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Reuben Chappell


Reuben Chappell was born on July 21, 1870 in Doyle Street, Goole, the youngest son of six children. His father was a joiner who in later life became a master cabinet-maker. Chappell was born near to the docks of Goole, so that from his childhood he was familiar with ships and seafarers. He won a scholarship to the then privately-owned Goole Grammar School, and soon showed a talent for drawing the ships that had dominated his daily life from infancy. He became interested in photography, was apprenticed to Harrison the photographer, and tinting photographs led him into painting. Apart from a few lessons, he was self-taught.

By his late 'teens Chappell was contributing line drawings to local newspapers, and his paintings of ships were becoming well-known locally. By the time he was twenty he had established a studio at 7, Jackson Street in Goole, and he was advertising in the Goole Times as a photographer and artist. But he found that by selling his portraits of ships to seamen he was so busy that he had little time for photography.

As ships arrived in the port Chappell went down to the docks to invite commissions, sketching details of the ship to be painted, and then returning to his studio to complete the work either in watercolours or in oils. He charged five shillings for a watercolour and thirty shillings for a portrait in oils.

He married at the age of twenty-five Caroline Bayford, of Thorne, a minor poetess whose verses were published occasionally in local newspapers. They had three sons. The eldest, Mr Cecil Chappell, opened this exhibition in Goole. But Chappell. who suffered from a bronchial weakness from childhood, was advised to seek a climate kindlier than the cold and damp air of Goole. So in 1904 he left for Par in Cornwall, and there, with his family, he lived for the rest of his life, a familiar figure on the shipping quays of Fowey, Par and Charlestown, usually dressed in a Norfolk suit, no matter what the weather.

He was a modest man, quiet, reliable and industrious. Isolated from art schools and studios, he was an essential part of the marine community. His friends were sailors, and he was often a lonely man. He showed none of his work at art exhibitions or in galleries. Yet he was an artist, and proclaimed himself as such. He supported his family entirely from his painting - visiting the docks as he did in his earlier days at Goole to obtain a commission, making pencil sketches (one of his sketchbooks is featured in the exhibition) and then returning home to work on the painting, often working far into the night because he was, literally, battling against the tide on which the ship he was painting had to sail.

His wife, too, died in 1930, and from then until his death ten years later he painted very little, so that his productive period was from 1890 to 1930. In 1933, a lonely man, he married a second time, and on July 20, 1940 he died of bronchial pneumonia, eight days after his seventieth birthday. He was buried in Fowey cemetery.


In his early years in Goole Chappell depicted the keels and sloops that were so characteristic of Goole as a port, and which are now extinct. Later he began to paint the new steamers that sailed out of Goole to Continental ports. His first major success was the steamer Wharfe, which he displayed in a furniture shop window in 1890 so that it might attract the seamen who walked along Aire Street to the docks. He painted a number of oils of the Wharfe, which was famed locally as "The Greyhound of the Humber" because of her speed of 16 knots, and some of his work done in Goole had a powerful, even dramatic quality.

He never, throughout his working life, had any thought of the fame that was to come to him because of the accurate record he made of the appearance of hundreds of the ships of his day. He was concerned solely to support his family by means of the best talent he possessed.

He rarely dated his work, but normally he signed it - usually "R. Chappell, Goole", even after his removal to Cornwall, so that he would continue to be known as the same man who had painted in Goole. In later years his signature became "R. Chappell" and, very occasionally, "R.C." or "R.C.G". But almost invariably, along the bottom edge of his paintings, is the name of the vessel depicted, its port of registration, and sometimes the name of its master.

As a painter of ships, Reuben Chappell belongs to folk art and to the waterfront. He painted the ships that Goole knew in its growing days as a port, bringing the ships into the homes of the people in the days when every street in Goole had its sea- faring family, deeply attached to the ships in which their men-folk sailed, when "Tide Time" was a town's occasion as the people gathered on Lock Hill to wave farewell or to welcome their men home from the sea. His pictures bring back to the older generation, as do few other things from the past, the spirit of Goole as a port filled with lovely ships, of a bustling, busy river, of an era that will, because of vast technological changes, never come back.

