From Camels to Cobangs

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Japanese shaku dokei or pillar clock, circa 1859. Traditional Shitan wood case, brass movement on wood backing with nine silvered adjustable hour markers on the time scale. (Accession# 1934.0031.000009/NA 47)

This lengthy blog post began rather innocently when Bonham’s most recent Art of Time auction catalog arrived. One of the many varied aspects of my job is placing insurance values on objects so I regularly peruse catalogs for objects similar to those in our collection.  In the catalog I noticed a Japanese pillar clock, called a shaku dokei, up for auction. While updating the value I noticed a name on the clock’s storage box—’C. E. Thorburn, USN’. Whenever I run across a name, especially one this unique, I immediately try to see if I can uncover the history of the original owner.

My first stop was Fold3, a genealogical research site specifically used to document military service. It’s a great site—but sadly super tricky to use as its search feature makes you want to rip your hair out. I immediately had a number of hits for the name Thorburn. I spotted a Thorburn on the USS Susquehanna in 1851-1852 which was really exciting because that’s when the ship was in the Pacific getting ready to head into Japan with Matthew C. Perry to negotiate the treaty that would open trade with America—unfortunately the name was “E. C. Thorburn” (a midshipman) so I wasn’t 100% sure it was the same person.    Read more

Twelve Days of Christmas at The Mariners’ Museum

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The Shah and Trivedi Families, New Jersey

A few days ago I spotted a video posted by the staff of the Western Australia Museum about the twelve days of Christmas. It inspired me to write my own, Mariners’ Museum version of the twelve days of Christmas to celebrate Dollar Admission and the holidays and today, a few of our Museum guests helped me illustrate it.

On the first day of Christmas our dollar let us see a hydrofoil in the Great Hall.   Read more

Not just big heads, historic survivors of the Blitz!

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Figurehead from 3rd rate ship HMS Edinburgh built in 1811. (Accession# OF75)

This week Brock needed to photograph a couple of the large figureheads on display in our lobby and it reminded me of their really interesting history.  I’m not talking about the history of the ships they came from, although I am sure that’s fascinating as well, in this instance I’m talking about their acquisition by the Museum and the sad story associated with it.

The two figureheads, from HMS Formidable and HMS Edinburgh, along with a large bow ornament from the HMS Alexandra, were acquired in England in 1939. The story begins when our agent in London, Admiral Bertram M. Chambers, made a visit to the famous Castles Shipbreaking Company Ltd. in January of 1936.   Read more

A local story for Armistice Day

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Prisoner-of-war armband worn by Henry R. Hendren. (Accession#: IB 156)

In honor of Armistice/Veterans day I thought I would tell one local man’s World War I story.  That man is Henry Redmond Hendren. Henry was born in Norfolk, Virginia on October 4, 1900 making him just 13 when the war started in Europe in July 1914.

For those of you who aren’t aware of Newport News history in World War I, here’s a little bit of backstory to help explain what happened to Henry. Just a few months after the start of World War I the British, who still relied heavily on the use of horses and mules to transport matériel and wounded on the battlefield, had exhausted Britain’s supply of animals. They looked to the United States to provide this necessary resource and established facilities to house and transport the animals—the largest in Missouri. Thank to our extensive railroad infrastructure and protected port, Newport News was chosen as an embarkation facility. Between late November 1914 and the end of the war Newport News became the biggest and most important shipper of horses and mules to the British army in Europe.   Read more

Giving the Dutch the What For in 1599

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One of my Facebook friends recently fussed with me about posting an image of Christopher Columbus on October 8th with the statement that it was probably the one time that a man refusing to ask for directions was a good thing. His comment? “Not for the natives.” So I thought I would relate this bit of history I learned while working on the Gallery Crawl as it was one of the times where the native population put the Europeans in their place.

16th century portrait of Ferdinand Magellan (Accession# QO 796)   Read more