In 1805 Robert Hope, a member of the sailmakers’ crew of HMS Temeraire, wrote to his brother to recount his recent involvement in the Battle of Trafalgar. Recently acquired by the National Maritime Museum after 205 years in private hands, October’s item of the month is a fascinating below-deck account of the famous battle.
The manuscript has recently received quite a bit of attention. If you would like to view the letter in person it will take a starring role in Thursday’s archive journey session.
Richard (Assistant Archivist)
On 21 October 1805 the British Royal Navy clashed with French and Spanish ships at the Battle of Trafalgar. To coincide with a series of events across the Museum, this week’s archive journey session is Life in Nelson’s Navy.
The session will take place in the E-Library at 14.30 and will include an exciting opportunity to view a document written by a man who witnessed the fighting at first hand. The letter, featured as this month’s item of the month, has recently been acquired by the National Maritime Museum after 205 years in private hands.
We hope to see you there!
Richard (Assistant Archivist)
The last Saturday in September saw a small gathering at The National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth Dockyard for the Naval Ancestors: Who Do You Think They Were? workshop. Researchers gathered to broaden their knowledge of Service Records, gain advice on navigating the maze of Admiralty record keeping and the chance to quiz a specialist for help filling in the mysterious blanks about their naval ancestors. On hand were specialist staff from The National Archives, The MOD’s Naval Historical Branch and the Royal Marines Museum.
Three very helpful talks brought to life the breadth of documents online and the family history wonders to be found on the National Archives catalogue. Also addressed were the almost arcane vocabulary and abbreviations featuring in a sailor’s service certificates. Knowing that ‘D&D’ doesn’t refer to role playing games or ‘drunk and disorderly’ but actually means ‘discharged with disgrace’ casts quite a different light on one’s ancestors… The historically distinct and often changing role of the Royal Marines was also well illustrated. What stood out most for me was realising that Marines were all volunteers- and there in lies the reason they were considered more reliable. This made them best suited to being the ultimate instrument by which a captain enforced his authority and naval regulations.
Questions were taken after each presentation and there was no shying away from the nitty gritty of where else to try after the more obvious avenues had yielded only dead ends and frustration: many people had submitted their questions in advance!
It was an interesting day for a NMM Manuscripts Cataloguer too. We don’t deal in many of these official naval records but researchers often arrive with the service records, wanting to flesh out the details of a career at sea or find a picture of a particular ship. I got stuck in and asked about some records which had eluded me in the 4 years I have worked in the Caird Library: Ships requisitioned by the Admiralty, Naval Training ships and the records of dockyard workers. I came away with all 3 answered!
Far from being lost in the gloom of the past, I came away thinking that if one’s ancestors weren’t in the Royal Navy, the past could perhaps be a good deal less clear!
Martin (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
The history of how the NMM archive has come into being is fascinating to explore. The first Director of the museum, Sir Geoffrey Callender, and benefactor to the NMM, Sir James Caird, collected key archival material before and after the museum was established. A history of the archive itself is a relatively unexplored area for research and I think there is potential in bringing this history to life. The result of this would be to understand the museums’ archive collecting policy in the past and the interconnecting research interests of the collectors themselves; which included NMM staff and members of the Society for Nautical Research (SNR) and Navy Records Society (NRS).
George Naish, Keeper of the Museum in 1969 and Honorary Secretary to the SNR, 1947-1977, collected his own artificial series of manuscripts as well as his own correspondence with other researchers and notes on a range of subjects. He kept one notebook by Harold Brindley, a founding member of the SNR, and worked in the seal room at the NMM. Naish was involved in the museums’ history for 36 years and his collection reflects many of the trends and changes in maritime research over these decades.
Another important figure in the development of the museum was R.C. Anderson. He was a founder member of the Society for Nautical Research and, from its foundation until 1962, a Trustee of the Museum and Chairman of Trustees from 1959 to 1962. He was a frequent contributor to The Mariner’s Mirror, of which he was editor for several periods and the author of numerous publications on maritime subjects. His archive collection (AND) reflects his research interests, particularly ships’ models and 17th century naval history.
The Leonard G. Carr Laughton collection (LAU) consists of his and his fathers’ notebooks containing research from many repositories on various aspects of nautical history. Among other things included is a typed copy of his Nautical Dictionary, the production being one of the SNR’s main objectives.
One of the Trustees of the NMM from 1948 – 1951, Rear-Admiral Thursfield presented his papers to the museum in 1958 and 1962. Thursfield was editor of Brassey’s Naval Annual from 1936 until his death in 1963, naval correspondent of the Times; and published a volume of ‘Naval Journals, 1789-1817′ with the Navy Records Society.
Close ties to his colleagues, including Callender, Naish, Corbett, Carr-Laughton and Anderson allowed Professor Michael Lewis to accumulate research materials, notes, and typescripts they created. He was a prominent naval historian and writer and for more on his collection and others in this article, here is a link to our online archive catalogue.
Mike (Assistant Archivist)
If you are in Greenwich, or planning a day out, and you are either interested in naval history or would simply like to know more about the life of Nelson and his women, why not join my Archive Journey session on Thursday 7th October at 14.30.
With the help of rare and precious manuscripts from the Museum’s Library and Manuscripts collections, I am going to lead you on a journey through original and valuable items such as a letter from Nelson to his wife Frances or the original will of Emma Hamilton. You will have that afternoon the extraordinary opportunity to discover and understand Admiral Nelson’s relationships with Frances Nelson, Emma Hamilton and Horatia Nelson.
So, join me on Thursday 7th October at 14.30 in the E-Library.
Gregory (Information Assistant – Library)
Regular visitors to the Caird Library will be used to seeing references to the National Archives amongst our collections. Now it seems that other great Kew institution is getting in on the maritime act. We spotted recently this fascinating blog post written by colleagues at Kew Gardens about some rare cloth in their collection with a connection to HMS Bounty.
While we’re at it, I wonder if the staff at Kew Gardens would be interested in this item, re-discovered recently in our archive collection. Not to mention the logbook of HMS Sea Flower; our collection of documents belonging to George Rose and of course a whole host of family trees.
Richard (Assistant Archivist)