Foreward from 1972 Exhibition at Goole Museum

Visitor Comments

Posted by VC on 13/09/2006

My great-great-grandfather was Captain of SS PARADOX, which sailed out of Goole in the 1890s. I also have an oil painting of the ship by Reuben Chappell. Does anyone have information on the ship or is able to tell me where I can find it? Thanks

Posted by George on 16/09/2006

The only one I have on file is a small steamer built in 1870 by Gilbert & Cooper at Hull and owned by William France of Leeds and registered at Goole, but she was transferred to the Aberdeen register in May 1883 so might not be the one you are looking for. I don't know if she changed her name after this sale.

Posted by VC on 18/09/2006

I looked more closely at the painting this weekend and there is WF on the funnel. The date of the painting is 1890, and it was done in Goole. The Captains name was J. Fielder. Would this additional info help in any way, to find out more? Thanks.

Posted by George on 19/09/2006

With a bit more digging, I have found it! A steamer Paradox was built in 1883 by Millwall Graving Dock Yard, London for the Executors of William France, Goole. She was 594grt and 172 feet x 28 feet. Later registered in the name of the company Wm. France & Co. Ltd. Sold in 1904 to Belgian owners at Ghent and renamed ZELANDIA. Wrecked at Warkworth, Northumberland on 31 Oct. 1905 when inward for Warkworth from Ghent in ballast. I'm sure this will be the one in the Chappell painting.

I have no info on the captain or crew of the vessel. You are indeed lucky to have a Reuben Chappell painting, do look after it and maybe one day it can find its way back to one of the Goole museums?

Posted by Neil on 25/07/2006

Whilst researching my family history I have found I'm related to Reuben. His father was brother to my great(x3)-grandfather John Chappell. I have a copy of one of his paintings, The CLYTO, which a work colleague found in a calendar on his office wall. Now framed and on my wall at home.

Posted by Eric on 10/02/2007

My family were seafarers from Bideford and Appledore in Devon and I have a watercolour of the schooner THE CAMBORNE under sail of Swansea. My cousin Richard has a watercolour of THE AGNES OF BIDEFORD. They are both signed R CHAPPELL of Goole. They were given to us by our grandfather Captain George Cawsey born in 1896.

Posted by Michael on 14/07/2007

I am very fortunate to have Reuben Chappell's painting of PEARL OF GLOUCESTER which was captained by C. Butt.

Posted by Barbara on 29/07/2007

Reuben Chappell painted in oils my grandfather William Beckett's Humber Keel, TWO SISTERS. Probably in the 1890s. I know this painting was up for auction in about 1997 at Bonham's Sale of Martime Art in London. Alas I only found this out too late, as I have tried to locate this painting for a number of years. I know the painting states on rear, that the Two Sisters was owned by Capt. William Beckett, Knottingley. If anyone knows its whereabouts, I would be very pleased to find it.

Posted by John on 28/09/2007

I have a Reuben Chappell painting of the LADY THOMAS, my grandfather's ship. He also had painting of MIRIAM THOMAS, NANCEY THOMAS and his father's ship the schooner ENTERPRISE. There are many paintings by Reuben Chappell in the town of Amlwch, Anglesey.

Posted by Alan on 25/05/2008

I was born at 31 Jackson Street in 1955. There used to be an old lady called Mrs Lister who lived at No 29, who I believe was the niece of Reuben Chappell. When Mrs Lister passed away, a relation elation (whom I believe they called Olive) asked my mother if I wanted some old paintings of ships and other things. I often hear and read about the ships he painted, but I had a collection of oil painted flowers by Reuben. I must have had twelve different oil painting of ships too. Unfortunately as a youngster the paintings fell out of favour and were put on the yearly bonfire. What a shame, I wish I had then now!

