The gallery is home to remarkable objects selected from more than 4,000 items from the national collections that will be stored at Chatham from January 2011.
They reveal fascinating stories based on the people who made the models – such as prisoners of war or lighthouse keepers – as well as shipwrecks and heroic actions at sea. Among the artefacts will be the intricate 18th century model of Admiral Balchen’s flagship HMS Victory and a superb scale model of the Eddystone Lighthouse (1759) – the first stone built offshore lighthouse to survive. These and all the other objects and stories are supported by superb artworks providing contemporary interpretation. These pieces are just two of the highlights of the National Museums Maritime Treasures gallery – comprising three separate gallery areas, which include many interpretations of England’s place as one of the world’s greatest seafaring nations.
On arrival a series of audio visuals lead to the display of a single ship model, the SS Jervis Bay, a ship built in 1922 to carry passengers and cargo between London and Australia via the Suez Canal. At the start of the Second World War she was refitted as an Armed Merchant Cruiser of the Royal Navy and allocated to the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy.
Exhibitions at the galleries
During the age of sail the Royal Navy pioneered the development of specialist craft to land troops and equipment on hostile shores. The 20th century saw even more innovation, especially during the Second World War, to support landings across Europe and the Pacific. Today amphibious warfare capability remains at the heart of Britain’s military strategy.
London and the River Thames lay at the heart of Britain’s international trade for over 300 years. Extensive docks and port industries, combined with international insurance and commodity markets, led to London becoming the maritime capital of the world. In the 19th century Thames’ shipbuilders and marine steam- engine builders were at the forefront of iron and steel ship construction, and the ships that were built on the river had a world-wide impact.
By the early 19th century Britain led the world in ship design and construction, with models playing a major role in both processes. Today, historic models made as part of the design and construction process, provide evidence of the innovation and pioneering ground-breaking engineering that enabled Britain to become the world’s maritime superpower of the 19th and early 20th centuries.