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A glimpse into the life of a historic seafarer for World Mental Health Day

10 October 2018 by Jen

Logo compromised of a lifebelt and phone receiver to look like an old fashioned phone with text giving the e-mail address for SeafarerHelp

SeafarerHelp run a free, confidential, multilingual helpline for seafarers and their families, offering support with whatever issues they may be facing. You can find a link to their website at the bottom of this page.

Earlier this year I wrote about a romantic story from the journals of young Captain William Porter, from the 1860s. He was dearly missing his wife, Bess, when he discovered, weeks out to sea, that she’d hidden a letter to him among his belongings.

This sweet story about William and Bess was not however what had drawn me to the journals in the first place. It was a rather less happy strand to his writing that had caught my eye on the summary transcript. I had been researching in the Archives for historic references to struggles with mental health, or simply the loneliness and isolation we know are often a part of life at sea. In the summary for William’s journals there were certainly mentions of loneliness, but also repeated references to worry about a variety of things and a note of a New Year’s Eve entry that particularly spoke about his state of mind. Read more…

Hands Across The Ocean, a guest blog from visiting author Deborah Heiligman

26 September 2018 by Jen

Deborah Heiligman with Sonia Bech Williams, child survivor of the sinking of the City of Benares, outside Sonia's childhood home.

Deborah Heiligman with Sonia Bech Williams, child survivor of the sinking of the City of Benares, outside Sonia’s childhood home.

Earlier this year I met with American author Deborah Heiligman, who’s working on a new children’s book about the sinking of the City of Benares in World War II. It was lovely to meet her and exchange information on this fascinating story and she’s now been kind enough to write a blog for us talking about her research and what drew her to the City of Benares: Read more…

A woman navigating a STEM career in the 18th century

31 August 2018 by Jen

Image of double reflecting octant, an 18th century navigation tool

Double reflecting octant made by Ann Smith of Liverpool c. 1788-1800. – MMM.2007.173

From the earliest ocean going craft to today’s enormous container ships, navigation has been key to the history of seafaring. The ability to plot your position on a chart relative to where you were going has long been an essential part of safe passage. The science of navigation has improved seafaring, has saved lives, and has helped human beings to map the world with ever greater accuracy. The object pictured here is a Double Reflecting Octant, in its day the most accurate way to plot a ship’s latitude ever invented. This particular Octant dates from around the end of the 18th century and was made right here in Liverpool by Ann Smith, who ran a navigation shop in Pool Lane. Read more…

Commemorating an MP’s furious outburst on behalf of seafarers

20 July 2018 by Jen

Bronze medallion showing profile of bearded man and the words 'House of Commons 22 July 1875 London S. Plimsoll'

Medallion struck to commemorate MP Samuel Plimsoll’s outburst in the House of Commons in defense of Seafarers. Designed by Auguste Chevalier. – 52.111.1

Medals are struck for all sorts of reasons, to celebrate bravery, commemorate important events, honour people’s contributions, but my personal favourite reason for a medal being struck has to be the reason behind this one in our collections. The man whose profile you see here is the Liberal MP and great campaigner for seafarers, Samuel Plimsoll. The medal was struck to commemorate the day, after years of campaigning and frustration, that he completely lost his composure and his temper, broke parliamentary protocol, shouted, heckled the Prime Minister, and shook his fist at various members of the House of Commons, terming them villains! Read more…

British child refugees

20 June 2018 by Jen

Refugee Week, founded in 1998 “as a direct reaction to hostility in the media and society in general towards refugees and asylum seekers”, is marking its 20th anniversary this week, and one of the 20 Simple Acts they have asked people to consider doing this year is spread the word.

