While going back over the hundreds of images we have collected so far on this trip I realized that I neglected to write about my trip down the Thames to Greenwich. As a fan if maritime history (and of Dava Sobel’s gripping history ‘Longitude’) I had to visit the Maritime Museum and the Royal Observatory (at absolute 0 degrees longitude).
I was lucky that my rainy day visit coincided with an interesting exhibition detailing the history of exploration of the Northwest Passage. There were several items on show which were of interest to me. The exhibition detailed the whole saga of Franklin’s lost expedition (1845) and had examples of the interesting hybrid artifacts made by the Inuit from abandoned steel salvaged from the expedition.
There was also some extraordinary whale bone carvings. This is a scrimshander ‘staybusk’, often given by sailors to their sweethearts to be worn inside their corsets and so be kept close to the heart (and other sensitive body parts). Its about 1.5″ wide.
a tin of pemican (eating that would make anyone go crazy!!)
and a wonderful early swashbuckling portrait of my hero Lieutenant James Cook in his prime.
Dept. of Interesting Serendipity!!
Franklin’s first claim to fame was sailing with (his uncle) Matthew Flinders on the Investigator during the first circumnavigation of Australia in 1801. Also on board was the botanical illustrator Ferdinand Bauer who soon after his return to Sydney commissioned a writing desk for his brother in London.
I live for loops of connection like this!!
And it just goes on!
Franklin was subsequently governor of the Hobart colony, where the first cabinet in my Genius Loci series was made.
The young Matt Flinders sailed with the notorious Capt. William Bligh on his voyage to Tahiti for breadfruit following the Bounty fiasco. You should all know that Bligh was a brilliant seaman who is inappropriately maligned (and is incidentally also a blood relative of mine -my students should take note). Later Bligh became the governor if the New South Wales colony in 1806 – 150 years prior to my birth there. He was chucked out of that job too by a bunch of hoods in the so-called ‘Rum Rebellion’ (I’m sure he thought it rum too).
The Royal Observatory perched on a grassy knoll above the Maritime Museum was interesting too. The ancient azimuth instruments used in determining longitude at the observatory were intriguing. But the most extraordinary instruments on display were Harrison’s chronometers. I was amazed to see the actual instruments but dumfounded to see that they were running; with their springs and balanced counterweights doing their incredible dance. It wasn’t laid out in the display but the observatory’s website goes into some detail about Rupert Gould who restored the clocks in the early 19th Century with an obsession which cost him his wife and his health, reflecting the cost of the endeavor for Harrison the first time around.
The collection of oceangoing chronometers which were often maintained and now collected by the Royal Observatory was delicious.
The whole place, exhibits, stories and architecture is so wonderfully STEAMPUNK!!