Posted by Pauline on 24/09/2009

My grandmother (Rhoda Lister nee Chappell) was a sister of Reuben Chappell and we have a painting of a seascape (not a ship to be seen on it) which we seem to think was painted near Par as we have photographs, presumably taken by Reuben, with writing on one of them indicating that it was of his son Cecil, and the background is very similar to the painting. Alan, who commented last year, lived next door to my grandma and the Olive he mentioned was my mother. My grandma lived at 7 Jackson Street, then 9 Jackson Street and after she was bombed out in the last war she moved to 29 Jackson Street (where incidentally, I was born) I would be grateful for any information of the whereabouts of any Chappells, as now all the relatives who knew anything, have died.

Posted by Samantha on 08/08/2008

My father has copies of the ship JANE KNOX which was painted by Reuben.

Posted by FL on 06/02/2009

We have a painting of the CORNWALL OF THURO signed RCG so it was very interesting to read his very interesting history. This oil painting was given to us many years ago by a Danish relative whose grandfather apparently purchased it in Denmark.

Posted by Peter on 03/03/2009

I have two Chappell paintings left to me by my grandmother. The BESSIE OF PADSTOW signed R Chappell Goole and the WELLINGTON OF BIDEFORD, Cpt. JW Reveley signed R Chappell.

The Bessie was captained by my grandfather's brother and was lost with all hands on passage from Glasgow to Padstow. The Wellington was purchased and captained by my grandfather but was damaged by falling over when in port in Ireland and was an insurance write-off.

I would love to hear of any more info on the Wellington. Strangely, my cousin has another Chappell painting of the Wellington, so he must have made two version, either at different times or perhaps buy one get one free! I also gave away a Chappell painting to my cousin of our great-grandfather's smack the SWIFT.

My partner has two Chappell paintings of her grandfather's Capt. S Bennett vessels, the IRISH MINSTREL and the REAPER, both of which have guns mounted on the foredeck, so were painted during World War I.

Posted by Stanley on 09/04/2009

I have in my possession a watercolour by R. Chappell entitled SS SICILLY 24"x 15" and would be glad to hear any information about it or the ship portrayed. Thanks.

Posted by Chris on 02/06/2009

My uncle has two oil paintings of the ANNIE REECE one in calm and one in stormy waters painted by Rueben Chappell.

Posted by John on 28/06/2009

In our museum we have a Reuben Chappell painting of the DORIS which sunk off Holland in 1907. The rescue of the crew has just been commemorated with a memorial plaque at Vlissingen. We also have a painting of the SS PAR by RC. This man left such a wonderful legacy.

Posted by Jon on 28/06/2009

I have two Chappells in oil, a storm canvas and full sail pair of the ROSA HARRIETTE of Montrose skippered by Capt. C. Butt of Saul near Gloucester.

Posted by June on 25/07/2009

We have a watercolour of the PEARL OF GLOUCESTER by Reuben Chappell

Posted by Colin on 04/08/2009

I have an original R. Chappell watercolour of the SS JAMES TENNANT (of Newcastle).

Posted by Ray on 09/01/2010

I've had a watercolour on my wall of a schooner called BULLA OF BARNSTABLE by Reuben Chappell for many years. It was bequeathed to my wife by her grandmother.

Posted by David on 16/01/2010

My family and my wife's family were born and raised in Goole. My wife's mother family lived opposite the Chappells and knew both Reuben and his brother Claud quite well during the earlier part of last century. My parents bought two paintings ABEONA and ZUMA for 7/6d each at a Howden auction. They were "loaned" to the local school and forgotten!

Posted by Peter on 07/06/2010

Thanks to this site I now know who painted the GUIDING STAR OF PADSTOW I have at home.

Posted by Shirley on 28/06/2010

Reuben Chappell was the son of my great-aunt Alice Chappell and I am compiling a "family history" for my daughter, so would like to hear from any friends and relatives who are still alive. I left Goole Grammar School in September 1949.

Posted by Susie on 28/06/2010

Reuben Chappell was the son of my mum's great-aunt Alice, who adored her and wanted to adopt her, but my nan didn't think much of that idea! If any family members have any genealogy information they would like to share I would love to get in touch.

