Drawings From The 1800s Donated To Museum

January 8, 2014

An album containing 39 watercolour and pencil drawings that depict landscapes of Bermuda and local activities from 1833–36 was recently donated to the National Museum of Bermuda.

This exquisite album contains panoramic and harbour views, and scenes of 19th century activities such as whale processing, shipwreck salvage, boat repair, selling fish and produce, tending cattle and collecting firewood.

These paintings are of particular importance because they document local activities in a pre-photography era around the time of Emancipation. There are very few works of art illustrating local life in Bermuda in the 1830s.

One of the images, click to enlarge


The talented artist is Johnson Savage MD, who was stationed at Bermuda in the mid-1830s as a young surgeon with the Royal Artillery. His paintings were not previously known but stand comparison with the best of the artist Thomas Driver whose work spans the period 1814 to 1836.

In addition to local activities, Savage painted scenes and buildings relating to his medical career in Bermuda, including the Royal Hospital at Ireland Island and the Royal Artillery Officers’ Quarters at St. George’s. According to Bermudian art historian Jonathan Land Evans, “This album is a major addition to the known corpus of pre-photography paintings of the Island.”

Johnson Savage’s grandson was also connected with Bermuda: he was Lieutenant Arthur Johnson Savage RE, a surveyor for the Royal Engineers who was stationed at Bermuda to carry out the first Ordnance Survey of the island in 1897, a task that was completed a few years later and published in 1901 in six sheets. The detailed large-scale survey is still in use and can be seen in the Bermuda’s Architectural Heritage series by the Bermuda National Trust.

The great-great grand children of Johnson Savage— Major (RE Retd.) Peter Savage and his siblings Major (RE Retd.) William Savage and Mrs. Jenifer Hancock— have now donated his album to the National Museum through the assistance of museum member Dr. Adrian Webb.

After 179 years in the possession of the Savage family, they felt that the album of paintings and sketches should permanently reside in Bermuda, continuing the historic Savage family connection to the island. It is a major addition to the Museum collections, and a significant cultural asset to Bermuda, given its early date and the content of the images.

An exhibition on the album in 2015 will coincide with the publication of a book on the Johnson Savage MD Collection and the longstanding connections of the Savage Family with Bermuda.

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Comments (10)

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  1. smdh says:

    I would like to know why the exhibition will not be ready until 2015!!!is this because some whitewashing has to be done before it is seen by the public, or can the album be viewed without further tempering by individuals trying to hide truth… as an historian i know that plenty of works have been whitewashed to suit the european/saxon world. Iam interested in seeing the album, wonder if it can be made available for viewing this year,,.. many thanks for the story Bernews!

    • skeptic says:

      I think if you look at what the museum has done in terms of research, publications, and displays you will see that they have worked hard to present a fair and balanced view of Bermuda’s history. I would guess that the paintings will need some conservation, research and funding in order to make them accessible to all. We should be grateful that the museum is giving us some early glimpses of this incredible gift.

  2. This is a rare opportunity and should be cherished,I was doing research just this week and came across a website cardcow.com, that has several old paintings on post cards of the old Bermuda from the early 1900′s

  3. Onion Gal says:

    What a lovely gift to Bermuda, thank you Savage Family.

  4. Onion Gal says:

    Perhaps there are some legal things to be dealt with as well as conservation treatments before it is photographed for publication and then displayed properly, which would explain a 2015 opening!

  5. What a great gift to the National Museum of Bermuda. Thank you Savage Family. I imagine the opening in 2015 will coincide with the publication of the Savage Family Bermuda connection. I can’t wait to read it. Our Island is steeped in such history and we are so fortunate to have such great donors out there. Everyone benefits.

  6. Valirie Marcia Akinstall says:

    This is truly an exceptional gift to the people of Bermuda, especially to our ancestors, as the grand children of slaves…

    There is a resurgence in England from historians who argue that the history of slaves and Blacks in general have throughout Europe, especially the UK, been minimised, trivialised and severely devalued in order to please the ‘sensitivities’ of Europeans.

    Now historians want history books that capture, depict, write about and analyse Black history with the stark honesty and reality base in which it truly deserves to be seen. In other words, it is very disrespectful to write a book that highlighting the talents of the artist without honestly apprising the conditions and brutality of slavery and segregation, the severe lack of basic fundamental rights of the human condition of Blacks. It’s not only disrespectful in 2014 it’s arrogant as we know better. We admire the artist but overlook or under-look the sheer subject matter of our historic times, as we view it right before our very eyes?

    It would be very appropriate to ask Dr Eva Hodgson to either pen an analysis of what these paintings meant in that time frame, or be involved in this project in some meaningful way.

    UK historians now believe that much of Black history was recounted by European historians is nothing more than a ‘white wash’, skipped over in a continuance to devalue and discount our period in history – except – when it improved their economic worth in society.

    Slavery, segregation and institutional racism are very harsh and brutal realities of our history, our human history and very few can be objective enough to do it justice.

    London, England