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The Thomson Collection of Ship Models Audio Tour

Join Simon Stephens, curator at the National Maritime Museum in London, England, as he guides listeners through the world of British ship models spanning 350 years. (Recorded October 30, 2008; Total running time: 31:35)

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Track 1: British Two-decker 70 Gun Warship, “Edinburgh”, 1721

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Download: 2:34 min / 1,008 KB MP3


British Two-decker 70 Gun Warship, “Edinburgh”, 1721
Georgian Model, scale 1:48
Great Britain
fruitwood
model: 45.0 x 106.0 x 27.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Introduction by David Wistow

David Wistow: Welcome to the Thomson collection of over 130 historic ship models, much admired for their craftsmanship, rarity and historical value. Simon Stephens, Curator at the National Maritime Museum in London, England will be your guide through the world of British ship models – from battleships and tugboats to ocean liners and tankers – spanning 350 years.

Simon Stephens: What we have here in front of us is a Georgian style model of the Edinburgh, which is a two-decker, 70 gun warship, built largely in fruitwood. And as you can see, it is heavily decorated, both in terms of the stern decoration, the lion figurehead at the bow, as well as the layout of the guns along the two gun decks.

You’ll notice that some of the deck planking is omitted. And this is to throw light into the model, so that you can see detail within the model, in terms of the cabin layout, the bulkheads, and the layout of the guns and the officer accommodation at the stern.

Now, moving on up to the front, or the bow, of the ship, there’s a beautiful carved ship’s figurehead in the form of the lion, with a crown.

Now, the whole idea of this model and the figurehead adjacent ... full size figurehead adjacent by the case is to give you some idea of the scale. The figurehead is a full sized figurehead from an actual vessel. It's 48 times larger than the figurehead on the model.

These models were made at 1:48 scale, a quarter inch to a foot.

I suppose in a way when you look at why the models were made, that's what makes them important. The reason three-dimensional ship models were made was a group of individuals at the Admiralty and the Navy Board, and they were the people, the executive body responsible for running the Navy. They made all the decisions on behalf on the monarchs and the Parliament.

Not all of them could understand a two-dimensional complex technical drawing. So, to assist their discussions and interpretation, they had models commissioned and made.

So that’s where these models really come into their own. They are an invaluable source of reference for construction, design, decoration and general tactics, as well. They would use these to talk sailing qualities, you know, the lines of the hull.

Now as to the types and the quality of model, it varies, because some of the really more ornate and well finished and beautifully detailed, rigged, they were probably commissioned after the ship was built for private use, for a private individual, wealthy individual who had connections with the Navy.

Track 2: British Turret Deck Steamer, “Clan Alpine”, 1899

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Download: 2:15 min / 884 KB MP3


British Turret Deck Steamer, “Clan Alpine”, 1899
Builder’s Model, scale 1:48
Great Britain
wood, metal, silver and gold plated metal fittings
model: 74.0 x 238.0 x 33.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: The style of builders’ models, they really developed from the mid-19th century onwards. And these generally are what we call full hull models. They show the whole hull of the ship and all the deck details, masts, and spars. And they were made, really, by the shipbuilders themselves, either for themselves or for the ship owners.

And they were basically a glorified advertising tool. During the 19th century, there were these various international fairs around the world, in America, Europe, and the UK, where they would all get together and advertise their wares, you know: “We build these ships. Come and place an order. We operate these ships to India, Australia, North America. Come and sign up to our service.” And they would use these ship models to attract the public, and other commercially minded people, to their stand at the shows.

This is a very good example of a builder’s style model, where a lot of the deck fittings, the anchors, cables, winches, engine room cowlings, etc., have been made in a base metal and then plated in gold or silver.

Obviously, these fittings would not be this color in real life.

I think the obvious feature of this model is the shape of the hull. This is what is called a turret ship. It basically describes the shape of the hull, if you look at it in cross section. It’s square with a much narrower upper deck.

The turret deck design was the reduced square footage on the upper deck, which then reduced the levies on the cargo carried below deck.

