If you have passed the Museum lately you may have noticed the arrival of a giant ship in a bottle which was formerly located in Trafalgar Square.
A campaign was launched by the Art Fund and the National Maritime Museum at the end of 2011 and successfully raised £362,500 enabling the National Maritime Museum to acquire and permanently display Yinka Shonibare, MBE’s much-loved sculpture.
In order to help explain the meaning behind the sculpture and its new home at the National Maritime Museum we met up with Yinka Shonibare and our very own Simon Stephens.
Assistant Surgeon, Alexander McDonald (1817-1848) by a member of the British School, c.1838
It is rarely that an opportunity arises to put a face to one of Franklin’s missing officers. A portrait of Alexander McDonald (1817-48), Assistant Surgeon of HMS Terror, was recently presented to the NMM by a descendant, together with his prize medal from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh. Leopold McClintock found the medal in the possession of the Inuit during his search expedition of 1857-9 and, on his return, gave it back to the McDonald family. The various other items of silverware engraved with the McDonald crest, which were also retrieved from the Polar Regions, were retained in public ownership.
The portrait gives a good account of the features of the youthful Scottish medic at about the time that he graduated in 1838. Although it appears to be a sketch finished off in a less expert hand. The sitter is dressed in civilian clothing consistent with this date so the identification as McDonald seems very plausible. The NMM has few images of naval surgeons before the mid-nineteenth century with the notable exception of Sir William Beatty, senior surgeon on board the Victory at Trafalgar.
The status of the profession was rising during this period and, like McDonald, many naval surgeons took an active and potentially hazardous part in exploration and other types of scientific endeavour.