Posted by Rob on 07/07/2010

You must be a long lost relative! My mum is daughter to Cecil Chappell, and granddaughter to Reuben.

Posted by Neil on 19/07/2010

I would love to pick your brains over missing sections of my "Chappell" tree. Reuben's father was brother to John Chappell, my great(x3)-grandfather.

Posted by Annoeli on 27/06/2015

I believe Reuben Chappell was my great-great-uncle. My family name is Needham. My grandfather Harry's mother was Ada Chappell, whose father John was Reuben's brother. I don't personally know very much about my extended family so would be interested in information from anyone connected/who has known the family.

Posted by Joanne on 16/08/2015

I am distantly related to Reuben and his family through his grandparents Joseph Thresh and Martha Watson. Many of the family trees I have seen record his mother as being Sarah Thrash - instead of Thresh. The Thresh family had a long standing connection to the waterways from Knottingley down into Goole with many of them becoming mariners and it would be nice to think that his uncles had an influence on his career - who knows.

Posted by Sheila on 06/09/2015

I was interested to read about the name of Reuben's mother, my great-grandmother. I had thought her name was Sarah Elizabeth Thrush but as I look again at their Marriage Certificate, I can see that the "a" was not joined at the top making it look like a "u".

She married George Chappell, a joiner from Hull, on 13 September 1861 at Goole Parish Church. The certificate identifies George's father, John, as a labourer and Sarah's father, Joseph, as a sailor. Reuben was not the youngest of six children though. My grandmother Rhoda, was the youngest being born on 21 December 1882.

There is to be a large, outside exhibition of Reuben's work in Goole next week. The launch is on Friday afternoon at the Lowther Hotel with guided walking tours arranged for the weekend. My family and I will be there.

Posted by Roger on 26/09/2010

I seek information regarding an E. Chappell who likely came to Canada from England, likely in the mid-to-later 1930s, to paint watercolours of Goldfields in Northern Saskatchewan, circa 1939. Starting in 1934, Goldfields hosted a gold rush that drew international attention but this mining camp became a ghost town when a gold mine established there shut down in 1942.

Posted by Pauline on 26/10/2010

I wonder if the E. Chappell, is the Edward that my godmother was engaged to, or certainly very fond of. Apparently he went to Canada, leaving her behind as it was her duty, as youngest daughter, to look after her parents. I hadn't known they were related but as Reuben Chappell was uncle to Ida Addy (my godmother) and my mother, Edward may have been a more distant relative. I never knew any more than his name was Edward and he was an artist who went to live in Canada.

Posted by Bruce on 03/12/2010

I have a watercolour signed R. Chappell Goole of a boat called the EPNEY LASS of Gloucester.

Posted by Martin on 04/08/2011

I have just stumbled on the post about the Epney Lass. It was owned by my great-uncle Felix (later of SK & F Silvey, Epney Bus Service) and my mother used to talk about that boat.

Posted by John on 05/12/2010

My wife has just inherited a Chappell watercolour the hospital ship HMS CHINA NO. 6.

Posted by Anne on 08/09/2011

I have in my possession a watercolour by Reuben Chappell of Goole named TWEED OF FAVERSHAM, Capt. F. Smith

Posted by Alison on 24/10/2011

I have a Reuben Chappell painting of what would be the ship my great-great-grandfather sailed on. It is unfortunately in a bad condition but for me it has sentimental value as it hung on the wall in our house and after my mother passed it came to me. I currently live in Entebbe Uganda and it has pride of place on the wall. Visitors to the house ask about the painting and I tell them the story of the young man in Goole Yorkshire that used to sit on the pier and paint pictures of the ships coming into port and selling them to the seaman who sailed upon them.

Posted by Micky on 07/12/2011

I have SPARTAN OF MONTROSE signed R Chappell, Goole.

