December Seventh – figureheads, Nelson and the quest for longitude

Figureheads at the National Maritime Museum
Figureheads at the National Maritime Museum

This weekend we were in Greenwich to visit the National Maritime Museum. The main purpose was to visit the exhibition “Ships, Clocks & Stars: the Quest for Longitude” (on until 4 January 2015).

The question if how to measure longitude at sea – and thus navigate accurately and safely – was so important that in the early 18th century that the government created the Board of Longitude to consider solutions. Prizes were to be awarded for the discovery and demonstration of a practical method for determining the longitude of a ship at sea*.

Many solutions were proposed and the exhibition explains each one and how the problem eventually came to be solved. There are plenty of interactive and audio-visual elements to keep things interesting, as well as original artefacts including the first chronometers. I don’t think it would be suitable for young children as some of the explanations are quite technical. Also, watch where you walk in the first, quite dark, room – T fell over one of the plinths in the gloom.

The death of Nelson, AW Devis (detail)
The death of Nelson, AW Devis (detail)

We also visited the “Nelson, Navy, Nation” permanent exhibition, which puts the story of the Battle of Trafalgar into historical context, showing how celebrated and how much a part of national identity the Navy was in the 18th century. The exhibition includes such gruesome relics as Nelson’s uniform from Trafalgar – with the hole from the bullet that killed him – and ship’s surgeon’s tools. Again, it is all presented in a very accessible and modern way.

HMS Implacable figurehead
HMS Implacable figurehead

 


*from Wikipedia

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