This truly is a gorgeous book. And it’s not just me that thinks so – everyone who has walked past my shelf of recently catalogued books lately has been picking it up. Bound in teal blue with an illustrated spine and silver lettering, The Quest for the Northwest Passage is simply irresistable.
Published by The Folio Society, it’s also beautifully illustrated, with several maps, oil paintings, prints and engravings reproduced from the Museum’s own collections, among others.
It’s a good thing too, because the book itself is a collection of first hand accounts of the numerous explorers who have searched for a navigable sea route through the Arctic since the 16th century.
It makes fascinating but at times harrowing reading, as expedition after expedition ends in death or mutiny (or both). The word ‘disappointment’ features in several chapter titles. Others have ominous-sounding titles like: ‘A winter of death’ (the 1619 voyage of Jens Munk), ‘Final disillusionment’ (the surveys of George Vancouver), and in reference to Franklin’s overland expedition of 1819-1822: ‘We Ate Our Shoes for Supper’.
Franklin’s last expedition of 1845 is also covered in some depth, and, if you are into this sort of thing, make sure you have a look at the Franklin relics feature on Collections Online.
The book itself is available from the shelves in the Caird Library reading room, and if you’d like to see what else is new this month, try the new books list on the catalogue.
Renée (Digital Resources Librarian)
If you’ve visited the reading room here at the Caird Library (or if you’ve read our excellent Lloyd’s research guides) you’ll know that we have a complete run of this world-famous shipping newspaper from 1779 on.
But, did you know that from 1933 we also have it on microfilm, AND that we still subscribe to the print edition of the paper, published daily? The microfilm comes every six months and can be used in the repropgraphics room next to the E-library. The print edition comes daily and is kept in the reading room, and discarded after six months. And there’s also the website, accessible from the E-library.
The thing is, we’re not sure that the current print edition is used enough for us to keep subscribing. Most of our readers are more interested in the historical Lloyd’s list, for information on merchant navy ship histories and the departures of passenger vessels for family history.
Anyone care to comment? Is it enough to have the microfilm version every six months? Are we being simply sentimental by continuing our daily subscription to the current Lloyd’s list? Let us know what you think.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)
Ship’s biscuits or hard tack was a vital part of a seaman’s diet in the years before the introduction of canned food in the mid-nineteenth century. Try the ship biscuit diet for yourself by following our recipe!
1lb wholemeal flour (try to find a medium-course stone-ground flour for authenticity)
Preheat your oven to 215C (190C for a fan oven)
Mix the salt and flour together and add the water slowly, mixing until you have created a very stiff dough. Leave the dough for half an hour (you can profitably use this time to scrub the decks or hoist the mainsail). Roll the dough out fairly thickly (to about half an inch or just over a centimetre deep) and use a round cutter to cut them out. Use a fork to prick the biscuits all over the top side. Place on a greased baking tray and bake for about 30 minutes.
As you eat your biscuits, count yourself lucky that they are not truly authentic – biscuits were sometimes made using powdered bone, or a pea flour which became incredibly hard and could not be bitten through. Sometimes the only way to eat a hard biscuit was to leave it until it got stale and soft, by which point they tasted musty and often contained weevils and maggots.
Tanya (Reader Services Librarian)
So, what does this job entail? Well the best bits are working with the world-class collections, and most recently we have been showing them off to school groups in our Understanding Slavery sessions, planning new exhibitions, and deciding how best to catalogue them to make them as accessible as possible for users of our online catalogue.
We’d love to hear from you if you have used our pre-visit online ordering service that allows you to maximise your research time, or if you have ideas about how we could improve our services for you. We’re thinking of introducing digital scanning in the future and already allow people to use their digital cameras for research purposes.
I love working with the people here at the Museum. We’ve just had three new members of staff join the team and now have dedicated Customer Services Assistants to greet you in the E-Library when you visit us. We’ve had researchers from Canada, Greece and the United States recently, as well as local family historians and maritime students. You never know what you’ll be asked, and it was exciting to find the answer to a shipwreck mystery for someone just this week.
