Maria’s first owner, John Bellamy Plowman was a London cloth merchant, trading in silks, velvets and satins. A member of the Guild of Merchant Adventurers, he co-owned a ship called L’Invention,’ a captured French privateer, which he used to trade across the Mediterranean and Atlantic.
Plowman bought Normanston Hall, Lowestoft, in 1812. In 1827, he commissioned the yacht, Maria, from Brown’s boatyard in Great Yarmouth. Having a twin masted ‘lateen’ rig, the boat was known as a ‘lateener’. Its first helm was Plowman’s daughter, Maria, and it is believed that the boat was her 21st birthday present.
Maria Plowman married William Gilbert, the Squire of Cantley, in 1829. Their son, William Alexander Gilbert, was born in 1831. John Plowman died in 1832 and was buried in Norwich Cathedral, and his daughter, Maria, died in childbirth two years later. Her husband, William Gilbert, re-married and had a large family.
Gilbert sold ‘Maria’ to Sir Jacob Preston of Beeston Hall. He was a local landowner, Justice of the Peace, Deputy Lord Lieutenant and High Sheriff of Norfolk, as well as a director of the East Norfolk Railway Company. He sailed ‘Maria’ until he was 80.
‘Maria’ won most races she entered. In the 1840s, to avoid conflict from other yacht owners who were fed up with coming second, she was withdrawn from a regatta. Unfortunately, the race was won by another lateener, the ‘Hornet’, and the crew of ‘Maria’ were so disgusted, that a ‘fisticuffs’ took place and the trophy was pushed overboard!
‘Maria’ continued to race until 1914 when she was retired to a boatyard by the Preston family. She was an early transfer from the Great Yarmouth Maritime Museum and is one of the most important exhibits at the Museum of the Broads.