Thursday, June 23, 2022

Day 15 – The National Maritime Museum and Caird Library in Greenwich

Today we went to visit the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, which has its own library and archives. We were early for our library tour so we had nearly an hour to tour the museum. There was a Canaletto exhibition but after looking at a display of elegant ocean liner travel, I headed upstairs to see Britain’s most accomplished naval war hero, Lord Nelson.
Young Nelson, 1992
No surprise, there is an entire gallery dedicated to the life of Horatio Nelson, which also tells some of the story of the Royal Navy and Britain from 1688–1815. His family background and early heroics are included as well as some of his personal items, including the uniform he was wearing when he was fatally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar. One can see the hole in the uniform from the musket shot and the doctor’s narrative has been dramatized so it plays in that part of the exhibit. Nelson’s dying words on October 21, 1805, make this gallery an emotional place to visit:
He [Nelson] then told Captain Hardy, "he felt that in a few minutes he should be no more;" adding in a low tone, "Don't throw me overboard, Hardy." The Captain answered: "Oh! no, certainly not." — "Then," replied His Lordship, "you know what to do: and," continued he, "take care of my dear Lady Hamilton, Hardy; take care of poor Lady Hamilton. Kiss me, Hardy."

The Captain now knelt down, and kissed his cheek; when His Lordship said, "Now I am satisfied. Thank God, I have done my duty." Captain Hardy stood for a minute or two in silent contemplation: he then knelt down again, and kissed His Lordship’s forehead. His Lordship said: "Who is that?" The Captain answered: "It is Hardy;" to which His Lordship replied, "God bless you, Hardy!" After this affecting scene Captain Hardy withdrew, and returned to the quarter-deck, having spent about eight minutes in this his last interview with his dying friend.
The Nelson exhibit was particularly sad if you saw Vivien Leigh playing Lady Hamilton and dying in poverty. Emma’s husband, Sir William Hamilton, died in 1803 but Nelson’s wife Fanny was still alive in England, albeit estranged from him. Fanny must have been horrified by the news that Lady Hamilton had a daughter with Nelson in 1801 named Horatia. Before Nelson boarded the HMS Victory in May of 1803, Horatia was christened at St. Marylebone Parish Church ( just a block or two from the residence hall all the British Studies students are living in!) with Emma and Horatio as the "godparents" and a cover-story naming her as the daughter of Vice-Admiral Charles Thompson of Portsmouth Dockyard (with his agreement). After Emma died, Nelson’s sisters took Horatia in and she married a local minister. The Tudor and Stuart Seafarers exhibit across the hall was also enjoyable but not as dramatic.
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich
The Caird Library and Archive at the National Maritime Museum, the world's largest maritime library and archive collection, and is free and open to all, as is the museum. Its mission is to support and enhance the work of the Royal Maritime Museum by collecting, caring for and making accessible paper-based resources relating to maritime history, astronomy and time keeping (see website). The library was named for a wealthy shipowner Sir James Caird (1864-1954), who donated 11,000 books, prints, maps, etc. to found the collection. The Library collection includes over 100,000 books, 20,000 pamphlets, 20,000 bound periodicals including 200 current titles, and over 12,000 rare books spanning every aspect of maritime history, including emigration, navigation, piracy, astronomy, shipping companies, shipwrecks, biographies, the two World Wars, horology, Merchant and Royal Navy. It includes public records relating to the administration of the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy, shipping company records, and personal papers comprising journals, diaries and letters.
Nelson's uniform at Trafalgar
Our hosts were Gareth Bellis, Senior Manager of the Archive and Library and Library Assistant, Shane McMurray. Gareth told us the previous library had been the traditional wood paneled building we might have expected but it was not practical because there were too many nooks and crannies that staff could not supervise and locked cabinets which were inconvenient to access. Staff were able to provide feedback for the new design, which is efficient if not glamorous. The library has not recovered from the pandemic: like many of the institutions we have visited, staff were downsized and the library used to get more than 5,000 visitors each year. Current hours are Tuesday through Friday from 10:00 - 4:45.
Note the fateful hole and damage to epaulette
Gareth told us that much of the library staff’s time is spent responding to inquiries from family members interested in an ancestor’s naval service. There are also many researchers, ranging from students to historians who come to look at original records but Gareth has noticed a shift from researching war at sea to trade at sea. He said they receive many donations but these go to the Museum and then are distributed to the library or archives if appropriate. Once an item is in the Collection, it is likely there forever. However, this does result in space issues: 40% percent of the collection is in storage and that facility is half an hour away and not convenient to public transportation.
Caird Library
Shane had set out some of their treasures to show us. The two I found the most significant were Nelson’s Log Book from the HMS Bristol, dated 1778, and a letter from George III to Admiral Howe’s wife, congratulating her on his naval triumph, but my pictures did not turn out well. After lunch, we climbed the hill to the historic Prime Meridian of the World - Longitude 0º. Every place on Earth was measured in terms of its distance east or west from this line. The line itself divided the eastern and western hemispheres of the Earth - just as the Equator divides the northern and southern hemispheres, so everyone likes to get a picture with one foot in each hemisphere.
photo credit: Desiree Dillon
On the way home, we stopped at Westminster Abbey for Evensong sung by the Choir of Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral, which was lovely.
With a foot in two hemispheres
Miles walked: 4.7 miles
Books acquired: None

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