Only about 200 were built at the time, right the way through into the early 20th century.

You’ll notice also with this model that the cargo hatches have been shown open.

In most cases, these models would have had the enclosed hatches whereas they are obviously very keen to promote this type of design of cargo ship, which only appeared in the late 19th century.

This is a time when steam was gradually encroaching upon sail. This is the transition from sail to steam. So there was this tremendous battle going on with the sailing craft owners as well as the steam ship owners. With the improvement of steam engines, cargo ships were able to go further, on less fuel, and carry more cargo.

Track 3: Troop Landing Craft, Georgian Model

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Download: 1:32 min / 624 KB MP3

Simon Stephens: This model here in front of us is one of Ken Thomson’s favorite models. I can see why really. It is a fascinating insight into the human face of the mid 18th century. It is a lovely example of craftsmanship in terms of the hull shape, the wood used, a very warm wood.

And also you have got all these figures mounted inside the hull. You have got the marines sitting there with their rifles upright being transported ashore. You have got the crew rowing them ashore as well as the drummer and the piper in the stern beside the coxswain who is steering the boat to shore.

It is interesting. These vessels were used in large numbers, especially by the British navy when they were used in the raids on the French Coast in the late 1750’s, as well as the captures of Havana and St. Lucia.

Also, 30 of these were employed for the spearhead of General Wolfe’s attack on the Heights of Abraham in 1759. So this really was the first example of amphibious warfare by getting the troops across water, be they lakes, or across rivers, or even onto a coastline.

These boats were used under the cover of ships who were moored out just off the coast who would be bombarding the enemy battlements ashore, while the troops where being rowed ashore in these boats.

These boats were transported by transport ships. They would break down in kit form. All the inside components would be removed, so that the boats would nest inside each other and could be transported, and then they would be reconstructed at their final venue.

Track 4: Russian Icebreaker, design for two vessels: “Kosmá Mínin” and “Kniáz Pojársky”, 1916

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Download: 1:09 min / 472 KB MP3


Russian Icebreaker, design for two vessels: “Kosmá Mínin” and “Kniáz Pojársky”, 1916
Builder’s Model, scale 1:48
Great Britain
wood, metal
model: 79.0 x 155.0 x 50.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: I think the obvious feature about this model is the shape of the hull. It almost looks double ended. You've got propellers at both ends, which leads to the question, in which direction does this vessel travel?

Basically, this was designed as an icebreaker. So the bow is the end with the anchor, and the single propeller underneath, beneath, the bow, with the stern with the twin screws at the rear. The idea of this design was that the propeller at the bow would create a void under the ice. The vessel would then ride up onto the ice, and the weight of the hull would then crush a way through the icepack.

Another interesting point you should notice also. On the foremast, there’s a little lookout. Obviously you have to keep a sharp lookout when they were going forward in terms of the pack ice as to whether they could actually break a way through, find the thinnest area of ice that they could break.

Then the vessels would follow in their wake. They would actually make a sea way through the ice with vessels behind them. You'll notice also on the stern of the model there’s a large fender, which was obviously put there for stopping, if they were towing other vessels, or stopping other vessels or the ice actually damaging the hull as well.

Track 5: Japanese Liner, “Chichibu Maru” (renamed “Titibu Maru” in 1938, “Kamkura Maru” in 1939), around 1930

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Download: 1:57 min / 776 KB MP3


Japanese Liner, “Chichibu Maru” (renamed “Titibu Maru” in 1938, “Kamkura Maru” in 1939), around 1930
Builder’s Model, scale 1:32
Japan
wood, metal, gold plated fittings
model: 64.0 x 188.0 x 31.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: This vessel was capable of carrying 817 passengers and was built for the San Francisco to Yokohama run. And ran for many years successfully with other sister ships in the fleet.

The shape of the hull tells you it’s a very fast liner, as opposed to a slow but economical cargo vessel. These ships were built for speed and comfort. They were considered very palatial for their time between the war in the 1930s. And internally they were decked out really lavishly in terms of furniture and design and materials.

