This pencil portrait depicts Captain Daniel Roberts, an English naval officer who lived in Italy and moved in the same circles as poets Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley. Roberts built Byron’s boat, the ‘Bolivar’, as well as Shelley’s ‘Don Juan’, in which Shelley was sailing when he drowned.
Author and adventurer Edward Trelawny commissioned the ‘Don Juan’, named after the epic poem on which Byron was then working. Through Trelawny, Byron commissioned the schooner ‘Bolivar’, named after Simón Bolívar, the South American revolutionary, who had been responsible for establishing an independent government in Venezuela.
On 8 July 1822 Shelley and Edward Williams boarded the ‘Don Juan’ to sail to Lerici, in northern Italy, from Leghorn (the Italian port city, also known as Livorno). The boat was caught in unfavourable conditions and both men drowned. Byron was present when Shelley was cremated on the beach on 16 August, although he swam out to the ‘Bolivar’ during the latter part of the ceremony. In the spring of 1823 Byron was joined by Lord and Lady Blessington and Count Alfred d’Orsay. Before the party left in June, Byron bought Lady Blessington’s charger, Mameluke, and sold the ‘Bolivar’ to Lord Blessington.
Alfred, Count d’Orsay, dandy and amateur artist, was born in Paris, the son of one of Napoleon’s generals. He met Lord and Lady Blessington in 1822 and was romantically interested in Lady Blessington. Perhaps to divert D’Orsay’s attention from his wife, Lord Blessington wrote a will leaving his Irish property to one of his daughters, should either marry Count D’Orsay. D’Orsay chose 15 year old Lady Harriet Anne Gardiner and the couple married in Naples in 1827. It was not a happy union. Following the death of Lord Blessington and the breakdown of the Count’s marriage, D’Orsay and Lady Blessington became a prominent couple in fashionable society. D’Orsay died in Paris in 1852, having fled there with Lady Blessington to escape his debts.
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