William Henry Bartlett and his Steamship Adventures

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William Henry Bartlett, from volume 1 of “American Scenery” by Nathaniel Parker Willis, 1840. Many of Bartlett’s images appear in Willis’ books. TMMP Library, E165 .W73 Rare.

I have recently spent a lot of time with an artist named William Henry Bartlett (1809-1854*). Not really him, more like the printed engravings made from his artwork, but we have over 100 in the collection so I kind of feel like he is family now. After cataloging so many of his prints I started to notice that I was typing the same thing over and over: steamship in the background, steam coming from the funnels. The more I looked the more I saw them, sometimes featured in the image but often in the far distant background. That made me wonder, what was it about these steamships that fascinated Bartlett so much that he included them in his artwork on a regular basis?

*As an aside, there is a second British artist named William Henry Bartlett who lived from 1858-1932.   Read more

History is in the Details

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A scene from the shore looking out on Hobart, Tasmania. From Meyer’s Universum volume 8, published in 1841. LE989/1936.0603.000001

The Mariners’ Museum and Park has thousands of prints in our collection, and one of my recent projects has been to catalog the prints and engravings from a German book titled Meyer’s Universum, oder Abbildung und Beschreibung des Sehenswerthesten und Merkwürdigsten der Natur und Kunst auf der ganzen Erde, or in English Meyer’s Universe, or Illustration and Description of the Most Remarkable and Strangest Things in Nature and Art all over the World. These illustrated travel books from the 1800s had fabulous names but for short, we’ll call it Meyer’s Universum.

There are only 29 of those prints in the collection so this should be pretty quick. I start by finding the book where the prints are published, verifying the edition (and therefore the year), then describing and researching everything in the image: buildings, bridges, statues, rivers, if I can identify it I will provide the history. We already had the name of the book, how hard can this be?   Read more

Privateering and the Battle of Groton Heights

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Whaleship in New London, oil painting by D. Walter Blake. QO 25/1933.0213.000001

Sometimes it takes just one object in the Collection to open up a world of exciting stories. In this case, an oil painting caught my eye the other day and reminded me of a history that excited me when I first learned about it.

During the American Revolution the Americans had a fledgling Navy, made up of the small fleets that each state could muster together. These ships were not able to match the well-trained, battle-hardened British Navy, so the Americans turned to privateers to help in the fight. A privateer was a private citizen who owned a ship and offered to arm that ship to fight against the British merchants. They had a better chance of success fighting merchants than a ship of the line, plus we needed the merchants’ cargo and supplies. In return the privateers received a portion of the money from the sale of the captured prize ship and the goods it carried. The profits could be high, but so was the danger. Whether these sailors were pirates or not completely depended on the paperwork and whose side of the war you were on.   Read more

Building International Connections through the Collections

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Many museums begin with a person who has spent their life collecting something they love, which family members may jokingly refer to as “hoarding,” until they come to realize the importance of the treasures. That collection then becomes the basis for a new museum. The Mariners’ Museum and Park is different in that we started as a museum with a park, and then had to search out and build a collection. This process of purchasing objects allowed us to build a reputation for integrity and authenticity, which then built relationships that led to donations.

After receiving our charter in 1930 the Museum began work on the Park, developing the land and creating what is now The Mariners’ Lake. The focus then switched to the Museum building itself and the collection, and we sent out buyers to search for significant and representative objects to tell the story of all maritime history, not just American.   Read more

Marco Polo and the Bank of St. George

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Camogli, Italy with the Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta on the Ligurian coast. (QW 114)

Some of my most interesting research projects begin with something very minor, which leads me down a path that I never expected. This one began with a beautiful watercolor showing Camogli, Italy with a church and part of a castle behind it. That was a quick research project: get the history of the structures that are featured and the name of the body of water. Then I looked up the history of the artist, which is where it all unraveled into several days of research.

The artist is Admiral Bertram Mordaunt Chambers, a British naval official who was the principal port convoy officer of Halifax harbor during the December 6, 1917 explosion. His official reports state that he ate breakfast overlooking the harbor through his large glass windows, and then five minutes after he left the room the glass shattered into tiny shards that tore up the woodwork that had been behind his seat. He is one lucky guy!   Read more