SHACKLETON NEWS ARCHIVE
JAMES CAIRD AND SOUTH GEORGIA SOCIETIES BOTH REPRESENTED ON A FORMAL TOUR
During the autumn of 2008 several committee and other members were invited to represent the Society on a visit to the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. They joined members of the South Georgia Society for lunch and the tour.
They included Hon. Alexandra Shackleton (President), Sir James Perowne, (Chairman), John Bardell (Vice Chairman), Pippa Hare (Hon. Sec.), Terry Walsh, Veronica Marston, John Bonham, Bob Burton, Anne d'Ath, Doreen Browne, David McLean, Newsletter Editor Nick Smith, Tim Jarvis, Stuart Leggatt and Roderic Dunnett.
It was at the National Maritime Museum that the James Caird was restored during the years after the war. In the late 1980s she was returned to the owners, Dulwich College, where she is currently displayed.
Not least interesting was the life-size model of the Caird which the Maritime Museum now displays in atmospheric, subtly-lit surroundings.
Outside, the visitors were able to enjoy the airy atmosphere of the outdoor-feel, glass-roofed courtyard which houses the coffee bar, and to socialise amid the quite remarkable atmosphere of the Queen's House, in which the museum is housed.
The Queen's House was commissioned in 1616 by Anne of Denmark, wife of James I. James was often at the Tudor Palace of Greenwich, located where the Old Royal Naval College now stands. Anne commissioned Inigo Jones (1573–1652) to design a new pavilion for her as a place of private retreat and hospitality, adjoining the Royal Park. It was his first major commission and the first fully Classical (Palladian) building in England. Reflecting Renaissance ideals, the House's design was revolutionary. Leading European painters were commissioned to provide decorative ceiling panels and Classical sculpture was provided from Charles I's Gonzaga collection.
It survived under the Commonwealth as an official government residence, while the Tudor palace on the riverside fell into decay. After the Restoration Charles II refitted and extended the House for his mother Henrietta Maria's temporary use before she moved to Somerset House. Later the Willem van de Veldes, father and son Dutch marine artists, lived here and at Charles II's instancing founded the English school of marine painting. Replacement of most of its original windows in the 18th century with Georgian sashes gave it its more modern external appearance.
The Maritime Museum was in fact endowed by another Sir James Caird: not the Jute manufacturer who gave such valuable assistance to Shackleton and is honoured to this day as the major endower of his home city of Dundee; but the eminent and long-lived ship-owner Sir James Caird of Glenfarquhar (Fordoun, Aberdeenshire, 1864-1954), from 1903 sole partner and owner of the Scottish Shire Line. His membership and support of the Society for Nautical Research led in the 1920s to him providing the heftiest donation towards the repair and restoration of Nelson's ship HMS Victory), giving an initial donation of £50,000 to which he added a further £15,000. He also was responsible for trying to save HMS Implacable, the other last survivor of the Battle of Trafalgar.
When the Royal Hospital School vacated its buildings in Greenwich in 1933, the opportunity arose to activate a plan for a national museum of the sea. Sir James Caird offered to fund the entire cost of renovation and rebuilding (some £80,000 and also purchased a wide range of historical artifacts, rare books, globes, nautical instruments, artwork, and shipmodels estimated at the time to be worth some £300,000, a huge sum.
King George VI and Queen Elizabeth opened the NMM in April 1937; and even after the opening of the museum, Sir James Caird continued for the rest of his long life to donate items and energetically to support its work.
It was particularly interesting to hear of the curative and restorative work done by the dedicated and well-qualified Museum staff on books and other maritime artefects, not least those connected with exploration in the extremes of the world, including the Poles.
Curators and experts were on hand to advise and had prepared a special display, which included mementoes of the Nimrod and Quest expeditions, on the last of which Sir Ernest Shackleton himself died on 5 January 1922 at the age of 47.
One item which caught the imagination was a collection of medical instruments carried and used by Dr. Alexander Macklin, with James McIlroy one of the two doctors aboard Endurance, and also the doctor who attended Shackleton upon his death aboard the Quest in January 1922.
A well-chosen selection of books and maps of interest to Shackleton aficianados had also been considerately prepared.
Close by was the famous Royal Naval College, dating from the late Stuart (William and Mary) era, established by Royal Charter in 1694 for the relief and support of seamen and their dependents, planned by Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) in 1694 and completed during the 18th century by Hawksmoor, Vanbrugh and James 'Athenian' Stuart, with its magnificent and world-famous Painted Hall and splendidly painted chapel.
It was at the Naval College and in the chapel that the funeral of Shackleton's old comrade, skipper and navigator Frank Worsley (1872-1943), who during later life in the 1930s and 1940s was a lecturer at the College, took place.
The delightful welcome and hospitality furnished by the Director of the National Maritime Museum was much enjoyed and the museum and its uniquely handsome and historic Greenwich environs made a perfect day's experience which both Societies greatly appreciated and enjoyed.