Joseph Mallord William Turner

Unloading a Boat at North Queensferry


View this artwork by appointment, at Tate Britain's Prints and Drawings Rooms

Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775–1851
Graphite on paper
Support: 90 x 112 mm
Accepted by the nation as part of the Turner Bequest 1856
Turner Bequest CLXVI 50 a

Catalogue entry

Although Turner spent the majority of his 1818 tour on the south side of the Forth he did briefly cross over to Fife during his visit to sketch Rosyth Castle and North Queensferry. He probably took the ferry from South Queensferry and landed at the new Town Pier (completed in 1813) which is depicted in this double-page sketch (continued on folio 51; D13549). From the south-west we look along the pier at the crenellated Tower House on the left, the building that is now the Albert Hotel to its right, and in front of this the octagonal lighthouse (or signal house) built at the same time as the pier. The Forth estuary is on the right with one boat unloading in the foreground and another arriving behind it. At the far right of the picture (folio 51) is the fortified island of Inchgarvie which seems to have interested Turner enough to included it in numerous sketches, and beyond that the south bank of the Forth just east of Queensferry.
Jack Lindsay has noted Turner’s ‘interest in work as usual’ in this sketch which included an inscription that Finberg has transcribed as ‘Horses landing and carts of Timber hawled [sic] up from the boat by the Tackle.’ While David Wallace-Hadrill has noted that ‘no horses, no carts, and no tackle’ are visible, the reading is consistent with records of ferry cargo arriving at North Queensferry around this date.1 In 1811, before the completion of the Town Pier, ‘the Ferry Passage was used by 1,515 carriages [and] 13,154 horses’.2 In fact a round object on the boat next to a figure may show the wheel of a cart and the barge-type boat is the right size and shape to transport timber. Turner probably added the inscription because his sketch was not sufficiently clear to record these facts. Similar quayside activity is recorded in a sketch on folio 47 verso (D13542).

Thomas Ardill
January 2008

David Wallace-Hadrill, unpublished notes, [circa 1989–94], Tate catalogue files
‘The Town Pier’, North Queensferry Heritage Trust website, accessed 4 January 2008.

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