Henry Harvey's Cutter


Henry Harvey's cutter

A very early sailing model is preserved in Deal on the channel coast near Dover. It is a 10-gun naval cutter built in the town by Henry Wyse Harvey between about 1831 and 1836, and sailed behind the beach "where the sea overflowed." Documentation comes in the form of a note written hurriedly in April 1908 by Henry's son Frederick, who had been laid in the unfinished hull as a baby. The note, found stuffed into the hull during restoration in 1970, records when, where, and by whom the model was built, where it was sailed, and other information.

Henry Harvey was a junior member of an important naval family rooted in the area. His grandfather died a national hero after the Glorious First of June, 1794, and has a monument in Westminster Abbey. Six of Henry's uncles and first cousins became Admirals, and his brother John and son Frederick invented one of the first torpedoes tried by the navy. At least 20 other members of the family followed naval careers or married naval officers between the 1750s and the 1880s. Henry served as a midshipman, and although promoted lieutenant in 1819, never obtained a commission and was evidently content as a private gentleman. He was for a while Mayor of Deal.

Henry's cutter is almost five feet long overall and has a beam of fourteen inches. It is a working model, on which sails could be set or reefed as required. Features like the windlass and the pump were fully functional and even the guns could be charged with powder and linked with a slow match to "fire a salute" under sail. The cutter has a deepened hull with a lead keel, and its form and rig were slightly simplified. The tiller was ingeniously controlled with ropes run through eyebolts in either bulwark to a bullet sliding across the deck.

Captain John James Watts, a retired army officer living with the family, assisted with the project. Watts had a workshop at the house and was presumably a gentleman amateur woodworker. He probably moved out in 1833 when chosen by the Duke of Wellington to be Captain of nearby Walmer Castle - his personal assistant as Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports. Brass sheaves (and no doubt other metal fittings) were made by able seaman James Butler, servant to Henry's brother John since the beginning of his naval career in 1804. Butler was a remarkable individual known to have built a fully operative model of a corn mill four feet high. The "ladies of the family" made sails for the cutter and even young Frederick helped make rope.

Little is known of the model's subsequent history, but it appears to have fallen into poor repair before being restored a little clumsily with shop bought fittings for use as a sailing model. It seems likely that Frederick's 1908 note was written for a new owner, and that this person was the restorer. Later the cutter was given to the Corporation of Deal to join a display of model boats in the Town Hall, but this collection was removed after a fire in the 1930s and lost. Some of the models were found in a garage in the late 1960s. Again in poor repair, Henry's cutter was restored locally as a static exhibit for the town's museum in the old Time Ball Tower, the last remnant of the Navy Yard. Shortly before the Corporation was abolished 1973 this entire collection was given to the Local History Society, in whose Maritime Museum it is to be seen today.


The cutter almost certainly had a square rigged topsail originally.

The foredeck area with the windlass and fore hatch.

 The elm tree pump was a working fitting, depositing water from the bottom of the hull onto the deck to run off through the adjacent scuppers.

The clamp on the boom is beautifully modeled, and indicates that the original main sail had four reef lines and was probably capable of being reefed.

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