Posted by Morris on 26/12/2011

My father, John Thomas Cawthorn, was an exact contemporary of Reuben Chappell, having been born in the docks area of Goole in 1870, a few streets away from where Reuben was born the same year. I have no idea (but would love to know) if they knew each other.

Posted by Goolie Gone on 16/05/2015

The records show that Reuben was born in Doyle Street. Does anyone have any information about what this street or location would have been like around his time there? Thanks.

Posted by Keith on 18/05/2015

Doyle Street I think was where the old Gas Works were in Old Goole near to the Cape Of Good Hope pub.

Posted by Bill on 19/05/2015

Yes that's right. Doyle Street was the first turning on the left as you came over the bridge heading into Goole. In its heyday (last half of the 19th Century) the street boasted six pubs and two hotels.

Posted by Paul on 23/01/2012

Does anybody have any information about the SS MATJE? My grandfather was the captain in the 1940s/early 1950s. I have a painting of the vessel by Reuben Chappell which indicates it was registered in Hull. Did it sail to Goole, was it a coaster or did it ply to the continent?

Posted by George on 18/02/2012

Paul, there was a small steam coaster Matje dating from 1890 which was with Hull owners 1920-23 only, that could well coincide with being painted by Chappell but she then went to Liverpool owners and was broken up in 1935, so it doesn't quite fit your dates.

Posted by Paul on 18/02/2012

George, thanks for your reply. As my grandfather was sailing in the late 1940s and early 1950s and I had the painting of the SS Matje with his name on it, I put 2 and 2 together. From your information it clearly doesn't make 4! After the ship went to Liverpool he must have got another one but no painting this time! Don't think I'll be able to find out which one after so many years. Anyway I am most grateful for your post but it has left me with a mystery.

Posted by George on 21/02/2012

That's fine Paul, the photo you found is the right vessel as it also appears in the book "Cambrian Coasters" by Roy Fenton/WSS.

Of course this is another rediscovered Chappell in private ownership, I wonder how many more there are out there! The Waterways Museum has a small collection of them now, have a look in if you are nearby.

Posted by Sue on 10/04/2012

I have two paintings which Reuben Chappell painted for my grandfather of the IRENE.

Posted by Robert on 07/07/2012

Just had a professional photograph made of the aquarelle MS DE GOUWESTROOM by Reuben Chappell which has hung in my parental home since before 1945.

Posted by Mary on 25/11/2012

My mother's maiden name was Melba Cocks, granddaughter of Captain H. Cocks of Fowey. She owned two Chappell paintings POLLY AND EMILY and one called either THE TWO SISTERS or THE THREE SISTERS. She hated them and sold them many years ago at May Whetter and Grose auction sale in Par.

Posted by Ken on 10/02/2013

I have a watercolour of the steamer GUELDER ROSE (Richard Hughes of Liverpool). My father was a crew member and bought it directly from Mr Chappell around 1926 in one of the Cornish China Clay ports. There were several of Mr Chappell's paintings around my home village on the River Dee estuary. These included the steamers WATERGATE and FARFIELD (Coppack's of Connah's Quay) and the T.P. TILLING (Monks of Liverpool). I love my example of his work dearly.

Posted by Rolf on 04/07/2013

I have a watercolour/gaucho of Reuben Chappell of my grandfather's steam boat SUNSHINE, Holger Fisher shipping Christiania. Sunlight burned in Jersey in 1929 and my grandfather, who was captain died, in the fire. Great picture and it's fun to read about the painter.

Posted by Sheila on 02/04/2014

My granny was the younger sister of the artist Reuben Chappell. He used to have his studio at the bottom of Jackson Street until he moved to Par, in Cornwall, just before the outbreak of war. Although he also did some photography, he made his living by sketching ships as they sailed into the docks and would have the painting ready by the time the ship left. We have a watercolour of a Cornish coastline but sadly, none of his oils.

