It’s a Disaster! The Rollers of 1846

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View of James Town and the Harbour, Saint Helena. Taken from the Harbour Master’s Office during the Rollers of the 17th February 1846. The image was created from an eyewitness view by Frederick Rice Stack, a lieutenant with the St. Helena Regiment. (Accession# LP1200/1937.1569.01)

It’s time for me to admit something—I have a sick fascination with historical disasters—especially those related to natural phenomena. I don’t know why. I just do. Some of the prints and engravings we have in the collection are really unique so I thought I would share one of my favorites: The February 1846 “rollers” at St. Helena.  This image has fascinated me for years! The first time I saw it my immediate question was—what the hell are “rollers.” Now obviously they are waves but why did these particular waves deserve a different designation? (And no, they are not related to an earthquake or tsunami.)

The islands of Ascension and St. Helena (the island where Napoleon was exiled) in the South Atlantic are periodically plagued by waves that seem to occur for no readily apparent reason–one moment the seas are calm, little waves start rolling ashore and before long waves big enough to surf are hitting the north facing side of the island.  One source described the waves as “the rollers for which St. Helena has ever been celebrated.” Really? I find it hard to believe anybody was celebrating after looking at this image because in this instance the consequences of the “rollers” were so catastrophic the event was recorded for posterity.   Read more

Tattooing…a dead art?

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Tattoo artist Cap Coleman in front of his East Main Street store. Taken by Museum photographer William Radcliffe, July 1936. (Accession# P873)

Many of you are probably aware that the Museum holds a wonderful collection of materials once used by the world famous Norfolk tattooist August Bernard Coleman, known as Cap Coleman. Our Coleman materials are one of our most popular and regularly requested collections for both private viewings and for loan to other institutions. Right now, the figurine of the “Tattooed Man” is currently on display at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts in an exhibition about fashion and design.

A couple of weeks ago a friend at Peabody Essex connected me with Nonie Gadsden, the Katharine Lane Weems Senior Curator of American Decorative Arts and Sculpture at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.  Nonie was in the process of coordinating the acquisition of an object for their collection [Since the MFA hasn’t formally announced it yet I won’t spoil their surprise by telling you what it is!] and had some questions about our Coleman collection and how we acquired it. Answering those questions revealed a rather surprising motivation behind the Museum’s decision to acquire the materials.   Read more

A Tour Through the Mediterranean with Joseph Partridge

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USS Warren, Act of Bearing Up in the Archipelago. The Archipelago referred to in the title is most likely the area between Cape Matapan and the western end of Crete. In a letter dated April 3, 1828 Kearny states about the voyage from Smyrna to Mahon: “We have had a long passage of 63 days, experiencing a succession of heavy gales of wind from the N.W. and squalls, rendering it not only tedious, but very dangerous to the safety of the vessel being light and badly provided with rigging.” Painted by Joseph Partridge. (Accession#: 1947.0851.000001)

Click on the map to tour the Mediterranean with the USS Warren!

A recent inquiry from the Assistant Professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World brought a really cool assemblage of watercolors in our collection to my attention. The images were painted by Joseph Partridge, an artist turned Marine stationed aboard USS Warren between 1827 and 1830.   Read more

The Detective and the Cataloger

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This image from Johann Gottfriedt’s 1655 publication ‘Newe Welt Und Americanische Historien’ was originally identified as the burning and looting of Cuba. Recent research has changed the attribution of the scene to the pillaging and burning of the town of Allegona (Las Palmas) and the fortifications of the island of Gran Canaria by the Dutch in July of 1599. (Accession# 1945.236.01/LE 2361)

Although 2020’s pandemic has not been a good thing for museums there are some museum professionals who are reaping big rewards from being stuck at home. Who are these lucky people? The curators, archivists and collections staff responsible for cataloging objects because finally, FINALLY, there is plenty of time available to review, expand or correct the cataloging of the objects and images in their collections.

Cataloging is the process of researching and recording detailed information about an object.  This process is completed when an object initially enters a museum’s collection but at Mariners it’s pretty obvious that the curators and collections staff didn’t always invest the kind of time necessary to fully and accurately research the objects they were cataloging. The result is misidentifications, misattributions and sometimes a complete lack of information beyond an object’s name or title!   Read more

Jack Aubrey has nothing on these guys

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Watercolor titled ‘Manoeuvre du Sans-Pareil pour sauver deux prises faits devant Vigo’ by Nicholas Marie Ozanne, ca 1750-1774. (Accession# 1945.02.242/Q 171)

In recent months, I’ve learned two amazing tales of deception and daring that thrilled me to no end. Although the events occurred almost two centuries apart (the first in the late 17th century and the second during the American Civil War) the men involved were that rare breed of human male that inspires fictional characters like Jack Aubrey, Horatio Hornblower or my all time favorite Lord Nicholas Ramage (I actually had to remind myself to BREATHE while reading this series!). Since we could all use some excitement in our new stay-at-home-where-nothing-interesting-ever-occurs lives, I thought I would pass them along. 

I stumbled across the first story while working on our watercolor rehousing project. The image is a small india wash drawing by Nicolas Marie Ozanne titled Manoeuvre du Sans-Pareil pour sauver deux prises faits devant Vigo [Maneuver of Sans-Pareil to save two prizes taken before Vigo]. The artwork was engraved by Jeanne Francoise Ozanne and published by Yves Marie Le Gouaz in ‘Recueil des combats de Duguay-Trouin’ which is where I learned the story behind the image.   Read more