Unique, folk art carved wooden relic in the form of a large handled instrument with wooden and metal tines, 13.25 in. ln. An anchor surrounded by leaves as well as the following name are carved in low relief along the top of the handle: "Captain Mitford. Royal Navy." The underside of the handle features a highly detailed carving of a seahorse, with intricate, low relief carvings below the seahorse's head, including arms holding up a boar's head on a dagger, a shield decorated with turtles, and floral and leaf motifs. The date "1810" is carved below the seahorse's long tail. The following phrases are carved along each side of the top of the handle's thin rim, one side carved in the French language, with translations included: "Cut by Henrion Whilst Prisoner on the Island of Cabrera / Grotto"; and "Hannibals Espoir [Hope] / La Misere est la Mere de L'Industrie [Misery is the Mother of Industry]." With the words "Jilblas" and "Santillan" carved along each side of the curved end of the fork-like portion of the instrument. This may be a reference to L'Histoire de Gil Blas de Santillane, a picaresque novel by Alain-René Lesage published between 1715 and 1735.
The name "Captain Mitford," likely refers to John, or Jack, Mitford, (1782-1831) a British naval officer, poet, and journalist who is best known for writing the book, The Adventures of Johnny Newcome in the Navy. He served with the Royal Navy from 1795-1811, participating in both the French Revolutionary Wars as well as the Napoleonic Wars. In 1810, the date referenced on the carved instrument, Mitford served as acting-master of the brig Philomel in the Mediterranean.
While no further information has been discovered regarding the carver, "Henrion," he was almost certainly one of the 9,000+ French prisoners of war that were exiled to the bleak Island of Cabrera in the Mediterranean following their surrender to Spanish forces at the Battle of Bailen. This was the first ever open field defeat of the Napoleonic army that occurred in July 1808. By the time the prisoners were repatriated to France after Napoleon’s defeat five years later, their number had dwindled to approximately 2,500.
Provenance: Property of N. Flayderman & Co.
Flayderman inventory number inked on underside of fork-like carving. With some tarnish to metal, few spots on fork-like carving. Few minor chips in carving.
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