Many of the paintings of Bermuda in the American Civil War years are the work of a talented but mysterious Englishman named Edward James. In 1861 James was a passenger on the ship Devonshire bound from London to New York. When the vessel put in to Bermuda in distress, James disembarked, and remained here until his death in 1877. Although he served briefly as Bermuda’s Surveyor General and as editor of the Bermuda Chronicle, painting was his real love.
James’ paintings detailed the hustle and bustle of St. George’s during the blockade-running days. With his brush he captured the momentous and the incidental with equal skill.
Edward James painted for love and for the money. The U.S. Consul, Charles M. Allen, commissioned the artist to paint each blockade runner that visited St. George’s, forwarding these sketches to Union naval commanders to help them identify and capture the vessels. Meanwhile, James sold copies of these very same paintings to the commanders and crews of the blockade runners themselves.
Sadly, much of the money James made through his art went to fund his chronic alcoholism. Allen worried about his friend, writing “The Devil has full possession of James – he is drunk all the time – I would gladly help him if he would quit drinking but that I fear he will never do.” Along with his great talent, James’ work often demonstrates his pervasive wit. He was in the habit of painting himself into his landscapes, “a little frail old man” with a beard somewhere on the edge of the scene – a Victorian “Where’s Waldo?”