Artifacts with a Stinky History

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An innocent enough ceramic bowl, but what is that little man inside doing?! FN 859 / 1952.0232.000001

I scared myself in storage the other day. I was pulling ceramics for a researcher when I saw an odd figure painted at the bottom of a large pot. His hands were at his face, mouth and eyes wide open in fear, and his hair was sticking all up in the air. What in the world?! I tilted it toward me to get a better look and a ceramic brown frog was there, yikes!

Turns out it was a chamber pot, which made the situation all the funnier. Now I think the little guy was reacting with disgust, not fear. I imagine him saying, “You just dropped WHAT on me?!” Chamber pots were the early bathrooms, a place to hold your business until you could dispose of it. As a person living with indoor plumbing, my only response is ick. I can only imagine the smell.   Read more

I say Mortella. You say Martello.

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This aquatint, ca. 1812-1820, showing the bustling port of Toulon, was drawn and engraved by Charles Barrallier and published by Paul André Basset. It depicts the vast size and importance of Toulon, the home base of the French Mediterranean fleet. (The Mariners’ Museum #1940.0361.000001/LP 2073)

Sometimes the quirks of technology can reveal something really interesting! While compiling a list of objects in our Collection related to submarines, our Collections Management System threw me a curveball. For some unknown reason, my search caught a watercolor showing British ships anchored in Saint-Florent bay in Corsica around 1795. While I’m no expert, I’m pretty confident the Royal Navy didn’t use submarines during the French Revolutionary War.1 If they did, then this image shows them submerged and without periscopes! At any rate, I was intrigued that the object record contained so little information despite the specificity of the scene. I began researching the story behind the image and it ended up being really interesting! 

It all started on February 1, 1793, when revolutionary France declared war on Great Britain. The British immediately began assembling the various fleets they would need to fight the French.  Throughout May and June, Lord Hood, commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean fleet, gathered 15 ships-of-the-line and nine frigates at Gibraltar. On June 27, Hood sailed the fleet to Toulon, France, and instituted a blockade to lure the French Mediterranean fleet out for a fight. A short time later, the British blockade was joined by 24 Spanish ships-of-the-line under Admiral Juan de Langara. Faced with such a powerful force, it’s no surprise the 17 French ships (including two 100-gun vessels) weren’t willing to leave the safety of the port.   Read more

Threading Stories Throughout our Collections

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Just a few of the ship models in our Collection.

We routinely have people contact The Mariners’ Museum and Park to offer to donate objects into our Collection. For that, we are grateful for the opportunities to expand our abilities to tell the maritime stories that connect all of us, especially with the nuance of family history that makes every single donation unique.

Each of those objects, documents, or books, go before the Collections Committee, a group that meets once a month to navigate the decisions in accepting new donations. We must consider the story we can tell with the new donation, the condition and work required to treat it, and if we already have something like it in the Collection. There is a lot of work involved, and we take each acquisition recommendation seriously.   Read more

A Pirate “Takes” a Wife

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Marmalakè, Pirate of Micone. Watercolor portrait by Joseph Partridge, 1827-1828. (Accession#1940.687.01/QW160)

As promised, here is the rip-roaring story of how Manolis Mermelechas, a pirate of Mykonos, Greece, “took” his wife (and I mean “took” literally, not figuratively!).  Pay attention Hollywood…there’s a great plot for a pirate movie here!

Just in case you didn’t read my last post (which is too bad because Kevin Foster described it as a “ripping great yarn!”), Manolis Mermelechas was a native of the Greek island of Psara who fought against the Turks during the Greek War of Independence.  After the Turks invaded and captured Psara in 1824, Mermelechas and his men shifted their base of operations to the pirate haven of Mykonos and continued their attacks on Turkish merchant vessels (and the ships of other countries, hence the designation as pirates!).  On one cruise, Mermelechas and his men seized a Turkish merchant ship off the town of Mytilene on the Greek island of Lesbos. It ended up being a capture that changed Mermemlechas’ life forever.    Read more

A ‘Bucko’ No More

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On ‘Talk Like A Pirate’ day in September 2019, we posted a message on Twitter showing a watercolor portrait of an ornately dressed man named “Marmalakè.” The artist had identified him as the “Pirate of Micone.” Our team had some fun with the image and described Marmalakè as a “bucko” and “a meditating pirate.”  That odd tweet caught the attention of Antonis Kotsonas, an assistant professor of Mediterranean History and Archaeology at New York University. Antonis was researching the activities of the United States Mediterranean Squadron during the latter years of the Greek War of Independence and believed the portrait might depict a Greek pirate named Manolis Mermelechas.

Along with the portrait, Antonis was interested in a group of watercolor landscapes of Greek islands painted by artist Joseph Partridge.  The images had been painted between 1827 and 1830 while Partridge was serving as a marine aboard the sloop of war USS Warren.  Those years corresponded with the final years of Greece’s War of Independence against the Ottoman Empire.  The war had been raging since 1821 and by 1826 had wrought such economic hardship that many Greek seamen had turned to piracy as a form of survival–not just for themselves, but for the communities they lived in as well.  In early 1827 Warren, captained by Master Commandant Lawrence Kearny, a man with extensive experience combating piracy, was sent to the Aegean to help protect American merchant ships and conduct antipiracy operations.    Read more