea of Land’s End as a wide street, the white-washed walls, the exotic plants in the garden, the three strange figures, all in white and carrying sun parasols. I wonder if the picture was on public display during the 1850s?
    Congratulations, Peter on drawing our attention to a really important artefact.

    Liked by 1 person

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