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More! Handling History

We had another great Handling History tour with a group from the Virginia Chapter of Sponsored Research Administrators International (SRAI) who were in town for a conference at Christopher Newport University. The group received a tour of the USS Monitor Center and then I met them to look at pieces from our fantastic collection of navigating instruments and a few other wonderful items.

Discussing the mariner’s quadrant in the Age of Exploration gallery.

In our Age of Exploration gallery we looked at some of the instruments developed as Europeans began to explore the world around them to find new sources or routes of trade. Instruments included our Mariner’s quadrant (by Jacques Canivet, Paris, circa 1760); our truly fantastic silver-coated Mariner’s astrolabe— (by Nicolao Ruffo, Portugal, 1645); Cross-staff (by Hendrick Noordyk, Netherlands, 1804; Back-staff (by Walter Henshaw, England, 1711); and our 2-Day Marine Timekeeper (by John Arnold, England, ca 1772—this instrument probably traveled with Captain James Cook on his second voyage!). I have reproductions of many of these instruments so I was able to let the group handle them and learn how they would be used by early navigators.

Silver-coated mariner’s astrolabe by Nicolao Ruffo, 1645

Next we headed to our Collections Gallery to see the one of a kind New Sea Quadrant made by George Adams in 1751. Adams designed this instrument with the intent of solving the deficiencies of the back-staff but in a less expensive form than the octant, which had been introduced about 16 years earlier. Unfortunately this instrument wasn’t readily adopted by navigators because the octant was so much better, as a consequence this is currently the only Adams sea quadrant known to exist (three exist by Benjamin Cole but they are just a pale reflection of Adams more technologically advanced instrument).

George Adams, New Sea Quadrant, 1751

We then headed behind-the-scenes to see a 1585 engraving of Magellan by Jan van der Straet (which features sea monsters and mermaids; a Patagonian giant; and a giant bird carrying an elephant–not to mention the apparently always on fire coastline of Tierra del Fuego!); a circa 1780 Marine barometer by Edward Nairne that may have travelled with Cook on his third voyage; a beautiful presentation speaking trumpet that was a gift to Captain Charles Caldwell of the USS Glaucus from the newly elected president of Columbia in 1864; a circa 1831-1835 medical chest from a whaling vessel; and a beautiful Liverpool jug featuring an image of the ship Orozimbo of Baltimore. This vessel was built in Matthews County, Virginia in 1805 (images of early Chesapeake Bay built vessels are quite rare but we are lucky enough to have four or five in the collection). The captain, E. P. Gardner commissioned the jug to commemorate the ship’s maiden voyage.

Last but not least, I showed the group our sole object from the French and Indian War. The piece is a fantastic map engraved powder horn featuring the rivers, streams, and Indian villages around Fort Duquesne (present day Pittsburg). This remarkable piece dates to 1754-1758.

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