Friday 30 November saw the opening of the Museum’s new permanent Gallery, Atlantic Worlds, focusing on the role that the Atlantic Ocean has played as a conduit for the movement of goods, peoples and ideas over the centuries. It really is an interesting gallery – I’d encourage you to come and have a look should you be in Greenwich. As ever, the collections of the Library and Manuscript department are represented in the cases, so visitors can see, for example, the Museum’s recently acquired log of the Juverna, one of the last slave vessels to legally arrive at Jamaica before the abolition of the trade in 1807, or the letterbook kept by Dr McIlroy, the surgeon on board HMS Phoenix in 1841-3, serving off the West Coast of Africa attempting to suppress the slave trade.
The story of the slave trade and its suppression is not the only story on view in the gallery, however. So, visitors can also study material relating to European exploration of the “New World”, including an early copy of Hakluyt’s “Principal Navigations…. of the English Nation” from 1599, in which the author strongly advocated the establishment of a colony in Virginia, the beginnings of Empire. Also on display are two of the Library’s charts by Herman Moll, of Africa and North America. The issue of conflict and wars is also an important one, and so the Museum’s copy of the American Declaration of Independence, sent to Lord Sandwich, the First Lord of the Admiralty, and possibly the first news of the declaration to arrive in England, is of great interest!
Of course, such an exhibition can only skim the surface of the Library’s holdings, so here are a few treasures still available to be viewed in the reading room. Our fabulous collection of de Bry’s “Brief and True Report of the New Found Land of Virginia” from 1590, based on the watercolours of John White, the Governor of the first British settlement at Roanoke, give a real flavour of early European encounters with the Americas.
If your interest is in the Transatlantic slave trade, then we have several logs and account books kept on board slave ships, as well as the Michael Graham-Stewart collection of material. To show the role of more general trade, we have the Henley collection of business papers, detailing their involvement in eighteenth century trade between Britain and the West Indies.
For those of you who are interested in blood and gore, then the Warren collection contains the letter written by Captain Broke after the famous action between the Shannon and the Chesapeake in 1813, signed in Broke’s shaky hand after he received a serious wound to the head.
Or Admiral Hood’s bitter complaint about the behaviour of his commander, Admiral Graves, at the battle of the Chesapeake in 1781, which led to the defeat of the British land force stranded at Saratoga, and the loss of the American colonies?
A real favourite, though, must be our manuscript copy of what has been termed the first American novel – William William’s The Journal of Llewellin Penrose, a fictional account of a shipwrecked sailor’s attempts to survive on the coast of central America, beautifully illustrated by Nicholas Pocock.
So, all in all, it’s a fascinating gallery, well worth a visit to view. And if it arouses your interest in the subject, then please pop along and see what we have in the Library about Britain’s role in the Atlantic!
Andrew (Manuscripts Curator)
Visitor notice: We are pleased to announce that Royal Museums Greenwich is reopening. To find out more about which sites will be open and how to plan your visit, click here.