Culture

Not Just Flotsam and Jetsam

Stromness Museum in Orkney has an incredible collection of artefacts reflecting the town and Orkney’s connection with the sea. Jeanette Park, curator at the museum, spoke to a crowd of locals and visitors on Wednesday, 31st of July, about the collection.

By far the largest number of marine related artefacts displayed are from the German fleet which was scuttled in Scapa Flow on 21st of June 1919.

Stromness Museum German fleet 2

Others have come from Royal Navy vessels like HMS Vanguard.

The artefacts have arrived in the possession of Stromness Museum via several routes: donations from beachcombers, divers and salvage operators (most notably Dougal Campbell and Arthur Nundy) and the families of those who once served on board the vessels.

Stromness Museum Nundy and Campbell diving equipment

Highly recommended to find out about the scuttling and the salvage operation is Innes McCartney’s excellent book ‘Scapa 1919,The Archaeology of a Scuttled Fleet’: Scapa 1919: The Archaeology of a Scuttled Fleet

The German fleet collection contains a wide range including brass sprung candlesticks, a propeller from a pinnace and a lamp cage from SMS Konig.

Stromness Museum SMS Konig lamp cage

“The Story of the object goes on “

Stromness Museum German fleet

Items have also been upcycled by Orcadians in the past who were very skilled at reusing items taken from the vessels or found on the shore. Local blacksmith Alexander Banks crafted a whole suite of furniture from boiler pipes from the German destroyer G89. The museum has one of those chairs.

There is a carved wooden panel from HMS Hindenburg which once graced an Orkney home and a cast taken from a wooden object from the Admiral’s cabin.

HMS Vanguard

Stromness Museum HMS Vanguard

Objects from HMS Vanguard  include an ammeter and remains of a cordite drum.

Stromness Museum cordite lid Vanguard

It was a massive explosion on board HMS Vanguard which led to the loss of all of her crew except for 3 men. One of those died shortly after.

It was the greatest accidental loss of life for the Royal Navy in the 20th century: 843 men lost their lives in what is thought to have been caused by the cordite she was carrying. Perhaps even the very artefact that Stromness Museum has on display.

Also most likely from HMS Vanguard is a Mark VIII Dumaresq – designed by a naval officer this was an early gunnery targetting piece of kit.

Stromness Museum Mark VIII Dumaresq

Stromness is an ‘independent’ museum which means there is a charge for entering. Click on this link for details: Stromness Museum. It is keen to keep the museum relevant and appeal to different audiences. The curators now work with different disciplines to build up more knowledge about artefacts. Marine growth on items in the collection can throw more light on where they were found which adds to the interpretation.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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