Addison Updates Archive

Ship Model Acquisition: Wanderer

Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA)
Wanderer, 2006
wood, Plexiglas, fabric, brass
museum purchase
on view in the Addison's lower level

For the first time in nearly 80 years, the Addison has added a new ship model to its collection. Created by artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE (RA), the model is a quarter-scale replica of the Wanderer. Built in 1857 in New York as a pleasure schooner and racing yacht, the Wanderer soon changed hands, acquired as part of a clandestine plot to bring slaves from Africa to the United States, despite the 1807 Congressional Act Prohibiting Importation of Slaves. The Wanderer’s speed made it particularly valuable for outrunning the American and English patrols that monitored the African coastline for slavers. William C. Corrie, the ostensible buyer, secretly partnered with Charles A.L. Lamar, the true owner, whose attempts to revive the international slave trade made his association with any ship suspicious to government authorities.

While anchored at Port Jefferson, New York in 1858, the ship received several large water tanks, prompting port authorities to investigate the activities of Corrie and his crew. With no decisive proof of slave-trading, the Wanderer set sail for Africa on July 3, 1858. Once there, the crew further fitted out the ship with slave-decks to house the 487 Africans who were crammed on the ship. Nearly 80 died during the six-week crossing, and several more died later from illnesses contracted during the voyage.

Corrie anchored the Wanderer at Jekyll Island, Georgia, where Lamar had friends who hid the slaves, until they could be transported via river tugs to various buyers and plantations. Despite this subterfuge, rumors soon spread about the large influx of Africans and the showy spending by members of the ship’s crew. While the district attorney for Georgia arrested and charged Corrie and other crew members for piracy—punishable by death—and other charges, these prosecutions either ended in acquittal or mistrial. Lamar was never definitively connected to the Wanderer.

Seized by the Union Navy during the Civil War, the Wanderer served as a gunboat, supply ship, and hospital ship throughout that conflict. After she was decommissioned, the Wanderer became a commercial vessel and was lost off the coast of Cuba in 1871. A British artist of Nigerian descent, Yinka Shonibare MBE (RA) explores the legacies of imperialism and attendant questions of identity and authenticity. He often deploys Dutch wax-printed cotton, produced in Europe and associated with Africa, to underscore the ironies of identity.