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Hull Maritime volunteer, Janet Adamson has written a blog about Thomas Jacques Sommerscales after finding the Hull 100 plaque at Artlink recently and trying to find out why it had been attached to the building!

A question recently asked at Artlink, 87 Princes Avenue Hull. The ‘this’ in question was a cream Hull 100 plaque referencing Thomas Jacques Somerscales, teacher, sailor and painter. So I was able to explain what it was, but not why it had been placed on the Artlink building. I agreed to explore and see what I could discover.

What did I know? Hull has a Somerscales Street. T J Somerscales was a teacher, sailor and painter who lived between 1842 and 1927 as listed on the plaque. That is it.

What I discovered starts in an unremarkable way but then gets very interesting.

Thomas Jacques Somerscales was born in 1842 Leicester Street, Hull son to Thomas Snr and Sophia Somerscales. Thomas Snr was a seafarer and he retired as a Master Mariner. He was also an amateur artist.

Thomas Jacques had a passion for the sea and in 1863, he took up post as a naval school teacher firstly on HMS Cumberland followed by a number of others ships patrolling the coast of South America as Britain pursued an interest in the nitrate trade during this period. He enjoyed this life, but it came to an end when he left the Royal Navy when he contracted malaria and settled in Valparaiso, Chile. He recovered and taught in a private school here whilst developing his skills as a landscape painter. He had an exhibition of his work in Santiago in 1872. His reputation grew and he produced paintings of Bolivia and Peru as commissions.

The move to marine painting was prompted by the outbreak of war between Chile and Peru in 1879 and Thomas began to paint naval battles and from hereon, his work developed with a strong maritime theme. In 1880, he married Jane Trumbull Harper in Valparaiso and they had two sons, Wilfred and Robert.

Off the Canaries (British Cruiser 'Auxiliary Steam') 1890 Oil on canvas

The family moved back to England in 1890 as Wilfred and Robert were reaching university age and their daughter Mary had become unsettled after the early death of their daughter Alise at age 11 years. Thomas travelled back and forth until he finally settled in 1915.

His return to England found our celebrated artist with a life as a relative unknown. However, he worked hard to change this view and in 1893, Thomas Jacques Somerscales had an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London and he exhibited there regularly thereafter.

As for other members of the Somerscales family, son Robert initially followed his brothers, Thomas, Wilfred and Arthur as Marine Engineers but eventually became a painter in his own right, his work being of the Impressionist style and he became a teacher at Hull’s College of Art.

Uncle John Somerscales was commissioned in 1908 to paint murals of Egypt for the Harris Collection in Preston. Uncle Anthony North Somerscales became the Principal of the Marine Engineers School in Hull having attended Trinity House School. Both Aunts Francis and Sophie Blanche were teachers and consequently never married. All lived within half a mile of Leicester Street where they were born.

Sailing vessels off the coast, 1916 Oil on canvas
SS Immingham

At the time of his death, Thomas’s family were resident in Elmsleigh, 113 Princes Avenue, which has now been absorbed into a much larger property known as Marlborough House, in the next row along from Artlink at no. 87. The family had previously lived in 53 and 127 Park Avenue, about half a mile from where Thomas Jacques Somerscales was born.

His work can be seen in the Tate Gallery and there are four paintings in Ferens Collection, three can be seen here but none are currently on display.

Artlink Hull is proud to hold this reference to Thomas Jacques Somerscales, celebrated marine artist from Hull, now we know a bit more about him!