Posts tagged with 'maritime history'
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…
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…
As a volunteer at the Walker Art Gallery, I have been helping Exhibition Curator, Alex Patterson, to digitise works related to the Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City exhibition, currently on display at the Lady Lever Art Gallery. This exhibition explores the role that James McNeill Whistler and Joseph Pennell played in the Etching Revival (1830-1940) in Britain. It also shows how their contemporaries, such as Sir Francis Seymour Haden (1818-1910), Charles Méryon (1821-1868), and William Strang (1859-1921), were influenced by their art.
One of the etchings that really caught my interest was Breaking Up of the Agamemnon by Sir Francis Seymour Haden, which was one of three works by him included in the exhibition. It shows a large hulk of a vessel being demolished. The vessel is HMS Agamemnon, the Royal Navy battleship moored at the Naval Arsenal at Deptford on the River Thames, seen against the setting sun. Launched in 1852, the 230-feet long Agamemnon was one of the most intimidating of all wooden warships and the first British steam-powered flagship. The Agamemnon saw action in many battles, including the Crimean War, and was the predecessor of iron-hulled ships, which were introduced in the 1860s.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon reminded me of another etching, Breaking Up of the Great Eastern, No 2 (1890) by Sir Frank Short (1857-1945), also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. I came across the etching when I was researching scenes of Liverpool Docks. Both ships had illustrious histories, and I felt that the images of their breaking up expressed a deep sense of loss and sorrow.
Haden’s etching of the Agamemnon was a spontaneous response to what he saw on the Thames one day in July 1870, but it became the most important subject of his career, which he continued to work on over the next 16 years.
Early in 1870 the art scholar, artist and etcher Philip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) asked Haden to etch a plate to be published in the first edition of his new art journal, The Portfolio (1870-1893). The journal, named after a folder in which collectors often kept valuable prints, championed etching as original art, rather than a reproductive medium. This concept played an instrumental role in the British etching revival during the second half of the 19th century. Haden, like the French Impressionists, always tried to work directly from life, and for this purpose, he always carried prepared copper plates wherever he went. He drew directly onto the plate to capture the movement of the light and its reflections in the sky, clouds, and water. The demolition of the Agamemnon may not have been a traditional subject for a study of ambiance, but Haden must have been entranced by its grandeur and spectacle.
In a letter to Hamerton, dated July 3, 1870, Haden wrote of the Agamemnon etching: “. . . I had thought of making the sun set behind the old hulk and the distant cupolas of Greenwich and of using the sinking luminary as typical of the departing glories of both . . . .” This shows that Haden indeed drew the initial sketch for Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 directly onto the copper plate. The sun is setting between the ship and Greenwich, conveying a poignant majestic reference to the glorious history of the Agamemnon. The rays of the setting sun rippling through the clouds are echoed on the stirring water in the foreground. Named after Agamemnon, the King of Mycenae who led the united Greek army to the Trojan War, the ship proudly displays the figurehead wearing a Roman centurion’s plumed helmet pointing towards the sun. The Agamemnon almost appears as if ready to set sail once again into the distant horizon. Although she is now tethered to a much smaller barge, with her ribs exposed and only one of three masts standing, the Agamemnon still looks magnificent. The image highlights the ship’s immense scale and power, but it also conveys a sense an ending.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon was a very complex project for Haden. He said he had “never undertook a more perplexing job.” The initial spontaneity of etching was followed by many attempts at adding and deleting small details throughout the composition, resulting in 11 states (versions of the print) being made in total. However, the main image of the ship against a shimmering evening sun remained largely unchanged.
Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 1 was an artistic and commercial success. The plate was unfortunately too large to be printed in The Portfolio and instead was later published by Frederick Goulding, and sold through Colnaghi’s, bringing Haden a huge financial reward. The plate was so popular that he produced a second version of the subject Breaking Up of the Agamemnon, No 2 (1886) in mezzotint.
As for the etching Haden promised to Hamerton for the first edition of The Portfolio Hamerton instead selected another of Haden’s prints, entitled A Brig at Anchor (1870), which is also in the Walker Art Gallery collection. He etched it from nature by moonlight on the Thames.
To discover more about the art of etching and to enjoy Haden’s intricate works at first hand don’t miss Whistler and Pennell: Etching the City at the Lady Lever Art Gallery until 7 October and the fascinating video made by Liverpool John Moores University School of Art and Design explaining the process of etching.