Sadly the hostility that inspired this campaign in 1998 is still present and their work is as important as ever. I believe that it is harder to be hostile towards someone once we begin to empathise with them, and as human beings we often empathise most easily with people when we realise they are like ourselves. In keeping with that idea I want to talk about Britain’s own child refugees. Read more…

Centenary of Mersey ferries’ daring Zeebrugge raid

19 April 2018 by Jen

Black and white photograph of two Mersey ferries

The Mersey ferries Daffodil and Iris II at Dover soon after the vessels returned from the Zeebrugge Raid © IWM (Q 18888)

Anyone who’s looked out across the Mersey in the last couple of years has probably noticed the very colourful Mersey ferry Snowdrop in her fabulous dazzle-inspired livery. Designed by Peter Blake to mark the centenary of the First World War, it is reminiscent of the Dazzle camouflage used by thousands of ships in the conflict. If you step on board and visit the display co-curated by National Museums Liverpool you’ll discover that when the Mersey ferries played their own role in the war, their livery couldn’t have looked more different to the spectacular Dazzle. Read more…

A story of female friendship and survival

7 March 2018 by Jen

Back and white photo of a large two funnelled liner, the City of Benares

City of Benares, Maritime Archives & Library, MMM collection, reference MCR/61/371 (copyright unknown, believed to be expired)

When I first started to think about women’s stories we could spotlight this year for International Women’s Day there was one in particular that instantly came to mind. I’ve blogged before about the sinking of the Ellerman liner, City of Benares. Torpedoed mid-Atlantic in 1940 while taking child evacuees to Canada, it’s one of the most heart-rending pieces of research I’ve ever carried out. As always with such tragedies though, the larger story is made up of hundreds of smaller, more personal, ones. Beth and Bess are one of these stories. Read more…

A Valentine to seafarers

12 February 2018 by Jen

Off-white tile with red printed design showing a woman embracing a sailor with sailing ship in the background.

British Delftware tile, ‘The Sailor’s Farewell’, from National Museums Liverpool’s Decorative Arts collection – M2234 i

Here at the Maritime Museum our curatorial team are busy researching the content for our new Sea Galleries, looking at the lives and experiences of seafarers. I’ve become particularly interested in the effects of separation from one’s family and home, and have been reading through a collection of journals in the Maritime Archives kept by a Captain Porter in the 1860s aboard his ship the Jamna. Read more…

A Wesołych Świąt stranded in the Suez Canal

22 December 2017 by Jen

Large Wooden Christmas Tree floating beside two small boats.

Christmas tree created by Polish seafarers from the Djakarta.  Photograph courtesy of George Wharton.

Christmas on a ship, somewhere hot and sunny, with not a lot to do. Sounds idyllic doesn’t it? Let’s be honest, after weeks of Christmas preparations (which can make the holiday seem like an awful lot of work) who hasn’t nurtured a secret desire to do it all differently one year and sail off in to the sun?

The Suez Canal however is perhaps not the first place that springs to mind as a Christmas getaway. The Canal is a manmade waterway built in Egypt in the 19th century, an important trade route linking the Mediterranean and Red Seas. In June 1967 years of political tension between Egypt and Israel erupted in what would become known as the Six Day War. Faced with Israeli occupation of the east bank of the Canal, Egypt blocked both ends. Passenger ships in the canal had been allowed to leave but orders were for the cargo vessels to stay put. This left a group of 14 ships stranded in the Great Bitter Lake area of the canal, where they would remain, trapped by obstacles both physical and political, for a further eight years. Read more…

‘Never at Sea’… well, never say never

8 November 2017 by Jen

Cap belonging to Chief WRNS Officer, HMS Eaglet, Mis P.G. Stubbs - 1981.730.6

Uniform cap belonging to Chief WRNS Officer, HMS Eaglet, Miss PG Stubbs – 1981.730.6

It is 1917 and for the last three years war on a scale previously unseen and unimagined has been raging between the European powers. Young men have died by the thousands and the end is still not in sight. Britain is facing a shortage of manpower and finally considering radical measures; to free up men for the front, women will be asked to volunteer with the services to fill non-fighting roles. Read more…



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We try to ensure that the information provided on our blog is accurate and that appropriate permissions to use images have been sought. The opinions in each blog are very much those of the individuals writing.