The Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe are urging visitors to make a visit to the site of the worlds first underwater banquet before a painting depicting that historic event is returned to its owners.
The Brunel Museum sits on the site of the Thames Tunnel, the worlds first tunnel under navigable river. In November 1827, the Brunels hosted a banquet in the partially complete tunnel, partly to reassure shareholders understandably twitchy about recent flooding in the Tunnel.
A bold move, and arguably a uniquely Brunelian one, to hold a banquet in the tunnel that has recently flooded as a way of reassuring shareholders. But the event was a huge success, and was reported in The Standard, going into great detail about the various toasts that were performed.
The article describes, Mr. Ramsey, the painter, early left the table, in order to make a coloured sketch of a scene which, from its remarkable contrast of light and shade, would have been worthy of Rembrandt.
The painting, currently on display at the Brunel museum is by George Ramsey, and depicts several key elements of the dinner also noted in the article. It includes the tables laid with white damask, crystal and silver. The gleam of the instruments of the Coldstream Guards can be seen seen above the red dais. They were on hand for by all accounts rousing renditions of the National Anthem. National Anthem, ‘Rule Britannia’, and – for the Duke of Wellington, seated right – ‘See the Conquering Hero Comes’.
What the painting does not depict is a second table in the other tunnel, which was similarly decked out for the Tunnel workers
While the workers who were at the event were not depicted, at least one individual not at the banquet is shown. That honour goes to Marc Brunel, father of both the tunnel and Isambard, who was in fact not at the event at all, who was considered important enough to be depicted, despite not being there at all.
The painting is on display at the Brunel Museum until Sunday 19 February 2023, when it will be returned to Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust. The painting is part of the ‘Sir Arthur Elton Collection.