EDWARD DUNCAN, after G.P. MENDS, The Burning of the United States Steam Frigate Missouri, c. 1843.

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The Burning of the United States Steam Frigate Missouri, At Gibraltar Aug. 26th 1843
London: Ackermann & Co., c. 1843
Lithograph with original hand color
Paper size: 14 1/4" x 17"


Description of the original painting housed in the permanent collection of the Gibraltar National Museum:


Burning of USS Frigate Missouri at Gibraltar

The USS Missouri was a 10-gun side-wheel frigate, one of the first steam warships of the United States Navy. Its construction began at the New York Navy Yard in 1840 and was launched on 7 January 1841, being commissioned in early 1842 with Captain John Newton in command.

She was said to have cost $600,000 to build and her engines were capable of 600 horsepower.

On 6 August 1843 the Missouri was bound for Alexandria, Egypt with US Minister to China Caleb Cushing aboard, on the first leg of his journey to negotiate the first commercial treaty with China. The same day the ship was visited by US President John Tyler who came on board for a few hours’ cruise, observing the crew working the ship and the powerful twin paddlewheels in action. After the President disembarked, the frigate steamed from Norfolk, Virginia to Gibraltar via the Azores on what was the first powered crossing of the Atlantic by an American warship.

The Missouri anchored in Gibraltar Harbour on 25 August. The following night the engineer’s yeoman accidentally broke a demijohn of turpentine in the storeroom which soon ignited. The fire spread so rapidly that the crew had to abandon ship, barely escaping with their lives. Minister Cushing was just about able to rescue his official letter to the Daoguang Emperor of China, allowing him later to carry out his mission and sign the Treaty of Wanghia. In four hours, the steam frigate was reduced to a blackened and sinking hulk and at 03:20 in the morning of the 27th, the forward powder magazine blew up, destroying the still burning skeleton of the ship.

The British ship of the line HMS Malabar assisted the Missouri in fighting the fire and took aboard some 200 of her men. The then Governor of Gibraltar, Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, threw open the gates of the fortress to the survivors in an unprecedented act of courtesy which was recognised by a resolution of appreciation from the US Congress. The remains of the once proud frigate, now a hazard to navigation, were painstakingly removed by divers, piece by piece, from the shallow waters of the harbour.

Image: Burning of U.S.S. Frigate Missouri at Gibraltar. 26th August, 1843. Drawn by E. Duncan from a sketch made on the spot by Lieutenant G. P. Mends.