Life at sea

Gain a fascinating insight into the lives of sailors and seamen throughout history. From the protocols of the Royal Navy to the traditions, customs and working lives of 18th and 19th century crewmen, we explore what life was really like on the high seas.

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From brass buttons to bell-bottoms, garments traditionally worn at sea have long been adopted and adapted to create new fashions and statements.

The Arrival of the Ship’s Postman. Father Christmas Receives the Season’s Greetings - from The Navy & Army Illustrated

In this festive guest blog, researcher Sarah Penny uncovers some memorable historical Christmas celebrations on board Royal Navy ships. 

HMS 'Erebus' passing through the chain of bergs, 1842 (BHC3654)

Ghost ships, sometimes also called phantom ships, are vessels with no living crew aboard. These may be real derelict ships found adrift with their crew missing, such as the 19th century HMS Resolute, or fictional and folkloric ones, like the apocryphal Octavius

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Think you're struggling with social distancing? At least you haven't started singing to goats... Curator Jeremy Michell uncovers the remarkable real-life story of island isolation which inspired Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe.

The Sea-mans Dictionary: or, an exposition and demonstration of all the parts and things belonging to a shippe : together with an explanation of all the termes and phrases used in the practique of navigation by Sir Henry Mainwaring (London, John Bellamy, 1644) – library reference PBD7424 and PBE6223

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Life at sea meant short bursts of work followed by short periods of rest, these four-hour long segments of the day are called watches.

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Designers from Vivienne Westwood to Galliano and Chanel have all created collections inspired by naval wear and maritime culture. 

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Archives Assistant Victoria Syrett explores a collection of diaries, notes and drawings by Robert Gale (born 13 October 1816) who joined HMS Rattlesnake as Captain Owen Stanley’s steward for a voyage full of exploration, death and rescuing damsels in distress.

The illustrated London news: 21 December 1889 Stirring the Christmas Pudding (RMG ID: ILN)

We all have traditions around Christmas time and for many this will include a flaming Christmas pudding triumphantly brought to the dinner table, presented to both family and friends. Not all of us though, like a slice of Christmas pudding to round off our Christmas meal. I have heard it described as ‘the dessert from the depths of hell itself’ and ‘a flaming delight; a feast for the eyes and mouth.’ Both descriptions reminded me of a quote from Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol and made me wonder about the origins of the Christmas pudding.

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Take a virtual spin and explore one of the National Maritime Museum's most important globes.

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