Friday, September 2, 2011

Shipwreck Museum, Hastings

The Shipwreck Museum is located in Hastings, a small city in the South of England, just opposite France. The museum is sited in the middle of the shoreline 'maritime ark'. In 1989 it received a Museum of the Year Award, whilst the Queen visited it in 1997 and the Deputy Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Prescott MP in 2003. The museum tells the fascinating stories of the shipwrecks which have been discovered around the area and has numerous artefacts from these wrecks on display.

The museum explores the remarkable geological and environmental circumstances that have helped to preserve the wrecks. The stories of the wrecked ships displayed here are not only related to Britain, but also involve Danish, French, German and Dutch history. The two main attractions are the Anne Wreck and the Amsterdam Wreck. The Amsterdam was owned by the Dutch Government. 

The intended voyage of the Amsterdam was from Amsterdam to the port of Jakarta (which was known as Batavia then) in Java, via the supply port, now Cape Town, that was founded by the Dutch East Indian Company. She was exporting silver and supplies, and was to return to Europe with spices, fine silks and porcelain.  It was finally wrecked locally in January 1749 and was preserved in the beach 3 miles west of Hastings.

Also parts and weapons from other ships are found here, for example the S.S. Storaa and the HMS Royal George. The S.S. Storaa was a British government owned merchant ship, sunk on the night of 2nd-3rd November 1943 whilst in Convoy C.W.221 from Southend to Cardiff. She was carrying a cargo of 2.500 tons of tank bodies to be assembled for the Allied invasion of Europe. However the ship was sunk off Hastings by the German E-boat Schnellboote E 138. The Storaa sank in 30 seconds due to the great weight of the cargo. 

A historical evolution of sailing vessels is evident through the seals displayed in the museum, dating back from the 12th-16th century. The 13th century seal of Bergen, Norway, shows an open ship of Viking type, but the similarly dated seals of Hythe and Poole in England show the addition of castles at the bow and stern. By the 16th century the seal of Lord Charles Howard of Effingham shows a ship with several decks.  

Another ship's wrecks displayed here come from the Invincible, which was built by the French in 1744, captured by the British in 1747, and eventually sank on a sandbank off the Isle of Wight, on 19 February 1758. One exhibition is placed in a dark room (above picture), dated back to the 8th-9th centuries AD and is believed to be a Saxon Dugout Canoe. It is a type of primitive boat that is typical of prehistoric vessels. 
The last artefact displayed is a tombstone, recovered from the shipwreck. This tombstone records the death in childbirth of the mother , Julia Jahncke in the then Danish (now American) Virgin Islands, in March 1858. Julia was aged 31 years and Franz only 13 days. This tombstone was made in Europe and seems to be the only one made for the grave. The cemetery at St. Thomas has been searched and the graves of Julia and Franz are unmarked. What is interesting, however, is the fact that the inscription is in English. 

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