Sunday, February 24, 2013

Royal Naval Exhibition 1891

This is a rare thing: which is why I don't mind its somewhat parlous condition. This is the official catalogue of the Royal Naval exhibition at Chelsea in 1891. If nothing else, it gives us a brilliant insight into the difference between an exhibition in Victorian England and an exhibition now. There are no games to play, interactive displays or personal testimony to listen to. This is an exhibition made up of things - over 5,000 things in fact - and they are all listed here. 

Just the categories into which they are divided are instructive. Who now is interested in plate silver object and yet, a whole section of this exhibition is given over to plate. There is another section devoted to Official Papers! And another in which a display is made of a vast array of naval-related snuff boxes. But by far my most favourite category is the 'Relics' category. It contains such wonders:

  • A sample of the spirit in which Nelson's body was brought home.
  • A bullet in a piece of copper which Captain Bligh used to measure out his daily meal ration
  • A green silk scarf presented to Francis Drake by Queen Elizabeth
  • A bottle of wine recovered from the wreck of the Royal George
  • A fragment of the Union Jack from HMS Victory which was carried in procession at Nelson's funeral and was intended to be lowered with him into his grave but was, in fact, torn up and distributed by the sailors.

 Oh for exhibitions with lots of 'stuff' in them...

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