Saturday 28 July 2018 marks the 80th anniversary of the launch of Mauretania, the second Cunard liner to bear the name – the first having enjoyed a long and successful career. She was built at Cammell Laird’s in Birkenhead, and was the largest transatlantic liner built on the Mersey.
On Monday Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth was here in Liverpool, and I was fortunate enough to attend a service at St Nick’s to celebrate this anniversary, organised by Liverpool Parish Church in partnership with Cunard and Cammell Laird. Read more…
20 July 2018 by Jen
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…
This week it is 100 years since RMS Carpathia was lost. The ship is of course best known for the role it played in the rescue of survivors from one of a much more famous liner – RMS Titanic. In this guest blog, student Hannah Smith from the University of Liverpool explores the story through the nameplate of Titanic’s lifeboat No. 4:
“It is 100 years since RMS Carpathia was struck by three torpedoes from a German U-55, amid the Celtic Sea on 17 July 1918. Just six years earlier, on 15 April 1912 under the captaincy of Arthur Henry Rostron, the Cunard liner undoubtedly experienced its most memorable voyage. When Carpathia’s radio received the Titanic’s distress signal at 12.25 am she turned off her course to travel the 58 mile distance to the wreckage. From 4-8am all 705 survivors were brought aboard the Carpathia. Although sadly 1,503 people were to lose their lives in the sinking, without the Carpathia’s sense of urgency, the cold would have ultimately claimed more. Read more…
On Monday we celebrated the 65th birthday of the pilot vessel Edmund Gardner. To mark this fact we are holding a special open day on Saturday 28 July 2018. The ship will be open between 10.30am to 4.30pm for visitors to pop in and have a look around. Some of our award winning volunteer guides will be on hand to provide a unique visitor experience as you walk through the ship.
Step back in time and imagine what it was like to sit in the saloon trying to eat your tea in rough weather, or pretend to be a pilot waiting in the sun lounge for the next vessel to board. Seize the opportunity to view the world from the bridge deck and see up close the largest object in National Museums Liverpool’s collections. Read more…
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…
29 May 2018 by Ben
Spring is in the air and summer will soon follow, which means it is time to announce details of this year’s tours of the Edmund Gardner pilot ship!
It will be the eighth year of guided tours, led by our dedicated band of award winning volunteers. Since 2011 more than four and a half thousand visitors have toured the ship, the biggest object in National Museums Liverpool’s collections.
The Edmund Gardner is one of the gems of Liverpool’s rich maritime history. For 30 years the ship operated as a base at sea for Liverpool pilots, who guide shipping in and out of Liverpool’s ports and the River Mersey. Now sat in a dry dock next to the Museum of Liverpool, visitors can access many parts of the ship such as the wheelhouse and engine room. Our guides bring the ship to life with many fascinating stories and anecdotes. The tours are family friendly, with a free special trail available to take round the ship during your visit.
The tours are available to book every Tuesday and Wednesday from June until September, at 11am, 1pm and 2.30pm. Each tour lasts one hour and is suitable for adults and families. Meet in the Museum of Liverpool entrance foyer. Please see the Museum of Liverpool event listings for full details.
Tours are free but booking is recommended, general visitors can book by calling 0151 478 4545, or enquire at the Museum of Liverpool information desk on the day of the tours to see if any spaces are available. Group bookings call 0151 478 4788.
2018 is also the Edmund Gardner’s birthday – it is 65 years since the ship was launched. To celebrate this there will be a special Edmund Gardner Open Day on Saturday 28 July. Keep an eye out on our website for more details!
Please note that the ship has uneven surfaces, steep stairways and low steps, meaning it is not fully accessible and unable to accommodate wheelchair users, pushchairs or prams. Please wear appropriate sensible footwear for a safe and enjoyable visit.
You can also find out more about the Edmund Gardner on the Merseyside Maritime Museum website. There is also a touchscreen interactive about the ship on the quayside outside Museum of Liverpool.
Monday 7 May will mark the 103rd anniversary of the sinking of RMS Lusitania, and we will be gathering alongside the Lusitania propeller for our annual commemorative service.
“As the anniversary of the sinking of Lusitania approaches, I’d like to recount a story of a conspiracy! A conspiracy demonstrating the humanity, compassion, consideration, and decency of two men – one in Liverpool, and the other in the south west of Ireland – in an effort to ease the pain and heartache of the widowed mother of one of the crew members who perished in the sinking, and give her some inner peace by facilitating her visit to the final resting place of her dear son. Read more…