Is this your life?

27 April 2018

Nautilus members are being invited to contribute to a major new maritime project that will celebrate Liverpool’s rich seafaring tradition…

Staff at Merseyside Maritime Museum are on the hunt for seafarers with strong connections to Liverpool, as they work on plans to open a new gallery that will highlight not just the past but also the present-day significance of seafaring for the city.

Due to open in spring/summer next year, the new Sea Galleries will transform existing space on the second floor of the Albert Dock museum with a plan to 'tell the story of Liverpool’s seafaring communities through the centuries and explore the rich and vibrant diversity of the men, women and children who travelled around the globe on the ships that gave the city its identity'.

To bring the exhibitions to life, the museum – which first opened its doors in 1986 and now attracts more than 840,000 visitors a year – is seeking to speak to seafarers who were born, raised or trained in Liverpool, or who have worked on ships running in and out of the port, or who live or near the city.

As part of the background work, researchers have already interviewed residents at the Nautilus Mariners’ Park estate for retired seafarers to gather stories about life at sea. 'It's been absolutely fascinating, and we have gathered some excellent material from residents who were working at sea in what was probably the golden era for British seafarers,' says Ben Whittaker, curator of maritime history and technology.

'The gallery will be very much about the experience of being at sea,' he explains, 'and it will touch on a lot of general themes related to seafaring – nationally and internationally – all seen through the Liverpool prism.

'We are trying to be very ambitious and we want to cover a lot of ground, exploring the very varied aspects of working at sea and the dangers, joys, culture and community of seafaring life,' he adds.

'We will be covering it in a lot of different ways, using objects, archive collections, photographs and film footage.

'Through the gallery – but especially in the parts that look at seafaring today – a running theme will be the importance of the role that all those at sea play, of the reliance on most of the things we take for granted in our daily lives getting to us by sea via a largely invisible industry,' Ben says.

The gallery will be very much about the experience of being at sea ‒ as seen through the Liverpool prism.
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Supported by funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund, the new gallery will form a key part of a development plan for the museum – taking 'a people-focused, storytelling and contemporary approach to our relationship with the sea as a maritime nation'. The new facility will enable the museum to display some previously unseen items, such as a dolls' house made in 1881 for Emily Raven, the five-year-old daughter of Captain Daniel Brocklebank of the ship Ravenswood. It was designed and made by the ship's carpenter during a voyage around the world and provides a vivid reminder that families often went to sea together and travelled around the world on trading expeditions.

Sea Galleries will explain the diverse range of roles found at sea, and how these have changed over time – such as when new roles were created by the development of steam engines or the introduction of radio communications. It will cover life onboard, including food, entertainment and the traditions of seafaring, such as crossing-the-line ceremonies.

The museum wants to highlight cases in which Liverpool ships and seafarers have been caught up in conflicts around the world – not just the two world wars, but also the war with America in 1812, the Vietnam War, the Falklands conflict and the Gulf War.

It will also explore safety, risk and welfare, including the role of trade unions, flags of convenience and giving a prominent position to the 1980 Derbyshire disaster as a campaign case study.

The gallery will also cover the impact of life at sea for seafarers' families and try to convey the experience of going to sea as a passenger over the centuries, with a special focus on the golden age of the great liners in the early and mid-20th century, and the modern cruise experience.

Keeping up to date, it will address the decline in the number of merchant seafarers, as well as focusing on the opportunities and challenges around going to sea today.

'We are really keen to give seafarers a strong voice and we want to hear from those with Liverpool connections, to get their experiences and memories of their time at sea, and their views and opinions on seafaring so that we can bring out what makes working at sea so very different from working on land,' Ben notes. 'A lot of people may have heard of some of the roles at sea, but often have very little idea of what they actually do.'

It’s not just memories that the museum is after – it is also keen to hear from seafarers or seafaring families who have interesting and relevant material to lend or donate, including film, photos, objects, souvenirs, and certificates.

If you can help, please contact: Ben Whittaker, curator of maritime history and technology, Merseyside Maritime Museum, Albert Dock, Liverpool L3 4AQ. Tel: +44 (0)151 478 4401.