‘The State Barge’ by James Henry Pullen; a Steampunk Masterwork

The State Barge’by James Henry Pullen

Made with exotic materials, including ivory, ebony and rare timbers.

Made 1866/1867.

This amazing model has been described as the “Mystic representation of the World as a Ship”. Designed by Pullen as a vessel for Queen Victoria to rule her empire from. The cosmic forces are represented. The hull is made of solid ebony and cosmic forces are represented on the exterior. Finely carved white ivory angels are outside on the prow, and Neptune or Satan is at the stern. A centre-rod acts on 12 working oars and forked lightening strikes the top. The ivory came from tusks given to Pullen by his patron, Edward VII, who took a great interest in him. It was exhibited at the Paris Exhibition. – Direct quote from the The Langdon Down Museum of Learning Disability website.

James Henry Pullen

James Henry Pullen was renown in the Victorian Era as the Genius of Earlswood. He was born in Dalston, London in 1835. He was admitted to Essex Hall, Colchester in 1850 and transferred to Earlswood Asylum when it opened in 1855. He died there in 1916. Pullen was considered an Idiot Savant, but it is more likely that he was intelligent but suffering from a language disorder or some form of autism.

Earlswood used handicrafts as both a therapy and to raise funds for the asylum. Pullen was both a talented drawer, and  a carpenter and wood carver of the highest order. It is his creativity and originality that argues against his diagnosis as a true Idiot Savant. He could make his own tools, as well as creating models and drawings of great detail and beauty. He didn’t just reproduce models of known ships, but could design and make quite fanciful works like The State Barge and a large, mechanical mannequin he kept in his workshop for his own amusement.

The State Barge is his masterpiece, to my mind, because of the obvious love and care that has gone into making it. If it was made by an artist today, no one would have any problem with labelling it as Steampunk.

Detail of The State Barge

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Filed under Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Aesthetic

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