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‘Leader’, our first ship model

11 July 2013 by Sam

large sailing ship model

Chris Moseley, Head of Ship and Historic Models Conservation, reports on a historic ship model that was recently conserved ready for a new display that opened this week:

“The ‘Leader’ was the very first ship model presented to National Museums Liverpool’s collections in 1862. It has gone on display this week in the Art and the Sea gallery in Merseyside Maritime Museum, as part of a small display about the Liverpool pilots, marking the 60th anniversary of the launch of the Edmund Gardner pilot ship.

The ‘Leader’ model was made by Captain Hudson her first commander. As was common at this time he made it as a hull model without the masts and rigging.The masts and sails were added in 1934 whilst the Liverpool sailing schooners were still in living memory; the work was overseen by the critical eye of former pilot schooner captains so is very accurate. The model is built to the large scale of 1:16 so is just sixteen times smaller than the real ship, this gives the model real presence, you almost feel you could climb aboard!

detail of ship model, looking much cleaner

The deck after conservation treatment

detail of model ship

The deck before conservation

The real ‘Leader’ was built in Ipswich in 1856 and cost £2,500. She was a well know vessel and featured in paintings and prints titled ‘Follow the ‘Leader’. These show her leading a fleet of twelve ships over the Bar at the entrance of the Mersey on 8 February 1881; there is an oncoming storm in the back ground. The Bar is an area of shallow water at the mouth of the river and the ships had arrived at low tide. The captain of the ‘Leader’ instructed them to wait and as the tide turned led them over the shallows to safety. The museum’s version of the painting is by J Witham, dated 1896, accession number 1982.328

The model was used extensively as a reference for the building of the ‘Sprit of Merseyside’ a pilot boat replica, built as a sail training ship at Liverpool Pier Head between 1981 and 1985 by the Merseyside Trust. The trust was set up to provide a boat building project for young Merseysiders working under the supervision of craftsmen. She is still providing experience for young sailors as the ‘Spirit of Fairbridge’, run by the Princes Trust.”

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