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The Sabrina


The Sabrina was a two-masted schooner-rigged paddle steamer. It was built in 1844 by Messrs Thomas Vernon & Co. of Liverpool for the Cork Steamship Company.
In 1871 the ship was taken over by the City of Cork Steam Packet Company and used as a passenger vessel on the Cork-Bristol route. In 1882 the Sabrina was sold and returned to Liverpool where it was converted to a coal hulk.

The Sabrina played a memorable part in the relief of famine victims during the Great Famine, which took place in Ireland between 1845 and 1850. On 12th April 1847, the worst year of the famine, an American frigate, the Jamestown, arrived in Cork harbour with a cargo of provisions (including flour, meal, pork and biscuits) which had been sent by the American Government to help the stricken Irish people.
The Jamestown anchored in the outer harbour, however, there was no tug available to tow the ship to its discharging berth at Haulbowline. The following day the Sabrina, under the command of Captain Parker RN, and outward bound for Bristol, hailed the Jamestown and offered to tow her to the discharging berth. The offer was gladly accepted and as the Sabrina with her charge in tow passed up the harbour, both ships were loudly cheered by the crowds who lined the shore.


Conservation of the 'Sabrina' Oil Painting

The picture of the Sabrina was painted by George Mounsey Wheatley Atkinson c.1845. It is oil on canvas and is mounted in an ornate gilt frame.

In early 2011 a conservation assessment of the Sabrina painting and its gilt frame was carried out by Justin Laffan of J.Laffan Conservation Restoration.

Conservation Assessment

The Sabrina painting had two main problems: the wrinkling effect in the sky area of the painting and the strength of the canvas support. There was also a residue of old, discoloured varnish and surface dirt on the canvas itself. The wrinkling effect in the sky of the painting is caused by the artist using too much solvent (turpentine) and oil in the paint. The oil dries by forming a skin on the surface of the canvas and some oil soaks into the ground (the chalk layer under the paint). Evaporation of the solvent causes the paint to shrink under the surface skin. The hard skin then forms wrinkles as the oil under it shrinks.

The canvas of the Sabrina was weak at the edges due to natural aging of the fibres, environmental damage, abrasion and rusting of the tacks holding the canvas to the stretcher. The gilt frame was in very poor condition with large pieces of the decorative corners missing. Previous attempts had been made to the repair the frame using putty. The thick copper based gold paint of the frame had oxidised and turned a dark brown / green colour.

Conservation work

Mr Laffan carried out conservation work on the painting and its frame in late 2011.

The canvas was cleaned by removing the atmospheric dirt and grime and the old, discoloured varnish. The back of the canvas was lined with new canvas and bound in place with a wax compound. The pressure applied in the lining process slightly compressed the wrinkling in the sky and helped with the cleaning process. When the canvas was clean, several thin layers of varnish were applied to the painting and then a final protective layer.

The gilt frame. Initial restoration work involved the removal of the putty repairs and the copper based gold paint. To recreate the missing decorative sections of the frame, moulds were made using the remaining decoration and, where this was incomplete, moulds were made from other, similar, frames.
The gold leaf was then applied to the frame and this was sealed with a traditional size (glue).


Sabrina before restoration Sabrina before restoration Sail and passangers before conservation Sail and passangers before conservation Sail and passengers after conservation Top mast before conservation Top mast after conservation Top mast after conservation Frame with repairs needed in white
horizonal break with red doors