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Penny Passengers, Limehouse

Impression: Freer Gallery of Art
Freer Gallery of Art
Number: 71
Date: 1860
Medium: etching and drypoint
Size: 81 x 206 mm
Signed: no
Inscribed: no
Set/Publication: no
No. of States: 2
Known impressions: 5
Catalogues: K.67; M.67; W.59
Impressions taken from this plate  (5)


barge, boat, dress, ferry, hat, people, river, shipping, steamer, warehouse.


There are numerous variations on the title, as shown in the following examples:

'Thames - Limehouse' (ca 1874, Whistler). 1
'Penny Passengers' (1877, Charles Augustus Howell (1840?-1890)). 2
'Thames, Limehouse' (1881, Union League Club). 3
'A Sketch at Limehouse' (1886, Frederick Wedmore (1844-1921)). 4
'Penny Passengers' (1887, Whistler). 5
'"The Penny Boat" ... Penny Passengers / Sketch at Limehouse' (1890/1892, Beatrice Whistler (1857-1896)). 6
'The Penny Boat' (1899, F. Wedmore). 7
'The Penny Boat (Thames Limehouse)' (1900, Caxton Club). 8
'The Penny Boat. A Sketch at Lime-house.' (1904, Grolier Club). 9

Wedmore's first title 'A Sketch at Limehouse' was accepted by Wunderlich's, but can cause confusion with other Limehouse views. His later title, adopted by Mansfield, was 'The Penny Boat', which ignores the fact that the ferry boat is not actually shown.

'Penny Passengers, Limehouse' is the revised title, based on the titles used by Whistler and others, including his wife.

1: Inscribed on .

2: Howell to Whistler, 6-15 November 1877, GUW #02178.

3: New York 1881 (cat. no. 82).

4: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 59).

5: List, [August 1887/1888], GUW #13233

6: List, [1890/1892], GUW #12715.

7: Wedmore 1899[more] (cat. no. 59).

8: Chicago 1900 (cat. no. 54).

9: New York 1904a (cat. no. 60).


In the foreground are the heads and shoulders of about twenty people, some of them only indicated by a variety of headgear - cloth caps and extremely tall top hats, bonnets and parasols. Wedmore explained that they were 'standing in a large ferry-boat, or little steam packet, that is to cross the River' and Mansfield also said, tentatively, that they were 'supposed to be standing on a river steamboat.' 10 Since the boat itself is not visible, the people could actually be standing on a pier waiting for the ferry.

10: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 59); Mansfield 1909[more] (cat. no. 67).

Behind them are, from left to right, a moored barge, and two under way, a small rowboat, a side-wheel paddle steamer, and a sailing boat. Behind these, numerous sailing ships or Thames barges are moored in the river. On the opposite bank, small boats and sailing barges are moored along the wharves. Across the background stretches a row of warehouses, drawn in detail at left, and outlined further right.


Whistler identified the site as 'Thames - Limehouse', meaning the ferry across the River Thames at Limehouse in London. 11 Wedmore called it 'A sketch at Limehouse.' 12 Whistler worked in Limehouse when he moved to London in 1859. Limehouse 048 shows the busy, tumbledown wharves of the area and Limehouse c007, a more generalised view of the docks.

11: Inscribed on .

12: Wedmore 1886 A[more] (cat. no. 59).

According to Cruchley's London in 1865 : A Handbook for Strangers : 'Penny boats run, every ten minutes, between the Surrey side of Westminster Bridge, Hungerford, and London Bridge. Half-penny boats run, every five minutes, from the Adelphi Pier (Strand) to Dyers' Hall Pier, London Bridge.' 13

13: transport/steamboats.htm (accessed 2012).

There were 12 pennies in a shilling, 20 shillings in a pound (£) sterling. Thus the ferry cost £0.0.1.
Steamboats ran from Woolwich to Kew with stops at Old Swan Pier on the north side of the river and Surrey Side Pier under London Bridge on the south. 14 The steamboats that ferried passengers back and forth across the Thames also called near Whistler's house in Chelsea. For instance, he invited a friend : 'get into the penny boat and come and lunch with me at 2 o'clock - in the White House - You get off at the Cadogan Pier and John who brings this will explain where the house "finds itself".' 15

14: A. G. Thompson, London Bridge and the Pool, London, 1949, pp. 45-6.