With open access to the Atlantic Ocean Plymouth has been a major strategic naval base since the sixteenth century. It was from here, in 1577, that Sir Francis Drake set sail in the Golden Hind
for his famous circumnavigation of the globe, and it was also from here that the English Fleet sailed to engage the Spanish Armada in 1588. Plymouth has played a vital role in Britain's maritime history ever since. In 1620 the Mayflower
departed from Plymouth Sound for the New World with the Pilgrim Fathers and in 1689 William III established a Royal Dockyard here. Together with Portsmouth in the Solent, Plymouth became one of the two preeminent naval dockyards of Britain's great era of global naval supremacy in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In 1815, following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, the Emperor Napoleon was brought here and imprisoned aboard HMS Bellerophon
before being transported to St Helena. In the twentieth century Plymouth played a key role in the fight for the Atlantic through two World Wars and today it is the largest naval base in Western Europe.
Thomas Mitchell was both a painter and shipwright to the Admiralty. A Builders' Assistant at His Majesty's Dockyard, first at Chatham, in 1771, and then Deptford, where he was based from 1774, he was later appointed Assistant Surveyor of the Navy. Like John Cleveley, whom he must have known well, he was also an artist and exhibited paintings at the Free Society in 1763-80, and at the Royal Academy between 1774 and 1789.