Hi everybody, my name is May Bo Ching and I am the Asian Gallery Fellow working principally on the Chinese collections of National Maritime Museum (NMM).
I was born and brought up in Hong Kong, and I have been teaching in Sun Yat-sen University at Guangzhou for ten years. The personal name ‘Sun Yat-sen’ might sound unfamiliar to you, but he earned his fame as a revolutionary hero here in England and was later regarded the founder of the Republic of China – in 1896 he fled to London after an unsuccessful revolutionary uprising in China. Legend has it that he was kidnapped by the Chinese secret service while he was staying in this city.
I am a historian by training, focusing mainly on modern Chinese social and cultural history. My current research projects include a study of the botanical and zoological drawings done by a few Cantonese craftsmen under the instruction of British naturalists in the 18th and 19th centuries; another one deals with the transformation of Cantonese opera from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries. A ‘side-product’ coming out of these two researches is a third project studying the cuisines and table services consumed by Chinese and European merchants while they were entertaining each other during the 18th and 19th centuries when Sino-foreign trade in Canton was thriving.
This is my first time conducting research by looking at artifacts right from the very beginning. Historians tend to rely too much on documents, and always overlook the fact that there were many THINGS around along with various historical episodes. Having worked at NMM for almost a month, I am no doubt excited by the objects, and am equally absorbed by the manuscripts and published materials the library possesses. How delighted I am when I extract some useful data from the log book of a particular Indiaman of which the picture is also collected at NMM!
At the moment I am sketching some themes for the Asian Gallery, identifying objects for display, and envisioning what kind of historical narratives can be presented out of such a display. My two-month experiences at NMM will certainly enrich my own understanding of modern Chinese history, and I hope my interpretation of the objects will also be helpful for designing the upcoming Asian Gallery.
May Bo Ching (Asian Gallery Fellow)
Hopefully all our regular readers have seen our notices and announcements about the fact that we’re closing for auditing over the last two weeks of February. Our closed period starts this Monday 18 February, with normal hours resuming on Monday 3 March.
We are open on Saturdays as usual – so do contact us to make an appointment for Saturdays 16 and 23 February and 1 March.
If you would like to view manuscripts, rare books or anything not located in the Reading Room on these Saturdays, you will need to order these in advance. You can do this by email, phone, or by requesting through our online catalogue.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)
Last Friday the BBC published a fascinating article about the latest phase of conservation work on Henry VIII’s wrecked flagship, the Mary Rose.
The restoration of the Mary Rose is ongoing, and this latest phase involves a fantastic machine called a ‘synchrotron’, which will use intense rays of light-emitting electrons to analyse the cellular structure of the ship’s timbers.
Last year was the 25th anniversary of the lifting of the Mary Rose from its 400-year home on the sea-bed. You can read a brief history of the ship and view images of artefacts recovered from the wreck, on the main museum website.
After that if you fancy knowing more, you can always pop into the Caird Library – as you can imagine we have a wide range of books on the history, construction, and conservation of this historic ship.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)
The great thing about working with manuscripts at the National Maritime Museum is the various collections that you get to absorb yourself in. Just to illustrate this, I’d like to share with you the collections that I enjoyed last year.
One of these is the Admiralty Compass Observatory collection, which was transferred to us from the National Archives in 1983 and includes correspondence and reports from 1842 to 1950, residing at one of our outstations, Kidbrooke. Through studying this area, I discovered how compass deviation was recorded and why it was necessary to produce technical pamphlets for modifications made to the compass over time. This collection is wonderful for studying the history of compass development.
Another important collection catalogued was the papers of Vice-Admiral Sir Norman Egbert Denning. One of his ‘reminiscences’ involving Ian Fleming and a smuggled Christmas tree was used as our festive item of the month for December
What makes this collection of 67 items engaging is his involvement with Ian Fleming and his role as the link between the operational intelligence centre (OIC) and components of the naval intelligence division, including the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the army, the Secret Intelligence, the Special Operations Executive and Bomber commands of the RAF. The Admiralty aerial photographs (1941-5) are quite fun as they reveal detailed images of convoys and naval bases.
Another exciting collection includes journals kept by Captain Edward William Hereford. He writes one of these as midshipman on board the Trafalgar during the Crimean War. When I catalogued this collection I noticed how well it would support the journals of Dr Edward Hodges Cree RN (1814-1901). Both contain striking illustrations: within a midshipman’s journal (see image below) at the bombardment of Sevastopol in 1854 and a surgeon’s account of the capture of Sevastopol and Kinburn in 1855.
