Nicholas Pocock was the eldest son of Nicholas Pocock, a Bristol merchant and supposed descendant of the Pococks of Chieveley, by Mary, one of the daughters and co-heiresses of William Innes of Leuchars in Fifeshire. He was born in Bristol about 1741. His mother was left a widow with three sons - including the future Captain Sir Isaac Pocock - the support of whom devolved upon Nicholas. He had little education and must have gone to sea early in life. Before 1767, he was in the employ of Richard Champion, a merchant, who was uncle of Richard Champion the ceramist, and, in 1767, he left Bristol for South Carolina in command of the Lloyd, one of Champion's ships. He afterwards commanded the Minerva, another of Champion's ships. His talent for art showed itself in his sea journals, which are illustrated by charming drawings, in Indian ink, of the principal incident of each day. Pocock was on friendly terms with the Champions, by whom he was much esteemed.
In 1780, Pocock sent a sea piece, his first attempt at oil painting, to the Royal Academy. It arrived too late for exhibition, but Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote him an encouraging letter, with advice as to future practice, and recommended him to "unite landscape to ship painting". In 1782, he exhibited at the Royal Academy for the first time. His subject was 'A View of Redcliff Church from the Sea Banks' and he continued to exhibit, mainly sea and battle pieces, at the Royal Academy and the British Institution till 1815. In these works, he turned to account many of his sketches in South Carolina and the West Indies.
In 1789, Pocock left Bristol and settled in London, where he rose to distinction as a painter of naval engagements. In 1796, he was living at 12 Great George Street, Westminster, where his visiting circle included many admirals and other officers of the Navy and several theatrical celebrities, including the Kembles and Mrs. Siddons. In 1804, he took part in founding the Watercolour Society, now the Royal Society of Painters in Watercolours, of which he subsequently refused the presidency; and, though he withdrew on the temporary dissolution of the society in 1812, he continued to contribute to its exhibitions till 1817. He exhibited altogether 320 works, 182 at the Watercolour Society, 113 at the Royal Academy and twenty-five at the British Institution. He had married Ann, daughter of John Evans of Bristol, and their sons were Isaac and William lnnes Pocock. In 1817, he left London for 35 St. James' Parade, Bath and later retired to his elder sonís residence at Ray Lodge in Maidenhead, Berkshire, where he died on 19th March 1821, at the age of eighty.
Though Pocock earned his reputation mainly by his pictures of naval engagements, for which the wars of his time supplied ample material, and other sea pieces, he also painted landscapes in oil and watercolour. As an artist, he had taste and skill, but his large naval pictures, though accurate and careful, are wanting in spirit, and in watercolours he did not get much beyond the 'tinted' drawings of the earlier draughtsmen.
Edited from Sidney Lee's 'Dictionary of National Biography' (1896).
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