The Demerara figurehead

(c) Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives

In 1851, William Patterson, the Bristol shipbuilder, launched the huge paddle steamer Demerara. Under tow in the river Avon, she went aground and remained stuck for several tides, which resulted in much damage. She was brought back into Bristol and eventually converted into a sailing vessel.

Her figurehead had been carved by Anderson's uncles, the Williams brothers. It represented a mythical chieftain from the Caribbean, standing nearly 3 metres tall. Wearing a tobacco-leaf head-dress and skirt and brandishing a spear, he held out a plant, unidentified, but representing the bounty of the West Indies.

The figurehead was removed from the ship and later erected on Quay Head House, where it remained for 70 years. In 1934, in preparation for demolition of the building, attempts were made to dismantle the figurehead for removal to the Museum, but it crumbled to pieces.

Nothing further was heard of it until 1942, when Mr Reginald Bussell was offered the surviving plant for the price of a pint of beer in the Somerset Arms pub in Stokes Croft. He looked after it until 1964, when he donated it to the Museum.

You can see a smaller replica of the figurehead outside the Drawbridge pub next to the Hippodrome on the Centre.