Of course, I do my fair share of meetings, conferences and report writing. Working closely with our Conservation department I have been prioritising the preservation needs of the rare books, printed ephemera and manuscripts collections. In July I was representing the library at a conference in Cheltenham, in September I’ll be negotiating to extend our digital resources. This month has been quieter and given me time to catch up with the paperwork – how to develop the E-Library, launching a library blog, planning the autumn workload and an active events programme.
Next on the agenda we want to develop a raft of resources for family historians, don’t miss our Family History Day on Saturday 15 September or forget to visit us for Open House on Sunday 16 September – there’s a Lutyens designed Grade I listed interior to be viewed in the Rotunda entrance.
I hope you enjoy the blog as much as we have putting it together. Keep in touch!
Jill (Head of Library and Manuscripts)
I have recently completed a project to catalogue the Susannah Middleton collection. The collection is made up of 55 neatly-written letters sent by Susannah Middleton to her sister Miss Marion Leake, during her residency at Gibraltar from 1805 to 1808. Susannah’s husband of three years Captain Robert Gambier Middleton had been posted to Gibraltar to run the Navy Yard there and this was Susannah’s first time away from home.
The letters provide an invaluable insight into the life of a young naval officer’s wife in Gibraltar during the height of the Napoleonic wars. Susannah was homesick and desperate for company and her letters were her one lifeline to friends and family back home. The letters outline the everyday aspects of her life in Gibraltar with her husband, who she rather endearingly and formally refers to as Capt M. These include the running of her house and farmyard, continuous problems with her servants and their love lives, her social activities including balls and dinners, and plenty of gossip and scandal concerning the naval and army officers garrisoned in Gibraltar. It is easy to imagine some of the characters and events occurring in the pages of a Jane Austen novel.
It is the small details in the letters concerning the running of her household that I find so interesting, especially the tips that she provides for killing livestock, curing chickens, making duvets and preserving butter for the journey out from England amongst other things. Did you know for example that animals could only be killed for food in Gibraltar when the wind was blowing Westerly otherwise the meat would go bad straightaway?
Susannah responds emotionally to events in much the same way that a typical woman in her mid-twenties might do today. Although worried by the impending threat of French invasion, her letters are filled with concern of news from home, the behaviour of her servants and local gossip. She is desperately homesick and frets anxiously over when she will receive any news from home, often waiting a month or more for a letter. Her biggest complaint is the lack of supplies available in Gibraltar- especially in the way of fashionable gowns- and she relies on packages being sent out from England. She rather bitchily describes the local fashion as being two years behind that in England.
I think that Susannah’s letters are so interesting because they are unique amongst our collections in showing the day to day life, interests and thoughts of a young naval officer’s wife during the turmoil of the Napoleonic wars. Unlike other naval wives whose husbands were serving on ships, Susannah was not left behind in England but instead was able to experience what life was like for the naval officers stationed in Gibraltar at first hand.
The Middleton letters have now been fully catalogued and can be viewed in the Reading Room for anyone who is interested. Please see our website for information on visiting the Caird Library.
It’s a blog, it’s about the Caird Library. What more do you need to know?
Firstly I guess, it’s by and about us – the Library and Manuscripts team at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. It’s also by and about you too – because if you have a comment or opinion about anything you read here we’d love to know. (All comments are moderated; we promise to publish quickly.)
We’ll be writing regularly about a variety of things: from the latest news on events and displays, to new titles and collections catalogued, and who’s researching what in the Reading Room. The first week of every month we’ll be featuring an item from the collections, researched by one of the library and manuscripts team and (gorgeously) photographed by the museum’s photo studio. (Item of the month used to be published on the main museum website – it’s now archived here.)
Other features include RSS feeds from selected magazines and journals that we also have in print in the library. We’re currently showing New Scientist, Sky and Telescope and Model Boats – click on the headlines in the right hand column to go through to the websites and read the full articles.
Also in the right hand column you’ll find our del.icio.us tag cloud. The tags link through to the Caird Library’s del.icio.us account, which we’ll be using to bookmark useful websites about all things relating to the sea, ships, time and the stars.
Finally, you can subscribe to the blog via our RSS feed, or register with Feedblitz to get updates by email. And if you want to know more about us and our collections, try our pages on the main museum website or our online catalogue.
Renée (Digital Resources Librarian)