Admiral Duncan (1731–1804) led the British fleet to victory against the Dutch at Camperdown in 1797. This full-length portrait of the national hero was commissioned in 1798 by the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters, Leith.

At the admiral’s request, the charitable institution for merchant seamen sent one of its members to serve on his ship. Harbour Master Edward Brown’s skills as a North Sea pilot were needed aboard the Venerable.

Admiral Duncan wears full naval uniform in his portrait. Over his blue frock coat with gold braid and white waistcoat and breeches sits a red sash. He stands by an open window framed with a red curtain. The sun shines on his left hand, which rests on his papers.

The oil portrait is by the famous Scottish painter Sir Henry Raeburn (1756–1823). It hung in the Incorporation’s 16th-century hospital building at Kirkgate until the premises were torn down. Trinity House, completed in 1818, stands in its place – with this naval masterpiece on display inside.

Trinity House

Trinity House and its remarkable historic collections give amazing insights into Leith’s celebrated maritime past. The present building was the Port of Leith headquarters of the Incorporation of Mariners and Shipmasters for nearly 200 years.

This charity was set up to support the needs of injured and retired seamen and their families. Its origins can be traced back to 1380, when it was granted the right to levy a tax known as prime gilt on goods imported into Leith.

Thomas Brown designed the elegant Georgian building that now stands on the Kirkgate. It was built in 1816 on the site of a former Trinity House and hospital dating from before 1550.

Read more on the history of Trinity House [PDF, 8MB]

Maritime treasure house

The layout and historic furnishings of Trinity House still have many unique features that emphasise its former maritime function.

The War Memorial Window designed by W.J.R. Cook in 1933 honours local merchant sailors who died in the First World War. It was rededicated in 1945 for those killed in the Second World War.

The ground floor has a grand entrance and inner hall, with a unique collection of chairs commissioned by the Incorporation from the Edinburgh cabinetmaker William Trotter. Off the hall is the Master’s Room, a cosy space with a fine collection of paintings showing Leith as a busy commercial port in the 1700s and 1800s.

The highlight of Trinity House is the Convening Room on the upper floor, where the Incorporation held meetings around the long mahogany table. Maritime subjects feature in the ceiling’s ornate plaster friezes, and the table now displays a fascinating variety of objects to do with shipping, navigation and the whaling industry.

On display in the room are:

  • navigational instruments
  • wartime charts
  • whaling harpoons
  • rare objects such as narwhal tusks
  • ship models – ranging from early whaling ships to modern merchant ships

Hung on the walls are portraits of famous mariners and former Masters of the Incorporation – some by the great Edinburgh artist Sir Henry Raeburn. Vasco da Gama Encountering the Spirit of the Storm, a huge oil painting by the Scottish artist David Scott, is also on display.

The vaults below the building, which date from the 1500s, once housed a school for young mariners.


Find out more about Trinity House


Date Made
2275 x 1575 x 120mm
Property Information
Trinity House
Object Number
Access Status