Can you fill in the details on Dante?

BRUSH WITH HISTORY...but what's the story behind this watercolour of the Readhead's-built Dante?
BRUSH WITH HISTORY...but what's the story behind this watercolour of the Readhead's-built Dante?

SHE is the painted ship that sails a painted ocean. All the way down to Aussie, but what port of call did she finally make and who with?

This is a lovely little mystery that has come to me from John Bage, who some of you will know has an excellent website dedicated to the history of Readhead’s shipyard in Shields.

John was sent this picture of the Readhead’s-built steamer, Dante, by a correspondent across in Australia, Michael Clarke, who picked this watercolour up second- hand.

Says Michael: “I bought the picture about six years ago. I was on a weekend break in Mandura, south of Perth, Western Australia. My wife and I where driving, when I saw a sign saying ‘garage sale,’ so decided to look, and bought the picture. On returning home to Perth, I tried to find out about this ship.

“I removed it from its frame to clean the glass etc, and replace the seal on its back which had cracked with age. I was hoping to find a signature but there is none.

“I placed it on my wall and from time to time I have done some research but could never find a picture of the ship anywhere to compare.”

He believes that the Dante was built by Readhead’s in 1877, for the firm of MacAndrew’s.

“I wondered how it got to Australia. My thoughts were that maybe it was painted by someone that moved to Australia or someone from John Readhead’s family or possibly the MacAndrew’s family. Or perhaps it was one of the crew.”

Well I can tell Michael a little more about the Dante because there is a mention of her on the (very good) website of the South West Maritime History Society, based in the south west of England (

This confirms that the Readhead’s-built Dante was registered in the Port of London from new, i.e. 1877, and was owned by George MacAndrew of London. This firm owned a small fleet of iron steamers, of which the Dante was the largest.

A query to the society has her mentioned in the 1881 census as being in Penzance, though in reality she was sheltering in Mullion Roads, near the Lizard, while apparently on a voyage from Millwall Docks to the Mediterranean.

If anyone knows any more of the Dante’s story, get in touch.


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