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"Descent to water three ships on the Malta Shipbuilding Yard, May 3 1800." What?

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I found an image on the official website of the Russian navy which looks awfully strange to me:

pic-malt.jpg

The painting may be contemporary, but I'm not sure. We see Maltese and Russian flags.

Its title in the English version of the site is:

"Descent to water three ships on the Malta Shipbuilding Yard, May 3 1800." See here:

http://rusnavy.com/mess/epictgal.htm

The Russian version reads:

"Спуск трех кораблей Мальтийской эскадры 3 мая 1800 года." ("The descent of the three ships of the Maltese squadron May 3, 1800."). See here:

https://flot.com/mess/pictgal.htm?sphrase_id=9461749

Quite different a meaning, I'd say.

Anyway, it's well known that, at the time, Tsar Paul I considered himself Grandmaster of the Order of the Knights of St John.

However, if I am not completely mistaken, in May 1800 the island was still occupied by the French. So how could it have been possible to launch three ships of the order there?

Or do we have to understand that "Grandmaster" Tsar Paul I launched three ships of the line intended to reinforce the navy of the Knights of Malta in some Russian shipyard?

Someone out there who could shed some light on this very strange matter? Any Russian friends, perhaps?

 

 

 

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8 minutes ago, Vernon Merrill said:

Perhaps they were commission-built for the Russian Navy?

 

Commission-built for the Russian navy by whom? Malta was still occupied by the French - enemies of the Russians...

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From 1798 to 1800 Malta was in the hands of the French, In 1800 the Maltese rebelled against France, upon a request for assistance by the maltese Nelson fleet blockaded Malta forcing a surrender in 1800. The three ships were built by the French and were captured when Valletta fell, it is very probable that the ships were turned over to the Russians as part of a larger alliance deal. There was certainly animosity between Russia and France which ended with Napoleons disastrous 1812  Russian Campaign.

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1 minute ago, Sir Lancelot Holland said:

The three ships were built by the French and were captured when Valletta fell, it is very probable that the ships were turned over to the Russians as part of a larger alliance deal. 

Interesting. Any historical sources to corrobarate your statement?

If those ships were launched on 3 May 1800, when the French, enemies of the Russians, were still masters of the island and trying to suppress the Maltese revolt -  why should the French then have launched three ships of the line hoisting the flags of the Maltese insurgents and the Russian enemies?

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I'm ignorant of Russian history but I just glanced over an interesting article about Paul I and Malta (in French). If I ain't mistaken, two things that may explain the painting : it seems that Paul I wanted to conquer the island held by the French in the name of the Order of Malta and, as you wrote, that there was a branch of the Order in Russia. So it'd seem logical if Paul I had previously built those ships in his Russian shipyards and used both ensigns, stating it was lawful.

Edited by LeBoiteux

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26 minutes ago, LeBoiteux said:

I'm ignorant of Russian history but I just glanced over an interesting article about Paul I and Malta (in French). If I ain't mistaken, two things that may explain the painting : it seems that Paul I wanted to conquer the island held by the French in the name of the Order of Malta and, as you wrote, that there was a branch of the Order in Russia. So it'd seem logical if Paul I had previously built those ships in his Russian shipyards and used both ensigns, stating it was lawful.

Yes, completely agreed!

I'm also under the impression that the shipyard we see has nothing to do with Malta. Actually, that pointed tower at the left of the painting very much reminds me of the tower of the Saint Petersburg Admirality...:

http://spbiir.ru/nauka/kultura-sankt-peterburga/hronika-kultury-sankt-peterburga/1703-1725-gody/admiraltejstvo/

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Now this really is curious, It seems that the United Kingdom and Russia had a somewhat hot and cold relationship even back then:

Relations 1553–1792[edit]

200px-Russian_ambassadors_1662.jpg
 
Russian embassy in London, 1662
200px-Moscow%2C_English_Court_%283%29.jp
 
Old English Court in Moscow – headquarters of the Muscovy Company and residence of English ambassadors in the 17th century

The Kingdom of England and Tsardom of Russia established relations in 1553 when English navigator Richard Chancellor arrived in Arkhangelsk – at which time Mary I ruled England and Ivan the Terrible ruled Russia. He returned to England and was sent back to Russia in 1555, the same year the Muscovy Company was established. The Muscovy Company held a monopoly over trade between England and Russia until 1698. Tsar Alexei was outraged by the execution of King Charles I of England in 1649, and expelled all English traders and residents from Russia in retaliation.[4]

In 1697–1698 during the Grand Embassy of Peter I the Russian tsar visited England for three months. He improved relations and learned the best new technology especially regarding ships and navigation.[5]

220px-Great_Game_cartoon_from_1878.jpg
 
Russia depicted as a bear and Britain as a lion eying off an Afghan in the Great Game.

The Kingdom of Great Britain (1707–1800) and later the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland (1800–1922) had increasingly important ties with the Russian Empire (1721–1917), after Tsar Peter I brought Russia into European affairs and declared himself an emperor. From the 1720s Peter invited British engineers to Saint Petersburg, leading to the establishment of a small but commercially influential Anglo-Russian expatriate merchant community from 1730 to 1921. During the series of general European wars of the 18th century, the two empires found themselves as sometime allies and sometime enemies. The two states fought on the same side during War of the Austrian Succession(1740–48), but on opposite sides during Seven Years' War (1756–63), although did not at any time engage in the field.

