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
The Pacific is the world’s largest ocean and has been home to many different people and cultures for more than 50,000 years. When the first European explorers sailed to the Pacific in the 17th century, the encounters between Pacific peoples and Europeans were complex and far reaching in their consequences.
“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” Captain Cook
The new Pacific Encounters gallery tells stories of encounter, exploration, and exploitation. The gallery will display objects from the voyages of Captain Cook and other British navigators alongside a full size Pacific voyaging canoe and a newly commissioned piece by a Pacific artist. It will put the museum’s historic exploration collections into the broader context of Pacific histories, identities, and the legacies of these encounters in the Pacific today.
The museum is running a consultation programme with the Pacific diaspora community, both in England and the Pacific, to consider how we develop and interpret our Pacific collections and stories in the future.
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
Tudor and Stuart Seafarers will explore how England, and later Britain, emerged as a maritime nation between about 1500 and 1700. It will consider how the country was transformed from one with largely domestic and European priorities to an emerging global maritime power.
Visitors will experience a compelling story of exploration, encounter, adventure, power, wealth and conflict. Topics will include the exploration of the Americas, the growth of worldwide trade, piracy and privateering and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. These will be brought to life through a variety of personalities from the well-known – Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Drake and Samuel Pepys – to the ordinary sailors, dockyard workers, their wives and families whose lives were shaped by the sea.
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