Shane – The Big Game Hunter

The Big Game Hunter

Shane Johnstone

I first got involved with Port Stories because of the flyer. On it is an 18th century painting of a view of Lancaster.

On the right hand side of the painting is a huge hull of a ship.

That drew me in because it was like those old photographs you’d see of a some shipbuilding docks – maybe in the North East – with a massive ship dwarfing the rows of terraced houses.  There are pastoral scenes in the foreground of the painting: groups of people; a chap dressed as if he’s a Quaker; some children running round a group of adults, as if they might be pickpocketing or playing hide and seek. And there’s a farmer wrestling a pig in a puddle. There are lots of interesting things and from that point on I knew I wanted to investigate and tell the story of that painting.

Ibbetson, Julius Caesar; Lancaster from Cable Street.

The first thing I needed to do was to get to see the original. I’d seen it online and of course on the flyer but I imagined I’d see greater detail and understand so much more if I could see it in the flesh.

I found out the artist was Julius Caesar Ibbotson and the painting was stored away in a quayside warehouse owned by the Maritime Museum. I sent many requests and, although permission wasn’t refused, the process of getting to see the painting was slow and arduous. Only this last week, and we’re in the last week of the project, did I mange to see it. My appointment was for 10 o’clock when I found my way to the warehouse. We ascended five flights of stairs to a locked room. For security and safeguarding reasons, two people needed to accompany me.

The painting was stored very high up in the eaves.

There was only one light in the room and when we pulled the rack out to reveal the painting, the light was on the wrong side so it was in darkness. The painting was protected by a sheet of glass – perhaps in the past it had been above a fireplace or in a pub – which only made things worse. I had taken a torch but the light was reflected back at me and I could barely see one part of the painting at once. I saw none of the finer details in the oil paints that I’d been looking forward to. There was a feeling of total anti-climax. Instead of looking at this vibrant wonderful image, with the stories I hoped it would tell me, it was encased in glass like a stuffed animal.

It was if I’d gone on a quest for some exotic animal in the jungle but when I finally laid eyes on the beast, the taxidermist had got there before me.

Painting courtesy of The Maritime Museum, Lancaster.