An Unnecessary Disaster

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A View of the Royal George Sinking at Spithead, August the 29th, 1782. Wash drawing by John Fletcher, 1792 (Accession#1998.14.01)

August 29 marked the 239th anniversary of one of the Royal Navy’s worst and most unnecessary disasters–the capsizing of the 108-gun first rate ship HMS Royal George. When the disaster occurred there were innumerable family members, merchants and other people on board visiting the crew.  As a consequence, there were wide discrepancies in the number of reported fatalities. Most believe somewhere between 500 and 1400 men, women and children died in the capsize–including one of England’s most respected admirals, Richard Kempenfelt.

HMS Royal George was built between 1747 and 1756 at Woolwich Dockyard. She was a ship of new design and at the time of her launch was the largest warship in the world. Although she spent many years “in ordinary” (which means laid up waiting for action) between the Seven Years’ War and American Revolutionary War, Royal George frequently served as an admiral’s flagship.   Read more

Oh, How We Mariners Love Lighthouses

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An ocean wave crashes against a lightouse, almost completely obscuring it.
Wolf Rock Lighthouse, Lands End, Cornwall, after 1870, Gibson & Sons, Scilly. The Mariners’ Museum, P0001.012-01-PL281.

I’m aware that lighthouses serve a practical purpose, where land and water collide, but symbolically, they offer a message of hope and determination when facing adversity.

There are times when the ocean is not the ocean-not blue, not even water, but some violent explosion of energy and danger: ferocity on a scale only gods can summon. It hurls itself at the island, sending spray right over the top of the lighthouse, biting pieces off the cliff. And the sound is a roaring of a beast whose anger knows no limits. Those are the nights the light is needed most. ― M. L. Stedman   Read more

Castles Shipbreaking Company

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Figurehead from HMS Formidable

Any visitor to the museum will most likely remember the large, gold eagle in our lobby as it is eye-catching and right in the path of the entrance.  But close to the eagle are two other impressive figureheads, those from HMS Formidable and HMS Edinburgh.

These figureheads (and one carving) came from a place called Castles Shipbreaking Company in London (to learn about the history of the company go HERE).  This company was known for breaking up ships (as their name implies), but they also had a furniture business.  While many figureheads, and carvings, were taken off of the ships before they came to Castles, many others were left on the ships and taken off by Castles.   Read more

RMS Queen Mary

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Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons
RMS Queen Mary at dock in Long Beach, CA, Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

I recently had the opportunity to visit RMS Queen Mary in Long Beach, California, which is something I have been wanting to do for quite a while now.

Queen Mary has had a pretty illustrious history, which I won’t go into in too much detail because you can read about it on her website, HERE.  She was built in Scotland for the Cunard Line and had her maiden voyage in 1936.  She quickly became a favorite for the rich and famous who wanted to travel luxuriously.  During WWII she became a troopship and was nicknamed the “Grey Ghost” due to her stealth and grey paint.  If I heard correctly on one of my tours, at one point she carried as many as 16,000 troops on one voyage, which is still a record to this day.  I know that she is a large boat, but that seems like way too many people.  Anyways, in 1967 she retired and docked in Long Beach, where she remains to this day.   Read more

Artifact of the Month- White Star Line

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White Star Line china
White Star Line china

This “Artifact of the Month” is a piece of china from the White Star Line.  The White Star Line was a prominent British shipping company and today is most known for its ship, RMS Titanic.  While our piece of china is not from the actual Titanic, it is very similar to what first class guests would have been served on aboard the ship and therefore is on display in a corner of our Great Hall of Steam Gallery with information and other objects relating to Titanic.

“Stonier Co. Liverpool” is stamped on the back of the plate, but in reality they did not make the china.  The Stonier company brokered and distributed the china.  The star featured in the center of the dish is the symbol of the White Star Line, which is also inscribed in the banner below the flag star.  The crown pattern around the plate originated from Brownfield, which gave this style its name.  As you can see in the photo, the gold gilt and turquoise embellishments really highlight the center emblem well.   Read more