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  3.41 Player's Cigarette Card  

© Private Collection
Player's Cigarette Card Ships' figure-heads, No.17, The 'Seringapatam', 1837; c1950

8 x 6.2 cm

rivate enterprise and fast frigates like the Seringapatam successfully challenged the old East India Company monopoly of trade with India. The Seringapatam was one of the first of the East Indiamen to be built at the Blackwall Yard. These so-called Blackwall Frigates were faster than the Company's Indiamen, which they superceded, but were built to look like those well defended ships, with numerous gunports along the sides. The text on the back of this cigarette card states that the Seringapatam was built in 1837, 'the first of Green's famous 'Blackwall Frigates' (and) the finest merchant ship of her day.' It also notes that, although the Company's Indiamen were very beautiful ships, they made very slow passages. The frigates were much faster, and carried sail as long as possible, 'while their man-of-war lines gave excellent opportunities to the carvers of figure-heads.'

Two ships of this name appear to have been built in the Bombay dockyard. One, mentioned in a list of 'Vessels built in the Bombay Dockyard 1738-1863' was of 336 tons, and apparently built in 1799. The other is listed as a 38-gun frigate of 1,152 tons, built for the Imam of Muscat in 1819, by Jamestjee Bomanjee. By 1824, under her Captain, Charles Sotheby, she was active in the Mediterranean, helping to suppress piracy; then sailed to S.America and the Pacific (1829-30). The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich has a Journal written on board during this voyage by a Midshipman, Lieut. J. Orlebar, describing what he saw on Pitcairn and other South Sea Islands.In 1837-38, the Seringapatam sailed to N.America and the West Indies, and an oil painting by G.W. Butland, 'The Indiaman Seringapatam arriving home', signed and dated 1839, shows the ship at the end of this voyage. A model (National Maritme Museum, London) of the ship shows a turbanned oriental as the figurehead. After a period at Sheerness and Blackwall, the Seringapatam sailed for South Africa, and was converted into a receiving ship (1848-50) at the Cape of Good Hope and then a coal hulk (1852). An entry in the Mooring Book for Simon's Bay, Cape of Good Hope, records her final demise: 'December 1883 Seringapatam was sold and removed from moorings on 6th December 1883. Moorings all weighed and landed with the exception of the NE anchor, which is used as a stern mooring for Swift.'

According to the text on the cigarette card, a Tipu figure-head with 'the expression being appropriately fierce and the colours vivid' was preserved for many years after the ship was broken up. 'Native boatmen would always salute it as they passed, and long after the ship had gone, the old figure-head was preserved in a garden.' It is not clear where this garden was. A very similar figurehead, although only head and chest, without hands or scimitar, is now in the Mystic Seaport Museum, in America. At the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, a fantastic carving, possibly a ship's figurehead and supposed to represent Tipu Sultan, has recently been re-displayed. The turban, cummerband and parasol of this figure are certainly 'vivid' colours of red, white and blue, and the figure sits astride a mythical bird or roc, which was said to be strong enough to pick up elephants.

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