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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 11, Issue 8 (November 2, 1936)


The subject of this sketch, the late Captain Matthew T. Clayton, of Auckland, was a truly great man in his profession, a Master of sea-craft in the era when canvas was in its glory, and a master also of the artist's pencil and brush. He was a product of the age when “the sailor of the sail” was at the zenith of his calling. He sailed in the old East Indiamen and raced in China tea-clippers; he commanded one of the most famous of the Blackwall line ships which traded between the colonies and London in the days of the great gold rushes. He will be remembered by many in the maritime world as the perfect type of a British sailor and skilled navigator; but it is as an artist of the sea and ships that he will be known by most people, and the maritime paintings to which he devoted himself during his later years are his enduring memorial. Good marine artists are rare; and in a maritime country like New Zealand, whose life depends on sea communications, the Clayton pictures are of special value and interest. Those which illustrate this article are selected from many of historical importance and technical accuracy, representing vanished ships, painted by a man who knew the ocean and who had seen much of adventure in vanished phases of sea-life.

Captain Matthew T. Clayton.

Captain Matthew T. Clayton.

Captain Matthew Clayton was a man of the Sussex coast. He was born in 1831, and in his thirteenth year he went to sea as an apprentice in one of the old wooden ships that “iron men” sailed in the seven seas. A sturdy, cheerful lad, he carried that sturdy happy impress through a long life. In his eighties, painting away in his little farm-home at Manurewa, in South Auckland, he was the most cheery of veterans who had used the sea. He saw every kind of sea-trade; he had trafficked in every ocean; he first saw New Zealand waters in 1846; he traded for sandalwood in the Western Pacific; he loaded his guns for defence against pirates in China and Malay seas. After he left the sea, he was Surveyor for Lloyds in Auckland for many a year, and it was then that I came to know him and to appreciate his splendid worth as a man, and a wise mentor in all manner of maritime lore.