Today, I’m pleased to say, sees the publication of a new book I’ve written on the history of the telescope. The book has been brought out in celebration of the International Year of Astronomy 2009 and to mark the 400th anniversary of the invention (or at least the announcement) of the telescope in 1608.
I’ve tried to tell as broad a story as possible. So I’ve talked about the development of telescopes for astronomy and their huge impact in changing our conceptions of the universe but I’ve also looked at the more humble story of the hand-held telescopes and binoculars used for all sorts of things on land and at sea. If you think about it, after all, most of the telescopes ever made were for these more mundane purposes. Another aspect I’ve included is the cultural impact of the telescope, whether as a symbol in art and literature, or as an inspiration for science fiction and other writers and film-makers. So as well as Galileo, Newton and Hubble, you’ll find Alfred Hitchcock, H.G. Wells and Virginia Woolf. And don’t forget to look out for Tom Swift and his megascope space prober.
For those wanting to look even deeper into the telescope’s history, you may also be interested in a forthcoming conference, The Long View, this July.
I am a PhD student here at the NMM. I’m part of an Arts and Humanities-funded collaborative doctoral studentship scheme whereby the Museum co-supervises PhD students with a university, which in my case is the University of Sheffield. I’m currently working on a project entitled ‘Post-war images of the oceanic cruise’. My primary source of visual material is the Museum’s film archive, an often overlooked collection that features a wide range of stock footage and short film. Amongst the rows of tapes and reels are a number of promotional works designed to advertise cruising for the benefit of prospective passengers of P&O, Orient Line, Cunard and Union Castle vessels. I’ve been amazed at just how vibrant and engaging many of these short films are. Most originate from the 1960s and quietly reflect the changing times of the decade.
38a Bus to Cape Town (1966)
38a Bus to Cape Town (1966) was sponsored by Union Castle and directed by John Karie. The film is narrated by Sid James, most famous for his role in the Carry On… films. Here, he takes on the guise of a disgruntled London bus driver so dissatisfied with the relentless hustle and bustle of the city that he escapes to South Africa aboard the Transvaal Castle. Upon arrival in Cape Town it is revealed that James has somehow retained his London bus and is able to journey around the quiet city streets. In an era of loosening colonial grip the sight of such a symbol of Britishness, within a South African city embroiled in the violent throws of independence, is faintly comical and rather jarring. Therefore 38a Bus to Cape Town stands as a fascinating visual document of the confused final breaths of a dying British rule.
World At Three (1966)
World At Three (1966) was funded by P&O and directed by shlock-British film-maker Frederic Goode. The film has a jazz score by John Dankworth at its heart and features vocals by Cleo Laine. Cuts are made in time with the beats and hits of the music, while Laine’s lyrics frequently mention the destinations which the Oriana and Canberra visit. The music sets the tone for a decidedly hip vision of life at sea, complete with late-night discos and Ray-Ban-wearing sailors. The film owes much to new cinematic trends coming from Europe and America and emulates the burgeoning ‘swinging Sixties’ depictions of British life that were perceivable in British features of the time.
I have been working as part of a Leverhulme Trust-funded project, supported by the National Maritime Museum, looking into the victualling of the Royal Navy during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815). My work focuses on one discrete part of this expansive subject, considering how provisions were distributed across Europe, particularly to the Baltic between 1808 and 1812. Researching as part of a team, while concentrating on a specific part of this subject, has not only offered different challenges but also wider agreement as to the importance to Britain of superior logistics during the wars at the turn of the nineteenth century.
Attr. to Samuel Lane, Vice-Admiral Sir James de Saumarez, 1757-1836, 1st Baron de Saumarez (BHC3166)
The letters of Vice-Admiral Sir James Saumarez as well as Rear-Admirals Keats and Hood, along with Victualling Board documents in the NMM, have pointed to a naval administration eager to reform itself. There were rivalries between governmental boards and much imaginative buck-passing went on when errors were made. Nevertheless shipments of foodstuffs to the Baltic were regular and carefully calculated. Mistakes and oversights were conspicuous in their rarity and no naval operation was ever hampered by a deficiency of victuals.
Ship’s biscuit, 1784 (AAB0003)
Some supplies could be procured locally, particularly in Gothenburg. Supply in foreign waters required diplomatic skill alongside administrative organisation. Sweden, despite being forced into a war against Britain in 1810 at the behest of France, continued to happily supply the British fleet with fresh meat in the Baltic, much to the infuriation of the French diplomatic service.
William Anderson, Shipping on the Thames off Deptford, c. 1825 (BHC1872)
Supplying a remote fleet in hostile waters for up to ten months was an impressive accomplishment and one that could not have been carried out earlier in the 18th century. The logistical failures of the American War 1776-83 are well documented. As such the victualling successes of the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic War (and especially in the Baltic) demonstrate the advances made by naval administration and contributed markedly to the strategic flexibility given the Royal Navy during the French Wars.