The reason this one stands out is the sheer size and amount of detail – the amount of fixtures and fittings on this model in terms of the cargo handling equipment. Bearing in mind this was a passenger cargo ship.

If you look along the hull all the portholes, straightaway that indicates to you it’s a passenger carrying vessel. You wouldn’t get the number of portholes on a cargo only. The other thing that you should note is the number of lifeboats, the life saving facilities for the passengers.

As a result of the Titanic disaster in 1912 the regulations were tightened up whereby every passenger had to have a life saving appliance on board. This is very evident here on this model with the number of lifeboats and life saving equipment.

One interesting feature towards the stern on the left hand side, the port side of the model is that there is a Japanese style of launch as opposed to the standard lifeboat on most European or American ships.

Typically the Japanese gold plated a lot of their fittings on their models.

A very interesting point about this model is that over the course of the career of the ship it had several name changes. And this is evident on the model. If you go towards the stern, you can see that it's got a different name painted across the stern.

Track 6: British Armoured Steam Cruiser, “H.M.S. Hogue”, 1900

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Download: 2:33 min / 1,004 KB MP3

Simon Stephens: Well, I think on the sheer size of this model, this just shows you the problem faced as you come into the 20th century.

You can imagine once these warships started to get bigger and bigger, these models started to get bigger and bigger. And after the war, on the grounds of economy, the models were scaled down to 1:96 scale, because, it was just costing too much and taking too long to make these models of these massive ships.

This is a very dramatic model in terms of shape and immense amount of detail on this model. Every sort of fitting and fixture is included on this model.

The obvious design features: the ram bow at the front of the ship, which is an old fall back from the late 19th century where they used to actually have a feature of ramming other vessels. Another feature you will see on the underside of the hull on the red painted area. It’s got submerged torpedo tubes so they can actually launch torpedoes from below the waterline.

The white booms running alongside the hull which is actually rigged in at the moment, they would be rigged out for a torpedo net, which was basically like a large scale form of chain male in the form of a curtain. This would stop incoming torpedoes from hitting the hull.

They would hit the net and explode there as a sort of defense mechanism. So they would rig those out away from the hull and they would go all the way around the hull if the vessel was at anchor with the fleet somewhere to protect it.

There is detail on the mast tops. You’ve got search lights, all the rigging. This being a twin screw vessel, it still had the remnants of the mast and sail, although the predominant propulsion would be the screws rather than the sail.

If we moved towards the stern, the stern gallery is beautifully created with a name on a plaque, the Hogue, which was an armored steam cruiser launched in about 1900, one of several of that class.

Predominantly they were a cruising vessel. They were given a station, either the Mediterranean, the Channel, or the Far East and they would cruise that station as it were, just flying the flag, protecting commerce, called upon if there was any action that had to be undertaken or any diplomatic incident that had to be sorted out in any way.

They were known as armored cruisers which meant the hull was armored with thick armored steel around the waterline, above and below the waterline up to the deck. In some cases, it was six inches thick. So you can imagine the sheer size and weight of these vessels was absolutely phenomenal. Again, that was to stop incoming shells and torpedoes damaging the hull and sinking the vessels.

Track 7: British Escort Aircraft Carrier, “HMS Activity”, 1942

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Download: 2:26 min / 960 KB MP3


British Escort Aircraft Carrier, “HMS Activity”, 1942
Builder’s Model, scale 1:96
Great Britain
wood, metal
model: 42.0 x 160.0 x 38.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: Interestingly this vessel was actually purchased by the government when it was on the stocks being built. It was a merchantman, a merchant hull, as opposed to a warship. It was at a time when they were desperate for hulls to convert to aircraft carriers. And this hull provided the ideal opportunity to convert on the stocks. Basically, they just leveled the hull and put the runway above with accommodation below, and converted it into an escort aircraft carrier.

This vessel would accompany the various convoys going across the Atlantic, and give it air cover in the form of aircraft on deck. Now, you'll notice the model is complete with biplane aircraft, and they were fired off or launched off the runway by steam catapults.

