The great thing about working with manuscripts at the National Maritime Museum is the various collections that you get to absorb yourself in. Just to illustrate this, I’d like to share with you the collections that I enjoyed last year. One of these is the Admiralty Compass Observatory collection, which was transferred to us from the National Archives in 1983 and includes correspondence and reports from 1842 to 1950, residing at one of our outstations, Kidbrooke. Through studying this area, I discovered how compass deviation was recorded and why it was necessary to produce technical pamphlets for modifications made to the compass over time. This collection is wonderful for studying the history of compass development. Another important collection catalogued was the papers of Vice-Admiral Sir Norman Egbert Denning. One of his ‘reminiscences’ involving Ian Fleming and a smuggled Christmas tree was used as our festive item of the month for December What makes this collection of 67 items engaging is his involvement with Ian Fleming and his role as the link between the operational intelligence centre (OIC) and components of the naval intelligence division, including the Ministry of Economic Warfare, the army, the Secret Intelligence, the Special Operations Executive and Bomber commands of the RAF. The Admiralty aerial photographs (1941-5) are quite fun as they reveal detailed images of convoys and naval bases. Another exciting collection includes journals kept by Captain Edward William Hereford. He writes one of these as midshipman on board the Trafalgar during the Crimean War. When I catalogued this collection I noticed how well it would support the journals of Dr Edward Hodges Cree RN (1814-1901). Both contain striking illustrations: within a midshipman’s journal (see image below) at the bombardment of Sevastopol in 1854 and a surgeon’s account of the capture of Sevastopol and Kinburn in 1855. What is really inspiring is seeing the way manuscript collections can reinforce and assist each other in terms of creating a more detailed view of historical events. Our archive journey ‘story boxes’ are good examples of how our manuscripts can be brought together thematically to bring our collections to light. Mike (Manuscripts Cataloguer)
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