The Exploration Wing will bring four new permanent galleries to the National Maritime Museum, spanning Pacific and polar exploration and Britain’s maritime past.
Opening in 2018, the new galleries – Pacific Exploration, Polar Worlds, Tudor and Stuart Seafarers, and Sea Things – will exhibit 1000 more objects from our collections, and provide access to areas of the museum previously closed to our visitors.
"The [new galleries] will tell some of the most exciting stories on earth. Our greatest explorers, such as Cook, Shackleton, Scott and others, achieved incredible feats of exploration in the most challenging conditions. The Museum's collections and its skill in presenting the stories they tell are outstanding. I know the new galleries will inspire all those who visit"
Sir Ranulph Fiennes OBE
James Cook’s three 18th-century Pacific expeditions, beginning in HM bark Endeavour, brought the region, its peoples, cultures, flora and fauna to the attention of European’s in the age of Enlightenment. Cook’s ships were floating laboratories, carrying scientists and artists as well as sailors and navigators. The Pacific – the world’s largest ocean – was mapped, classified, debated and painted by the generations of British, French, Spanish and Russian seafarers who followed Cook’s lead.
“Ambition leads me not only farther than any other man has been before me, but as far as I think it possible for man to go”
This exciting new gallery will show how explorers encountered, understood and exploited the Pacific. It will display navigational instruments and charts used by Cook and others, as well as iconic works of art and fascinating rare items collected on early voyages.
Polar Worlds: past, present, future
The Polar regions have been a focus for British exploration and scientific enquiry for centuries – and remain so today, in this era of climate change. The Arctic and later the Antarctic became spaces to map and understand, to investigate and discover, to endure and to conquer. They also became theatres of national character and myth – where heroes were made and sometimes lost.
"Do not let it be said that Shackleton has failed... No man fails who sets an example of high courage, of unbroken resolution, of unshrinking endurance"
This important new gallery will examine the major British polar expeditions over the past 250 years, including the famous journey’s made by Scott and Shackleton. Scientific investigation provided a key rationale for such expeditions, resulting in important discoveries about our planet.
Tudor and Stuart Seafarers
This gallery will show how England, and later Britain, emerged as a maritime nation between 1500 and 1700. Using objects from across our collections, the displays will create a compelling narrative, covering navigational advances, the discovery and colonisation of new worlds, the growth of trade and naval power, and the ferocity of early-modern warfare at sea.
"Whosoever commands the sea commands the trade; whosoever commands the trade of the world commands the riches of the world, and consequently the world itself"
Sir Walter Ralegh
Visitors will be introduced to famous figures, such as Francis Drake and Samuel Pepys, and seminal events like the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Sea Things will be an object-focused gallery which showcases the weird and the wonderful of the National Maritime Museum’s collections. Human identity has been shaped by our relationship with the sea for centuries; through work, play, love, loss, hope, and despair, the ocean has made us who we are, as individuals and societies.
Sea Things will take a look at how unusual things bring humans and the sea together. There will be around 600 objects, many of which have never been on display before. Local communities have chosen many of these objects, and will be helping us to interpret them from new perspectives. Digital interpretation will allow visitors to curate their own gallery visit, and invite them to add their own experiences to the museum’s collective maritime memory.
Before going on display, key objects from the galleries will travel around the country and be displayed at several partner museums to engage new audiences with this important history.
New conservation studios, displays and activities
Alongside the National Maritime Museum's new galleries there will also be improved displays at the Royal Observatory, new state-of-the-art conservation studios at our storage site at Kidbrooke, and a ten-year programme of special activities focused on Cook’s voyages.
“The new galleries will not only open up the Museum's collections to many more people but will also create a spectacular contemporary environment to enable all our visitors to better understand the continuing relevance of Britain’s maritime heritage”
Kevin Fewster, Director of Royal Museums Greenwich
The wider project also aims to connect all our venues and collections, revealing the links between them.
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Images: all artists' impressions of the Exploration Wing galleries © Casson Mann