And then also as they came back to the mothership, so to speak, or the carrier, they would be caught by, they were stopped by a series of arrestor wires on the deck, which would be picked up by a hook on the tail of the airplane. If they missed those, there's a safety net that would come up further down the actual runway or landing deck.

The other striking feature about this model, which you can’t miss, is the camouflage colours that the hull has been painted. This is what they call dazzle paint, or dazzle camouflage. It was designed during the First World War by a very famous artist, Norman Wilkinson.

The idea was that it would break up the silhouette or the shape of the vessel on the horizon.

Certainly during the First World War it was a common thing to have ships dazzle painted, and to a certain extent during the Second World War. Although it wasn’t taken up to a greater extent throughout the Royal Navy. Only certain ships on the convoy would be dazzle painted, obviously to try and evade the packs sort of U Boats that were patrolling the North Atlantic.

Once the war was finished, this vessel survived the war and then was converted back to its merchant role and carried on well into the 1960s, eventually being broken up in Japan.

So it’s an interesting story in that it started life as a merchant hull, converted for use as an aircraft carrier during the Second World War, and then went back into civil, commercial use after the war up until the late ’60s.

Track 8: British Two-decker 50–54 Gun Warship, around 1703

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Download: 1:45 min / 704 KB MP3

Simon Stephens: This is probably one of the rarest models you can find of this period.

Probably the most important thing about this model is its state of preservation. First of all it’s quite unusual to find a model of this date fully rigged. And secondly, it’s even more unusual to find a model fully rigged in its original state. Pretty much all of this rigging is still original.

The fact that it has been kept in its original display case has kept it in pristine condition, especially in terms of rigging. As you can see it is heavily decorated at the bow and the stern which is typical for this period, early 18th century.

If we look at the stern, there’s a stern gallery. And just below these central stern lanterns you will see a monogram AR which is the monogram of Queen Anne, who was Queen of England in the early 18th century. So that dates the model for us straightaway.

A very interesting point about this model is it’s rigged with its original flags. Now these are painted on card and are correct to size. Flags of this period were huge and they were measured by yardage. And you would have a Union Jack flying at the bow.

You would have the admiralty felled anchor on the foremast, the royal coat of arms on the main mast and another Union Jack on the mizzen with the red ensign on the stern and on the ensign staff.

This model has been made in what we call the Navy Board style. By that we mean that if you look at the underside of the hull, the frames are exposed. They haven’t been planked. This a stylized framing where you can look along the hull and you get this very dark and light contrast of the frames and the shadow of the frames.

This is a very good way of looking at the shape without the planks as it shows off the shape of the hull sections, which would be more difficult to see if the hull were fully planked.

Track 9: British Two-decker 50 Gun Warship, “Bristol”, 1774

Click to play: British Two-decker 50 Gun Warship, “Bristol”, 1774

Download: 2:16 min / 900 KB MP3

Simon Stephens: The use of medical technology such as endoscopes, boroscopes and also CT and MRI scanning machines, has been a tremendous boon for the academic world in learning more about these models, as to how they were made, the sequence of construction and also the materials used.

Until we had the use of medical instruments, we couldn’t really explore the inside of models. The only way of finding out what a model was built like was if it unfortunately was in a bad state of condition, it was falling apart.

Probably one of the most important features of this model, is that we know who made this model, which is incredibly rare. Most models were made by groups of individuals, we assume.

There’s no written evidence of this, certainly in the 17th century surviving manuscripts. As we come into the 18th century, there is slight mention but with this model we were lucky enough to retrieve a note from inside the model.

Another model had been discovered with a note inside it signed by a gentleman called George Stockwell who worked in the royal dockyard at Sheerness. And by looking at that model, the style of that model against this model, a hunch was taken that this was by the same hand.

So we went inside with an endoscope and, low and behold, we found a note inside which was signed and dated again by George Stockwell of Sheerness. This was a massive leap forward, in terms of research of models of this time. Up until this period we just didn't know who or when within reason and how these models were made.

