Pocock was born in Bristol in 1740, the son of a seaman. He followed his father's profession and was master of a merchant ship by the age of 26. During his time at sea, he became a skilled artist by making ink and wash sketches of ships and coastal scenes for his log books.
In 1778, Pocock's employer, Richard Champion, became financially insolvent due to the effects of the American Revolutionary War on transatlantic trade. As a result, Pocock gave up the sea and devoted himself to painting. The first of his works were exhibited by the Royal Academy in 1782.
Pocock was commissioned to produce a series of paintings illustrating George Rodney's victory at the Battle of the Saintes in 1782. In 1789, he moved to London, where his reputation and contacts continued to grow. He was a favourite of Samuel Hood and was appointed Marine Painter to King George.
Pocock's naval paintings incorporated extensive research, including interviewing eyewitnesses about weather and wind conditions as well as the positions, condition, and appearance of their ships; and drawing detailed plans of the battle and preliminary sketches of individual ships. He was also present himself at the Glorious First of June in 1794, on board the frigate HMS Pegasus.
Pocock married Ann Evans of Bristol in 1780; together they had eight children. He died on 9 March 1821 at the home of his oldest son, Isaac, in Raymead in the parish of Cookham, near Maidenhead, and is buried in the parish church there.
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- David Cordingly: Nicholas Pocock 1740-1821. Conway. London 1986. ISBN 0-87021-993-6.