Ochakov issue[edit]

Prime Minister William Pitt the Younger was alarmed at Russian expansion in Crimea in the 1780s at the expense of his Ottoman ally.[6] He tried to get Parliamentary support for reversing it. In peace talks with the Ottomans, Russia refused to return the key Ochakov fortress. Pitt wanted to threaten military retaliation. However Russia's ambassador Semyon Vorontsov organised Pitt's enemies and launched a public opinion campaign. Pitt won the vote so narrowly that he gave up and Vorontsov secured a renewal of the commercial treaty between Britain and Russia.[7][8]

Relations: 1792–1917[edit]

The outbreak of the French Revolution and its attendant wars temporarily united constitutionalist Britain and autocratic Russia in an ideological alliance against French republicanism. Britain and Russia attempted to halt the French but the failure of their joint invasion of the Netherlands in 1799 precipitated a change in attitudes.

Britain occupied Malta, while the Emperor Paul I of Russia was Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller. That led to the never-executed Indian March of Paul, which was a secret project of a planned allied Russo-French expedition against the British possessions in India.

The two countries fought each other (albeit only with some very limited naval combat) during the Anglo-Russian War (1807–12), after which Britain and Russia became allies against Napoleon in the Napoleonic Wars. They both played major cooperative roles at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815.

 

I cannot conceive of any reason why three French ships built allegedly at Valletta would be turned over to a nation with whom the UK may called upon to fight in short order, there clearly is no formal agreement in the works here.

A more likely fit is that the painting is actually St Petersburg and the the ships were never French to begin with, but why would the location be claimed to be Valletta? It is clear that Emperor Paul I had eyes on Malta, and, Malta has been the Key to the central Mediterranean, just as Gibraltar is the key to Atlantic Ocean. However Holding Malta would not be of use for a campaign in India, not when the only way out is through the straits of Gibraltar. Perhaps there is a mis-translation somewhere, maybe the ships were built in Russia for the Knights Hospitalier hence the Russian and Maltese flags, in which case the building you refer to may well be the St.Petersberg Admiralty building.

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1 hour ago, Sir Lancelot Holland said:

...maybe the ships were built in Russia for the Knights Hospitalier hence the Russian and Maltese flags, in which case the building you refer to may well be the St.Petersberg Admiralty building.

That's exactly what I consider the most plausible explanation. These were three ships of the line to be built - by decree of the "Grandmaster" Paul I - for an envisaged "reconquest" of the headquarters of the Knights of St John, i.e. Malta, but the building took place in Russia, most likely at Saint Petersburg. I can even imagine that Paul was obsessed enough to spontaneously baptize the facilities (within the Saint Petersburg shipyard) where those ships were being built the "Malta shipyards". Just an idea of course, but this tsar appears to have been whimsical enough...

Edited by Wagram

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I support the theory that the location shown in the picture must be St. Petersburg, and not Valletta. 

The flags on the ships being both Russian and Maltese could indicate either location, however, if this picture was of Valletta, why would any building there be flying a Russian flag? 

The flag all the way to the right in the image, which seems to fly from a building, looks to me to be very much Russian. Something like this flag here:

admiral1709.gif.e7b04f88f20d41d79ae2cbd1

Or the top 5th from the right here:

Z6FxbXH.jpg

There seems to have been some variations of these anchor themed flags used by the St. Petersburg admiralty around 1780-1800.

Edit: Also, the ships are all carrying 3 Russian flags, including the imperial flag, and only 2 standard Maltese flags at the bow and stern.

Edited by Anolytic
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I may have found two of the three ships shown in the painting.

According to Sozaev and Tredrea (https://www.abebooks.com/book-search/author/JOHN-TREDREA,-EDUARD-SOZAEV), p. 167f., the following ships of the line were launched at St. Petersburg on 3 May 1800:

- Zachatie Sviatoi Anny, 66/74 guns, constructor M. Sarychev

- Arkhistratig Mikhail, 64/72 guns, constructor A. S. Katasanov

However, according to Chernishev (https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/5203017883/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i1), Vol. 1, p.102, Arkhistratig Mikhail was launched on 5 May 1800.

So, contrary to what the title of the painting implies, the three ships may not actually have been launched the very same day. Perhaps, the ship already in the water is Zachatie Sviatoi Anny, launched on 3 May, and the ship about to be launched is Arkhistratig Mikhail, actually launched on 5 May?

I couldn't find any other ship - ship of the line or other - that was launched in May 1800. So, assuming that I did not miss anything, the third ship which is still on the stocks may actually have been launched at a later date? 

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I would recommend to drop an email to the website contact page to ask for more info, a source, and where that painting comes from. If it's in a museum ask the museum. Google reverse image search doesn't show anything.

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That is quite clearly the cathedral in the Fortress of Peter and Paul in Saint Petersburg at left. I don't see the Admiralty spire, but it may be hidden in the smoke. The buildings on the embankment look familiar.

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2 hours ago, maturin said:

That is quite clearly the cathedral in the Fortress of Peter and Paul in Saint Petersburg at left. I don't see the Admiralty spire, but it may be hidden in the smoke. The buildings on the embankment look familiar.

Agreed. What we see on the left is the Peter and Paul fortress and cathedral:

http://www.goingrussia.com/portfolio-item/peter-and-paul-fortress/?lang=de

The Admirality should be on the right?

https://www.alamy.de/stockfoto-panorama-admiralitat-winterpalast-einsiedelei-und-peter-und-paul-festung-in-st-petersburg-russland-39296206.html

Anyway, it's Saint Petersburg.

Edited by Wagram

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