‘Missing’ portrait travels from Auckland… and goes missing

The Hon John Skottowe, by David Martin

A portrait of a former ruler of St Helena has taken its place alongside others at the home of the island’s modern-day governors – but it very nearly failed to complete its 8,000-mile journey from New Zealand.

It got lost on the way.

The story began when David Nicoll of Auckland visited Plantation House and noticed that there was no portrait of former governor John Skottowe – who was his great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

He promised to provide a copy of a portrait that hangs in his dining room at home, and on 26 October 2012, it was duly presented to Governor Mark Capes by Mr Nicoll’s cousin, Tom Pickering.

Mr Pickering said: “It was a pleasure to deliver the picture of Governor Capes, having brought it all the way from New Zealand.

“It was fortunate that it arrived here at all, as the suitcase in which it was packed got lost in Cape town, only to be found just in time to make the ship to St Helena.”

John Skottowe was governor of St Helena from 1764-1782. The portrait is a copy of one painted in 1784.

The original oil painting was auctioned by Christie’s in London in 2008, with an estimated sale price of 8,695.24 – 12,421.77

It shows its subject in scarlet coat and grey embroidered waistcoat, holding a cane and a letter addressed, “The Hon. John Skottowe Governor of St. Helena”.

Shipping off Jamestown is visible in the background.

The portrait was exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy Galleries in 1937.

During Governor Skottowe’s 18 years in office, lead pipes were laid to carry water from Chubb’s Spring to the wharf. His tenure also saw the building of the parish church in Jamestown and the officers’ barracks.

He also played host to Captain James Cook on the return legs of his first and second voyages to the South Seas.

Cook wrote: “I received a very pressing invitation, both from Governor Skottowe and his Lady… to take up my aboad with them during my stay.”

Governor Skottowe lent him a horse, which led Cook to explore the island and write long and glowing accounts of the countryside and people. He called the island women “celebrated beauties.”

Cook had spent part of his childhood at Great Ayton in the north of England, on a farm owned by Governor Skottowe’s father.

Governor Capes said he was grateful to accept the new portrait. “It makes a very handsome addition to the collection at Plantation House.”

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