Figurehead of the HMS Calypso

Basic Information

Figurehead type
Figurehead of the HMS Calypso
Vessel name
HMS Calypso
Type (Naval/Merchant)
Copyright owner
© National Museum of the Royal Navy
Copyright notes
Current location
National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth
Location date

Physical Information

This female bust figurehead is a representation of Calypso, the sea nymph who lived on Ogygia, the island where Odysseus was shipwrecked when returning from Troy as described in in The Odyssey. Calypso forced Odysseus to remain on the island for seven years before setting him free. From the design by Hellyer & Son (1843) and an 1938 photograph we can see that the original figurehead was nude to the waist. However, the existing figurehead today is draped with a blue tunic covering her left breast and her long brown hair almost concealing the other. It is not recorded whether this was added to cover up damage to the carving or as a display of modesty in the training establishment for boy seamen. Bulrushes are carved on the lower part of the figure, alongside other floral and foliage carving. The carving was described by ‘The Mariners Mirror’ in 1913 as:
“A well-developed female bust to the waist, a smirking expression on a well satisfied, rather pretty face. Waving hair in Grecian style; a long curl descending on the breast on either side. A black bead necklace, apparently oak-galls, graduated on a loose wire, with small black Latin cross as a pendant. Loose brass ear-rings; below the waist a small lyre.”
Hellyer of Portsmouth
Date made
Place made
Chatham or Portsmouth
Object history
See conseravtion history.
Vessel history
HMS 'Calypso', 6th rate, 20 guns, was launched at Chatham in 1845. She saw service in the Pacific, visiting the Pitcairn Islands, Tahiti and Fiji asserting a British presence in this region. Punitive action was undertaken in Fiji in 1848. She was then sent to the North America and West Indies station in the 1850’s, later returning to the Pacific. She was broken up by Castle & Beech at Charlton in 1866.
David Pulvertaft ‘The Warship Figureheads of Portsmouth’ (Stroud, 2009) p.74
Admiralty Catalogue(1911) No 186

Ownership Information

Owner type
Public Institution
Owner name
National Museum of the Royal Navy
Contact details
National Museum of the Royal Navy, HM Naval Base (PP66), Portsmouth PO1 3NH
Ownership can be cited online
Accessible to public
Data verified by owner
Date verified

Connect with us

Our social media space