Conrad Martens, Mount Sarmiento, Tierra del Fuego, Showing ‘Beagle’ (PAF6229)
If, like me, you’ve enjoyed reading about Darwin recently then you’ll know that this year marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. But you may not have read that here, at the National Maritime Museum, we hold many important artifacts relating to Darwin and his works including some superb watercolours showing Darwin’s expedition by, the official artist on board the Beagle, Conrad Martens.
Conrad Martens, Montevideo Harbour II (PAF6235)
Conrad Martens was born in London in 1801 and trained as a landscape painter. Following a short voyage on board the HMS Hyacinth he replaced Augustus Earle, who’d been forced to leave the expedition due to ill health, as artist on board the second survey expedition of HMS Beagle (1831-1836). He joined the crew of the Beagle, which included Captain Robert FitzRoy and Charles Darwin, at Montevideo in 1833 and the Beagle accompanied by, a smaller vessel, HMS Adventure set off for Port Desire in December of that year.
Conrad Martens, Island of Chiloe (PAF6231)
During the voyage Martens recorded the people that they encountered and the topography of the regions that they visited in four sketchbooks, two of which are in Cambridge University Library (Sketchbook I and III), later developing some of his preparatory sketches into watercolours. Privately employed by the Beagle‘s captain, Robert FitzRoy, Martens submitted many of his sketches to FitzRoy for approval. As such FitzRoy’s initials can be seen in the bottom right corner of this sketch (Cambridge University Library) of the Island of Chiloe (see PAF6231) suggesting that he approved Martens’s initial drawing. Unfortunately, in 1834, FitzRoy was forced to sell HMS Adventure and Martens left the expedition at Valparaiso in October of that year. Following this he travelled to Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia producing lithographs, sketches and watercolours of the places that he visited.
Conrad Martens, Berkeley Sound, Falkland Islands (PAF6240)
In 1839 Charles Darwin published his experiences of the voyage in his widely acclaimed Journal and Remarks, 1832-1836. Darwin and Martens remained in contact and, in 1862, he wrote to Darwin congratulating him on the publication of On the Origin of Species. Martens died on 21 August 1878 in North Sydney, Australia. However his sketchbooks and watercolours are still important visual records of the voyage of the Beagle which informed Darwin’s research into the theory of evolution and transformed our understanding of the natural world.
Stuart A. Buss as a cadet, late 1918
The albums of Commander Stuart A. Buss are the latest to have been acquired by the Museum for its photographic collections. With a total of 349 images, they are an intriguing mix of personal and professional photography, covering his rise from midshipman to commander over the period 1918 to 1936. From within the pictorial narrative structure of the albums emerge some interesting themes; life aboard ships of the Royal Navy in the inter-war years, naval operations ashore (including a fair amount of leisure!) and contact with other nationalities and cultures (sometimes in awkward situations). There is a huge amount to tell, but for now I shall restrict myself to a quick discussion of the first album (catalogue reference number ALB1403).
Cleaning the upper deck near ‘Y’ turret with sand, HMS Royal Sovereign, late 1919
Whatever else it may have been, Buss’s early career was certainly eventful. As a young midshipman, his first assignment was to the battleship HMS Royal Sovereign – then attached to the British Grand Fleet. Less than a month later he was witnessing the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet. Within another three years he had travelled around the Mediterranean, participating in bombardment operations, amphibious landings (and evacuations), leading armed shore parties on pacification and occasional combat missions, and even found time for considerable sight-seeing! The latter including a somewhat gruesome tour of the Gallipoli beaches, still strewn with the human and material debris of 1915/16. The first album concludes in about 1925, towards the end of Buss’ first Mediterranean deployment.
Midshipman Buss suited up for a dive, Sea of Marmara, 29th July 1920
My particular fascination with this album – and the great enjoyment I derived from researching and cataloguing the images – is the perspective it gives of British naval activity in the aftermath of the First World War. While the end of the War heralded an immediate reduction of the fighting strength of the Royal Navy for reasons of economy, it also resulted in a corresponding increase in its deployment obligations. Through the first years of the 1920s, British warships were involved in fully-fledged military campaigns in the Baltic and Black Seas. These were primarily directed at the containment of Bolshevik (Russian communist) expansion, but in the Mediterranean the British remit also included an attempt to support the tottering Ottoman government in the face of Kemal Ataturk’s nationalist uprising, and involvement in the bloody Græco-Turkish conflict. The value of this album for me lies in the ‘view from the ground’ that it provides of these events, a fine complement to other less personal operational histories of this fascinating period of the Navy’s history.
On 11th February 2009 the NMM hosted a Flickr meet, through the Flickr Commons group, at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich (ROG). Our intrepid Flickr Commons followers braved the wind and rain, not to mention the hill, to join us at the ROG and we’re immensely grateful to them for their enthusiasm and dedication.
The afternoon got off to a flying start with a quick introduction from James and Natasha of the NMM, in the Royal Observatory cafe, after which we ventured ‘behind the scenes’ for a look at the photographic archives. This involved a steep climb to the circular, domed room, known as the Endeavour Room, which previously housed the Thompson 26-inch photographic refractor and 30-inch reflector, and is used as an impressive conference room now. So it was against this backdrop that Rebekah Higgitt, Curator of Science and Technology, gave an engaging overview of our photographic archives and some intriguing insights into the Royal Greenwich Observatory (RGO) collection.
The RGO collection consists of archival material, collected by the RGO astronomers, and dates back to the foundation of the Royal Observatory in 1675. While, for the most part of the twentieth century, the astronomers were not based in Greenwich, some of their archival material, including photographs, is still held by the ROG. As such the Flickr meet was an excellent opportunity to provide our Flickr Commons contacts with a preview of the RGO archive photographs which, we hope, will feature in a release on Flickr Commons.
After browsing just some of the photographs from the archives, and eager for some photo opportunities of our own, the group weathered the wind and the rain on a guided tour of the Royal Observatory and its buildings including: the South Building, the Peter Harrison Planetarium, Flamsteed House and the Meridian Line. With night falling and in high spirits we headed down the hill to the warmth of The Greenwich Union but not before taking in the excellent view from the ROG, across the UNESCO World Heritage site, to Canary Wharf.
We’re delighted that the Flickr meet was such a great success and we’d like to thank everyone who helped to organise it as well as all those who attended. It was a very enjoyable day and we were fortunate enough to be able to meet just some of the people who make the NMM’s involvement with Flickr so rewarding.
You can keep up-to-date with our releases on Flickr Commons by visiting our Flickr photostream.