Pocock, Nicholas (17401821), marine painter, was born in Bristol on 2 May 1740, the eldest of six children. He was baptized on 28 May 1742 at St Stephen's Church, Prince Street, Bristol, the son of Nicholas Pocock (c.17091759), a Bristol seaman, and Mary Innes (17151780), who came from an ancient Scottish family. When he was seventeen he was apprenticed as a mariner to his father and when his father died in 1759 he entered the employment of the Champion family, who were prominent Bristol merchants. By 1766 he was in command of Richard Champion's ship Lloyd and he subsequently made six voyages in her to Charles Town, South Carolina. In 1770 he sailed to the Mediterranean as captain of the ship Betsey, and between 1771 and 1776 he made six voyages in the Minerva to the West Indian islands of Dominica, Nevis, and St Kitts. Six of his logbooks have survived, each illustrated with charming pen and wash drawings of his ships, coastal profiles, and harbours. Four of these are in the collections of the National Maritime Museum, London; one is in the Bristol Record Office; and one is in the Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia, USA.
About 1778 Pocock left the employment of Richard Champion and set up on his own as an artist. For the next twelve years or so he worked from his home in Prince Street, Bristol, painting marine subjects and views in and around the city. He worked initially in watercolours, and a number of his Bristol views were engraved and published. In 1780 he sent an oil painting to the Royal Academy. It arrived too late for the exhibition but prompted an encouraging letter from Sir Joshua Reynolds, who considered it much beyond what I expected from a first essay in oil colours (Northcote, 2.9091). Reynolds advised him to unite landscape painting to ship painting, and to carry his palette and pencils to the waterside (ibid.).
On 10 February 1780 Pocock married Ann Evans (17521827) at St Augustine's Church, Bristol. They had nine children including , who became a painter and dramatist, and , who joined the Royal Navy. In 1789 Pocock and his family moved to London and took up residence in a fine house at 12 Great George Street, Westminster. He was much in demand by admirals and senior naval officers for paintings of the naval actions of the period. His patrons included Admiral Lord Hood and his naval brother, Lord Bridport; Lord Gambier; Sir Richard Strachan; and Lord Barham, the first lord of the Admiralty. He was also commissioned by the Navy Board to paint panoramic views of the royal dockyards at Plymouth and Woolwich. In 1794 he was present on board the frigate Pegasus during the battle of the Glorious First of June. His illustrated notebook of the four-day action is in the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. His most prestigious naval commission was to produce six paintings which were engraved as illustrations for the official Life of Admiral Lord Nelson (1809) by J. S. Clarke and J. McArthur. His commemorative painting of Nelson's ships gathered at Spithead is one of his finest works.
In 1804 Pocock became one of the founder members of the and he exhibited no fewer than 182 works at the annual exhibitions of the society. He also exhibited 113 pictures at the Royal Academy and 25 at the British Institution. Like many of the other marine artists of his day, Pocock earned additional income from the publication of engravings after his pictures. Apart from the numerous engravings of his sea battles, he was also commissioned to illustrate the 1804 and 1811 editions of William Falconer's epic poem The Shipwreck, and he contributed more than sixty illustrations for the Naval Chronicle between 1799 and 1813.
Failing health prompted Pocock to leave London in 1817. He stayed briefly in Bath and then he and his wife moved to Ray Lodge, Maidenhead, which was the home of his eldest son, Isaac. There he died on 9 March 1821, and was buried at Cookham parish church. There were a few brief notices on his passing, but it was only in later years that his contribution to marine painting was fully appreciated. His experience as a seaman and the pains he took to obtain information from naval officers ensured that his pictures of naval actions were extremely accurate records in terms of ships, flags, and weather conditions. The National Maritime Museum, London, has the largest collection of his paintings and some 300 watercolours and drawings. Other major collections of his watercolours are to be found in the City Museum and Art Gallery in Bristol, the British Museum, the National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth, and the National Museum and Gallery of Wales at Cardiff. Other examples of his works are to be found in the Royal Collection, the Huntington Art Gallery, California, and in regional museums, including Norwich, Belfast, and Manchester.
D. Cordingly, Nicholas Pocock, 17401821 (1986) · F. Greenacre, Marine artists of Bristol: Nicholas Pocock, 17401821, Joseph Walter, 17831886 (1982) [exhibition catalogue, City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol] · R. Davies, Nicholas Pocock, Old Water-Colour Society's Club, 5 (19278), 17 · D. Cordingly, Nicholas Pocock, Old Water-Colour Society's Club, 54 (1979), 2541 · W. H. Dunman, Nicholas Pocock (1940) [exhibition catalogue, Bristol Art Gallery] · W. E. Minchinton, Richard Champion, Nicholas Pocock and the Carolina trade, South Carolina Historical Magazine, 65 (1964), 8797 · D. Cordingly, H. Preston, and A. Pearsall, Nicholas Pocock, 17411821: a selection of his marine works from the collections of the National Maritime Museum (1975) [exhibition catalogue, London, 12 May 30 Sept 1975] · J. L. Roget, A history of the Old Water-Colour Society, 2 vols. (1891) · Memoir of Lieutenant W. I. Pocock, GM, 2nd ser., 6 (1836), 3245 · P. van der Merwe, The ingenious squire: new aspects of Isaac Pocock, Theatre Notebook, 31/2 (1977), 1218 and pls. · D. Wheeler, The weather vocabulary of an eighteenth-century mariner: the log-books of Nicholas Pocock, 17401821, Weather, 50 (1995), 298305 · GM, 2nd ser., 4 (1835), 6578 · will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1645, fol. 357 · J. Northcote, The life of Sir Joshua Reynolds, 2nd edn, 2 (1818), 2.9091 · W. Berry, County genealogies: pedigrees of Berkshire families (1837) · parish register, St Stephen's Church, Bristol, 28 May 1742 [baptism] · apprentice books of Bristol Corporation, Bristol RO · memorial tablet, Cookham parish church, Berkshire
Bristol RO, logbook of voyages between Bristol and Dominica
CAC Cam., sketches of men-of-war and naval actions
Mariners' Museum, Newport News, Virginia, logbook
NMM, logbooks, First of June notebook, journal, letters, and sketches
I. Pocock, portrait, exh. RA 1811, priv. coll. · E. Scriven, stipple, c.1812 (after a painting by I. Pocock), BM, NPG · A. E. Chalon, group portrait, caricature (Artists at the British Institution, 1805), BM · miniature (after G. Romney), priv. coll.; Phillips, January 1978, lot 87 · portrait, City Museum and Art Gallery, Bristol
Wealth at death
see will, TNA: PRO, PROB 11/1645, fol. 357