Robert C. Leslie (Robert Charles)


Artist and writer who, at an early age fell in love with the sea, the sea of Sail, not of Steam. He describes the progression of this love from wave to wave and boat to boat. Leslie sailed during the Great Age of Sail before Industrialism had taken possession of Britain.

Leslie comments on the early days of singlehanded small boat sailing: "When I first began boating in the early forties [1840s], what is now called single-handed cruising was almost unknown among amateurs....people had a vague dread of it. Much of this has passed away, and hundreds of amateur boatmen, and even ladies, are now as much at home and really safer in a sailing-boat than they would be on the back of a hunter or bicycle."

Leslie writes of one of his favorite cruising grounds about 1850: "No railway in my time came within fifteen miles of Sidmouth, and the few enterprising visitors who reached there by coach from Exeter called it dull. It was certainly not a gay place, but most of those who resided there in that happy valley did so rather with a view to quiet, and among them it was rare to find any one disposed to tamper with the grave routine of country life there."

Son of Charles R. Leslie, and younger brother of George D. Leslie, inheriting much of the artistic talent of his family. He devotes himself particularly to marine views, and has had a studio for some years at Southampton, exhibiting frequently at the Royal Academy, at the Dudley Gallery, and elsewhere. Among his later pictures may be noted, "Beachey Head," "Daybreak on the Atlantic," "A Calm off the Foreland," "A Gale," "A Last Shot at the Spanish Armada in the North Sea."

"All that Robert Leslie has executed of this kind [sailor life, shipping, and the sea] has shown a genuine love and pure feeling for Nature, a thorough mastery of the technical elements of his subjects, and a consistency in all parts of his pictures such as in this particular walk of art only exact knowledge can secure. These qualities give a distinctive value and interest to Robert Leslie's pictures, which as yet [1870] have hardly the recognition their merits entitle them to." -- English Painters of the Present Day, Tom Taylor, 1870.

"Daybreak on the Atlantic' [R. A., 1877] is a fine and solid example of true and learned modeling of waves, expressing the movement of a ship with rare felicity, noteworthy for just treatment of the atmosphere and broad sober color." -- London Athenaeum, May, 1877.

Artists of the Nineteenth Century, Works, Biographical Sketches, by Clara Erskine Clement and Laurence Hutton. 1879.

A Water biography, by Robert C. Leslie; Illustrated by the author. -- In this brightly written volume Mr. Leslie, who is a boating man and artist, relates the experience of a long life in so far as that life has been spent upon the water. In his youthful days he was a Royal Academy student, and later on he exhibited at the Academy, boats and water being the subjects selected for his art. When a boy Turner gave him "an early lesson in seamanship," and sixteen years later be praised one of his pictures, saying, "I like your colour." Twelve years were spent by Mr. Leslie at Sidmouth, when he built a small boat for himself, the doings of which are enthusiastically described. When the time came to leave the Devonshire coast, he built a craft of thirty-six tons as a conveyance for his family. "We might perhaps have effected an escape by other means," he says, "but they did not occur to us, or we wanted the energy to use them." We cannot follow Mr. Leslie in his exploits as a sailor, which were sometimes not a little perilous. It must suffice to say that the book "drawn from life," and written with a freshness which savours of the sea, will amuse landsmen as well as nautical readers. The author dedicates it to his wife "in affectionate remembrance of many days of self-denial spent at sea with me." The Spectator, 1 September 1894.

Life Aboard a British Privateer in the Time of Queen Anne, being the Journal of Captain Woodes Rogers, Master Mariner, with notes and Illustrations by Robert C. Leslie, 1889.
Also available: -- Life aboard a British privateer in the time of Queen Anne: being the journal of Captain Woodes Rogers, (1894).

Old Sea Wings, ways, and words: in the days of oak and hemp, Leslie, Robert C. (Robert Charles, 1826-1901), 1890, [Harper's, August 1887].
Also available: -- Old Sea Wings, ways, and words, in the days of oak and hemp (1890)
It was in December, 1884, that I received the following kind words of encouragement from Mr. Ruskin, about some sketches and notes upon old ships, boats, sails, and rigging:
“My Dear Leslie,
I never saw anything half so delightful or useful as these compared sails so easily explained. Do set yourself at this with all your mind and time on this plan. It will be the most refreshing thing to me to take it up with you I could possibly have. Ever your grateful, J. Ruskin.”
Following this support Robert Leslie’s classic book focuses on the build and rig of the ships and boats of the past. It includes everything from life on board, to types of boat and sail, to navigation instruments and seamanship.

The Sea Boat, How to Build, Rig and Sail Her, by R.C. Leslie, 1892.
Boat Building & Design: D. N. Goodchild, Shellbacks Library ]link.
An excellent and dedicated text on the subject of lapstreak (clincher or clinker in England) boat building of which there is not too much to be found these days. From the Preface: "Clench boat-building being more or less a rule of thumb and eye form of naval architecture, and not at all depending upon scientific teaching or treatment, has so far had little written about it. It is, however, peculiarly an English art, for whatever in times past we may have owned to others for our knowledge of the higher branches of ship-building and over-sea navigation, Englishmen have always held their own as the finest boatmen and sea-boat builders in the world. And anyone with an eye for such craft need only pass from Dover to Calais, to note at once the inferiority of the clumsy undecked class of boats of the French compared with those of Deal or Dover."