Parthian and the Pirates

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“H.M. Sloop Parthian Capturing a Spanish Pirate.” Watercolor by Nicolas Cammillieri of Malta, circa 1825-1830. (Accession# 1951.763.01/QW750)

This week, while trying to identify prints in our collection that showed dghasa, a beautiful little craft native to Malta, I stumbled across a really interesting watercolor painted by Nicolas Cammillieri. The artwork is titled “H.M. Sloop Parthian Capturing a Spanish Pirate.” The computer record didn’t contain any information about the event depicted but I figured there must be an interesting story behind the artwork–and I was right!

It all started when Lloyd’s List reported that on May 15, 1824 two British merchant vessels, the brig Pilgrim of Greenock, captained by J. Wilson1 with twelve crew, and the barque Shannon, captained by 31-year-old Isaac Peart with sixteen crew, had sailed together from Campeche, Mexico for Bristol and Cork but neither had arrived at their destination.  They were believed to have foundered in the Atlantic Ocean with the loss of all hands.    Read more

Frames of Destruction

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Iron spear from a chevaux-de-frise for river use (Accession#1944.04.01/A37)

During my time at Mariners’ I have frequently been intrigued by an odd looking object in one of our storage areas but time wasn’t always available to learn more about it.  That recently changed for one object when I spent several months researching the history behind a piece that has always intrigued me—a large, bent, barbed, piece of iron–the spear of a chevaux-de-frise.

For those of you thinking “chev-o-de-what?”, chevaux-de-frise are those long lines of angled sharpened posts you sometimes see on historic battlefields.  They were used as obstructions to prevent cavalry from overrunning a defensive line.  For those of you who already know what they are and are asking yourself “how can one of those defend a river?”, that’s where the interesting story lies!    Read more

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

October Artifact of the Month – USS Dionysus Engine

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USS Dionysus, Courtesy of The Mariners' Museum.
USS Dionysus, Courtesy of The Mariners’ Museum.

Hello faithful readers and welcome back to the artifact of the month! This month, we will be looking at a 271,000 pound engine from a Liberty ship built in World War II, USS Dionysus. Last week, while working on my blog, I got to take a little field trip out to the back of the museum where all of the macro artifacts are stored. While exploring, my supervisor showed myself and another intern the engine which is housed in a shed to protect it from the elements. The shed itself is a little creepy from the outside, but the engine inside is magnificent. It is massive, and just looms over you, with parts and pieces that are about the same size as me.

USS Dionysus was originally built for the Royal Navy as HMS Faithful as part of the lend-lease program, but instead was kept by the US Navy. It was commissioned in 1945 as a repair ship for the Navy, and was sent into the Pacific war zone at the end of World War II. Following the end of the war, Dionysus was put in the United States Naval Reserve Fleet until the outbreak of the Korean War in 1952, when it was added to the Atlantic Fleet. Following the end of the Korean War, Dionysus was again put on reserve until it was scrapped. Dionysus was a Liberty ship, which was a type of ship produced by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II and was constructed from standardized parts that were made across the country. They, liberty ships, were made for under $2,000,000 and held 27 officers and 497 enlisted sailors, in addition to 2,840 Jeeps, 440 tanks or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition. During the war about 200 of the ships were lost due to a variety of reasons, but two different ships, SS Jeremiah O’Brian and SS John Brown survived, and are both open to the public. The engine was removed in 1978 and donated to The Mariners’ Museum and put on display. The engine itself is approximately 271,000 pounds with all of its components assembled, and is the main triple expansion steam engine of Dionysus. Later that same year, Dionysus’ hull was sunk off the coast of North Carolina to become part of the artificial reefs along the coastline. It was the fourth Liberty ship to be sunk there since 1974, and is located about five miles south of Oregon Inlet.   Read more