You may recognise this fellow………

Elizabethan Seaman (2)

Set in his pose, deep in thought this ‘Elizabethan Seaman’ stands in pride of place in front of the main entrance to Bristol’s City Hall (formerly known as the ‘Council House’ for those who are happy to acknowledge that we don’t live in a 1950s American detective series / Gotham).

Or is he really who he claims to be?

Elizabethan Seaman detail

Check out that luxurious fur lined cape and boots. That doesn’t look like any tights and hose I have seen in any Elizabethan drama (Judy Dench, Helen Mirren I salute you).

And indeed that is because this fellow, created by Charles Wheeler in the 1950s, was never intended to be an Elizabethan Sailor. In fact was meant to be Bristol’s other* adopted son John Cabot / Zuan Chaboto / Giovanni Cabotto (take your pick); the Italian born navigator who is widely regarded to have (re)discovered the ‘New founde landes’ of America in 1497 after he was granted a charter by Henry VII.

Indeed, take another look and you can see navigational equipment hanging off his belt and a charter firmly gripped, all symbolic of his voyage of discovery. A further look down and what you may not have noticed is the dolphin diving around his legs which perhaps refers to a legend that dolphins once swam alongside Cabot’s ship to plug a leaking hole in the ship. (Not verified)

Elizabethan Seaman dolphin

However in the early 1950’s the city council did not want a statue of Cabot, they wanted one of an Elizabethan Seaman, a title which could act as a dedication to our newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II.

Cabot Full ed

Dear old Cabot would just have to wait until 1985 to have himself immortalised by Steven Joyce, where he now sits outside the Arnolfini – still thoughtful, but in a very different guise – watching over his ship the Matthew.**

cabot cabot shoulder

So, that’s what Bristol did for QE2. But how about the original Queen Bess…………..I’m just gunna say this statue has nothing on what went down in 1574. Coming shortly.


*The ‘Other’ being Mr Brunel, with 87% of Bristol’s buildings, houses, projects and enterprises now being named after one of the two – slight exaggeration, maybe, but you get my drift 😉

** The replica is now moored outside the MShed, in the eye line of Joyce’s Cabot.

Useful Sources

Folye. Andrew, Bristol (Pevsner Architectural Guides), (Yale 2004), p.73

The Matthew of Bristol –

Lecture – Dr. Evan Jones, University of Bristol

Presentation – John Wilson, The Matthew of Bristol

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