Posted by Paul on 02/04/2014

Where was Reuben's studio at the "bottom" end of Jackson Street? I believe he left Goole in 1904 so I can't ascertain where it might have been. I assume bottom end was the Boothferry Road end? My earliest recollections are No. 11 then open space, then Settles built a warehouse(?), "ten" foot through to Weatherill Street, then a building flanking Jackson Street and fronting Boothferry Road which was a doctors or dentist. The rest of the Boothferry Road frontage to Weatherill Street was the bomb site or play area in my time.

Posted by Sheila on 02/04/2014

Reuben had his studio at No. 1, I think. Definitely, that end of the street anyway. Probably where the wallpaper shop was. I can only go on information given to me by my mum. As you say, he left Goole in 1904 and died in 1940. I remember visiting his son Cecil in Par in the early 1960s though.

Posted by Barry on 06/09/2014

ALICE WILLAMS, topsail schooner built by Bevans in Llanelli but based in Cornwall. Did Reuben ever paint this vessel?

Posted by Ann on 19/04/2015

Yes indeed, Reuben Chappell painted the Alice Williams (dated 1917) and it's hanging in my hallway! My husband inherited it on the death of his father who owned the vessel, he lived in Par, Cornwall.

Posted by PT on 04/05/2015

I inherited, from my father, two paintings of a vessel called the AMETHYST, one in fair weather the other in foul. They are both signed R. Chappell, Goole

Posted by Clive on 26/09/2015

Although I know that Reuben Chappell is buried at Green Lane cemetery in Fowey, I have been unable to locate his grave - answers anybody?

Posted by Michael on 14/11/2015

I have picture of a sailing barge named PROVIDENCE of Goole Capt. Fred Burn signed Reuben Chappell Goole. Can anyone share any information concerning it? Thanks.

Posted by Jan on 09/11/2016

Rueben Chappell painted two ships of my family. One of them is the Dutch two-mast sailing vessel NOORDZEE, home town Groningen, Holland, owner Jan Buisman. The other painting is a Dutch schooner called AGATA also from Groningen, Holland. Owner was Roelf Buisman, my brother.

Posted by RHW on 18/11/2016

We have a Chappell watercolour of the three-masted schooner RYELANDS of Lancaster, who starred in her first film in 1921, "A Sailor Tramp", her master being either William Garratt Marrow or his Grandson William Worrall. By the end of the 1920s, her master and part owner was William Hutton another grandson of W.G. Marrow (the main shareowner being James Williamson until his death in 1930) and afterwards (the main share owner being Robert Gardner Luneside Ltd.) William Hutton was the master until his unexpected death in 1941. His wife Hilda (Capt. William Dodd's daughter) sold his fifteen shares in 1942 to R. Gardner for the grand sum of £10 and later that year the Ryelands was sold to Huw Shaw (born Connah's Quay and master of KATE).

Her later film parts are well documented, "Hispaniola", "Pequod" and "Dilipa". My mother as a child spent many happy hours with her aunt and uncle on her, on their trips up and down to Cornwall, and last saw her/recognised her anchored in the bay off Falmouth in 1969 when on holiday, rumoured to have just returned from filming in Australia aged 83 (unconfirmed). The family were quite shocked at news of her demise in 1970, but her memory lives on.

Posted by Maggie on 22/01/2017

My grandmother had three watercolours that my grandfather had done by Ruben Chappell. The name of the boats were THE IRENE, THE MORNING STAR and THE DUNDARK or similar name. The latter she gave to her sister as a wedding present. After my grandmother died in the 1960s, the two surviving pictures were hung in a local pub called The Cornish Arms, locally known as The Fifteen. My mother was unable to track down the paintings and they were lost to the family. I would love to retrieve them or at least find out what happened to them. Grateful for any information.

Posted by Per on 03/09/2020

My wife's great-uncle (1886-1963) was a sailor. From him we two sail ship pictures, one with sails named HANNAH and one in the background with no sails. In the left corner at the bottom it is written: R. Chappell, Goole.

Posted by Mick on 08/12/2020

I have an oil painting which I inherited from my late father signed R Chappell of the CUTTY SARK in full sail. Is the story true that he painted three, one for each of his sons?

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