By researching this gentleman of that date, we were able to find out that he was in charge of a group of individuals, craftsmen. Again, he still wasn't called a model maker in the official papers. But he was in charge of a group of individuals who were craftsmen. So one assumes that he had a party of people under him who made models.

In this case the model of the Bristol, which was a two decker, 50 gun warship of about 1774. He actually signed and dated the note, where it was made and when.

Model makers of this period, and I consider this to be the real cream of model making, this was a time when model making was at its highest. Models of this quality were being made for the King George III, who was taking a very keen interest in the navy.

Track 10: British Revenue Lugger, “Alarm”, around 1782

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Download: 1:55 min / 768 KB MP3


British Revenue Lugger, “Alarm”, around 1782
Georgian Model
Great Britain
boxwood, fruitwood, brass, silk, paper, glass
model: 37.0 x 60.0 x 9.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: An interesting point of these models is that some of them have been displayed with their cases, which is interesting in itself. Because sometimes cases very rarely survive, especially as a result of fashions. The fashion in furniture changes, so people alter things.

But when a model has been cased, this can elongate its life by many, many years. This particular example of the Alarm, which is a revenue cutter, is in its original case, which in itself is quite rare.

You’ll notice that the model is sunk into the case and is mounted on mirrors, or mirrored glass. That gives you the opportunity to study the underside of the hull, the shape of the hull at the bow and the stern. Now this particular example, this ship was built in clinker fashion.

That is to say that the planking on the hull was overlapping as opposed to (carvel), which as edge to edge planking. Clinker was preferred for these types of vessel because it was very light, but very strong. And these vessels had to be very strong and light and fast. They were employed in the revenue service for chasing smugglers who were trying to import stuff illegally into the UK without paying their dues.

A very important point about this model is the fact that it’s still got its original sails rigged to the masts and yards. This is extremely rare. We think the sails are made of silk, which in itself is very susceptible to the UV degradation. And it's also complete with an original flag flying from the ensign's staff ’ the revenue services flag.

It’s also fully gunned all along the deck with small cannon and carriage. It’s also carrying spare topmasts and yards along the deck. This is a huge amount of sail area to be carried by a vessel of this size.

We’re also very fortunate to have the original design drawing of the ship, which is displayed nearby.

The model is built at the same scale as the drawing, 1:48 scale, which was the standard pattern for the time, in the late 18th century.

Track 11: French Warship, “L’Ocean”, 1810-1820

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Download: 1:47 min / 716 KB MP3

Simon Stephens: As POW models go, I would describe this model as pretty exceptional. This is not your typical POW model. Both in terms of the detail, its size, and the quality of craftsmanship, it's really quite astounding.

I think we’ve come to believe now that towards the end of the war, the Napoleonic War, and also after the war, there were model makers still making models of this quality still in the UK, selling them to interested people or people who had commissioned them.

And I think this is a classic example of that – the model of the Ocean, a three-decker, a French three decker, which is fully planked, complete with brass guns, and fully rigged as well. Bearing in mind the scale of the model, the detail and quality of craftsmanship is really quite outstanding.

If we just look at the figurehead alone, that's been carved in bone and shows a male figure pouring water from a vessel from under his arm. The anchors, the detail of the anchors, are quite exquisite, showing them fished and ready to be dropped. As well as rigged up into the channels and stowed.

An interesting thing about this model is that this is probably more accurate than most POW models as it does show a typical French vessel and is a fairly accurate representation of the Ocean. Proportionally it’s correct, the decoration is French, and a lot of the features on deck are largely French as well.

So this is rather unusual. This is much more an accurate representation in the sort of POW style, as we call it.

It’s also complete with a 19th century display case, which again has clearly been made for this model. It’s been designed around this model to fit the rigging, and is in wonderful condition, and again is a rare example of an early display case with its model.

Track 12: Double Watch Stand with British or French Two-decker 74 Gun Warship, 1795-1815

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Download: 1:47 min / 716 KB MP3


Double Watch Stand with British or French Two-decker 74 Gun Warship, 1795-1815
Prisoner of War Model and Stand
Great Britain, probably made by French sailors
bone, wood, paper, ink, watercolour, brass, straw, hand-tinted prints
ivory stand: 53.0 x 34.0 x 25.0 cm; model: 17.0 x 22.0 x 7.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: This is actually a unique and special object in the collection. It is sort of a watch stand. So basically a gentleman would have fob watches which he would take with him. When he arrived home, he would then put them into the watch stand so that he could use them as a clock so to speak.

