One fateful night 107 years ago, a ship on its maiden voyage from Southampton, England, to New York City, struck an iceberg and began its long journey into the annals of maritime history. Passengers and crew members came from all corners of the world, including close to 300 Americans. Richard Norris Williams II was one of those traveling on board Titanic.
At just 21 years old, Richard Norris Williams II was already an accomplished tennis player and was studying at Harvard University. Richard and his father were heading home to play in a tournament and came aboard as first-class passengers in Cherbourg, France. As first-class passengers onboard a White Star liner, they enjoyed all the amenities that the ship had to offer, including barbershop, daily newspaper, gymnasium, heated pools, elegant meals, and more.Read more
May’s artifact of the month is a pair of French Signal Pistol’s, pretty unique and interesting little weapons.While we do not know much about these pieces, we did discover that the maker is the Royal Armory at Tulle. Most of the marking has been worn away, but “M …..De Tulle” is still visible. There is also an anchor on the butt of the handle of both pieces.
For those who are not familiar with how these pistols would work (like me until today) magnesium or other flammable powder would be put into the flare cup at the end, as well as the channel. Once the lever was pulled back the flint would create a spark that would travel down the channel and into the cup, creating a very bright and short-lived flame. Depending on the chemicals one used in the cup, you could even change what color the flame was.Read more
Inspired by a recent story about how they came to be, I have decided to make our two Jaguar statues the artifacts of the month for April! These two pieces are currently displayed in what we call our Huntington Room, so a lot of visitors probably haven’t seen them as this room is mostly used as a rental space or for staff meetings/events. The room was named for Archer and Anna Huntington, with a smaller adjoining room (The Anna Room) being named for Anna Huntington.
The jaguars, titled “Reaching Jaguar” and just “Jaguar” were carved by Anna Hyatt Huntington sometime between 1926-1932. Anna was a talented sculptress known for the accuracy in which she portrayed animals. Anna’s father, Alpheus Hyatt, was a professor of zoology and paleontology and so Anna gained a love of animals early in life. Despite this love, she had intended to become a violinist until an illness caused her to have to re-evaluate her chosen path. Anna’s sister, Harriet, is who Anna credits with having really pulled her into the world of sculpting. Harriet worked with Anna to create a sculpture of a boy and an animal as Harriet was not able to sculpt animals well. (You can read an interview of Anna HERE where she mentions this) Harriet is also known for sculpting a statue on our property called Shouting Boy. For many years he was located in Kettle Pond, but now he is in one of our courtyards.Read more
For August’s Artifact of the Month, we will be looking at a series of compasses that we have here at The Mariners’ Museum. The compass is one of the world’s oldest navigational instruments, dating back to the Chinese between the 9th and 11th centuries. A magnetic compass works by aligning its magnetic needle with the Earth’s magnetic North Pole, and therefore ensuring that it always points north. The compass was created from the use of lodestones, which is a mineral with a magnetized iron ore. The Chinese found that when put flat on a board, the lodestones would continue to consistently point in the same north and south direction. The compass hugely improved the accuracy of maritime exploration and travel. It made it much easier to locate destinations, and cut time off of traveling. With the aid of other devices, the compass can also be utilized to figure out both longitude and latitude. It also made it so that areas known to be problematic to navigate were much easier to avoid or move through. This helped revolutionize maritime travel, making it easier for explorers to go on longer expeditions as well as safer ones.
One of our most beautiful compasses in our collection is one that was purchased by Fred Hill in Paris, France. It is only about two and half inches in diameter, and has an ivory case that opens and closes much like a woman’s compact. It’s dated to between 1750 and 1850, though the exact date and maker is unknown. There is another compass in our collection hidden in the hold here at The Mariners’ Museum that was also purchased by Fred Hill. This one is a miniature compass, which is also by an unknown French maker (perhaps the same unknown maker!). This compass is thought to have maybe been a toy, and is set in a brass bowl on a bone stand. This miniature compass is thought to be from 1910. This miniature compass is pictured below, while the compact compass is pictured above.Read more
Welcome back, and let’s finish our exploration of pirate terminology with the term “Buccaneer.” Buccaneer is used synonymously with the idea of the 17th-18th century Caribbean pirates, but it actually means something quite specific. When Spain started colonizing the Caribbean in the 16th century, it was initially the only nation to do so. Around the beginning of the 17th century, people from other nations like France, England and the Netherlands started trying to settle in the Caribbean too. The problem was they weren’t welcome in Spanish ports because the Spanish didn’t recognize their right to settle. As a result, the only people willing to trade with these settlers and adventurers were social outcasts like mulattos, Native Americans and shipwreck survivors who largely lived in the wild.
These people sold supplies like water and meat to the non-Spaniards, who started calling them “Boucaniers.” Boucaniers is a French term of some ambiguity, but according to Cotgrave’s 1611 French/English Dictionary, the closely related word Boucane’ translates as a wooden gridiron that these outcasts used to cook meat. In addition, the French already had a verb called “boucaner” which meant “to hang around with lowlives” or “to imitate a foul tempered billy goat.” These words got meshed together, and the French ended up calling the local outcasts boucaniers. From 1620 on, these “boucaniers” started developing reputations as navigators and sharpshooters, so anyone who wanted to move against the Spanish would want some Boucaniers, or Buccaneers, with them for their combat prowess. By 1680, the term Buccaneer was being used to describe not just the locals but any Pirate of Privateer in general. As a result, the Buccaneer was a Pirate or Privateer operating in the Caribbean during the late 17th century and early 18th century. I hope these two posts have been informative, and encourage anyone who wants to know more to come on down to The Mariners’ Museum Library and explore our dozens and dozens of books on the matter. Until next time, have a good day!Read more