What is really inspiring is seeing the way manuscript collections can reinforce and assist each other in terms of creating a more detailed view of historical events. Our archive journey ‘story boxes’ are good examples of how our manuscripts can be brought together thematically to bring our collections to light.
Mike (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
This month the E-Library is revealing its first ‘Pirates’ archive journey event, on Thursday 7 February at 2.30pm. This is the latest storybox in a series of many which brings together thematically a wide variety of manuscripts, a rare book, and prints.
The journey begins with a letter written by Burghley and Walsingham in 1588, authorizing Sir Francis Drake and Sir John Norreys as commanders of the ill-fated expedition of 1589. Their actions became not that dissimilar from those of pirates, Corunna and Port Santo being plundered for wine, cannons and over £30,000 worth of goods. The intention of the mission was to press an advantage over Spain after the English defeat of her Armada. However, organisation and discipline turned to impatience and greed.
The next is a journal written in 1683 by Captain Carlile of the Francis. The manuscript tells of the notorious French pirate, Jean Hamlin and the burning of his ship, the Trompeuse. What is interesting here is that the pirate vessel was under protection of an ex-buccaneer, the Governor of St. Thomas Island; the castle in the harbour firing at the Francis in an attempt to save her. After failed negotiations to release the French vessel to the English, the Trompeuse is burnt after night fall.
Also included is a particularly gruesome account written by the English pirate, William Davidson in 1788-9. Here we see a pirate vessel disguised as a Russian privateer (flying the Russian flag) cruising the Mediterranean. Most of their victims were either burnt with the ship, drowned or execution on board. One especially brutal punishment of a prisoner was having ‘his eyes torn out, his fingers chopped off, and bones in his arms and legs broken. He was then set adrift on a grating in order that he might expire in the extremist tortures.’
Prints in the storybox include:
“Captain Teach commonly call’d Black Beard” by Thomas Nicholls (pictured above).
Captain Avery and his crew taking one of the Great Mogul’s ships, c.1700-02 by Tett and views of the harbour of Messina, c. 17th century by Abraham Casembrodt (pictured right).
In terms of rare books, William Dampier’s A collection of voyages, 1729, includes Captain Sharpe’s journal of his expedition 1680-1. Dampier’s diverse and colourful account reveals him as a buccaneer, pirate, privateer and navigator, scientific enquirer and commander in the Royal Navy. It was whilst serving as a buccaneer under Coxon, Sharp and Sawkins that they captured Portobello with the aid of the Mosquito Indians, later raiding across the isthmus to attack Panama City, in imitation of Henry Morgan’s victories of 1670-1.
Mike (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
started out as a quarterly publication of essays on the design, development and service history of fighting ships, and is now published annually. The Dreadnought Project website publishes a useful contents listing for most issues published since 1977.
Some of you may have read previous posts here about our Archive Journeys sessions but might be a bit unsure of what they actually are. Well, Archive Journeys are a great way for Museum visitors and Library users to see some of our collections at first hand.
They’re short informal sessions held every Thursday at 2.30pm in the E-library that have been designed to showcase some of the treasures and more unusual items from our collections. They are led by members of the Manuscripts and Library team and they are an excellent opportunity to view the items up close and ask lots of questions.
We have prepared storyboxes on a number of different topics such as Titanic, Pirates and Polar Exploration. Each box contains original manuscripts, rare books, prints and objects from the collections. These include such gems as a menu from the last meal eaten on the ill-fated Titanic, love letters from Admiral Lord Nelson to Emma Hamilton and a letter from Ernest Shackleton from Antarctica. The Pirates box is making its debut on 7 February and contains a treasure trove of material on real life pirates and their bloodthirsty ways. New boxes are in development so look out for posts on the blog about their progress.
The programme for February is:
7 Feb – Pirates
14 Feb – The Georgian Navy
21 Feb – Nelson’s Women
28 Feb – Cruising
So if you are in the Library on a Thursday and need a break from your research or are just in the Museum please do drop by the E-library at 2.30pm to see some of the treasures from our collections.
February’s item of the month is an illustrated logbook from our manuscripts collection.
Captain William Edward Hereford entered the Navy in 1851, and took part in the siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War as midshipman of the HMS Trafalgar. His logbook is fascinating, including both an account of the siege as well as many beautiful watercolours.
You can read the full item of the month, and see more images from the log itself, on the main museum website.
Renee (Digital Resources Librarian)