It is very ornate, mostly carved in bone with foil inlay painted gold, and then at the bottom of the watch stand you have got these lovely drawers that pull out. The amazing thing there is, because they have been closed for probably most of their life, you have still got the original colors of the lovely straw inlay that is in the drawer linings, the beautiful colors, different colors as well, which is interesting.

Obviously is it difficult not to miss the ship model that is mounted in this case below the watch stand and above the drawers. It is a lovely little model of a two-decker, 80 gun warship, again, of both British and French origin, rigged, fully rigged on a baseboard.

It is interesting to note that with objects of this complexity it would have certainly been a team effort. You would obviously have one team making the ship model itself. There would be someone who would be carving the bone work, which a lot of it is fretted, cut out with a saw.

And then it is backed with gold paper. Then you would have someone who design and carve the actual watch stands themselves above the actual case. There would also be someone employed to do the actual wooden carcass.

Looking at the drawers and the way they move, they are very precise and sharp. So someone was obviously skilled at making a piece of furniture whereby the drawers were sharp, and straight, and fitted very well. It probably would have involved people with several skills, such as cabinet makers, carvers, and model makers.

Track 13: British Self-Righting Pulling and Sailing Lifeboat, around 1890

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Download: 2:16 min / 904 KB MP3


British Self-Righting Pulling and Sailing Lifeboat, around 1890
Builder’s Model, scale 1:12
Great Britain
wood, cork, metal, silver, silk, cotton
model: 62.0 x 90.0 x 26.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: This is an interesting case here, which covers the whole range of model types in the collection, covering the different types of vessels; cargo ships, warships, service vessels such as tugs and lifeboats as well as vessels for pleasure such as excursion steamers, yachts, that sort of thing. Of particular interest are models of the British lifeboats that were used by the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. There are two in this case.

One is un rigged, it’s painted blue and white and it's what they call a self righting, pulling and sailing lifeboat. You'll notice on this model it’s got white air cases at the bow and stern which are curved. So if the boat was upset or overturned, these air cases which were sealed would raise the hull above the water, making it unstable. It would then eventually self right itself.

Something else you’ll note is that there are a series of grab lines around the hull so that people in the water could hold onto these if they went overboard or if they were rescuing survivors from a wreck, they could grab hold of these grab lines as such, and then be pulled on board by the crew themselves.

They were predominately rowed and sailed, and were built in large numbers for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. These models themselves were given to individuals who donated large amounts of money to the institution. The Royal National Lifeboat Institution was funded by voluntary contributions, no money from the state whatsoever.

So anybody who gave a large amount of money was then presented with a beautiful scale model of a lifeboat, probably the one they were involved with in the station.

The other model we have in this case, which is a slightly larger scale than the other one, this is a model of a sailing lifeboat of the Liverpool class. You’ll notice it's got two masts and three sails.

They were manned by volunteer crews from the local village on the coast. These vessels went out in the worst weather possible. They put their lives at great risk, and there are some very, very sad and distressing tales of some of these boats being lost at sea or overturned with a great loss of life.

The other thing to bear in mind is that a lot of these vessels were manned by families. If a lifeboat was lost at sea, it was a great tragedy, both in local terms to the village, as well as a national tragedy.

Track 14: British Armed Motor Launch, “Mimi”, 1915

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Download: 1:25 min / 576 KB MP3


British Armed Motor Launch, “Mimi”, 1915
Builder’s Model, scale 1:16
Great Britain
wood, metal, silver and gold plated fittings, paper
model: 22.0 x 79.5 x 20.0 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: This is an interesting small craft. This is a motor launch. A small expeditionary force was sent out to Africa to deal with the German domination on Lake Tanganyika, which was the border between the Belgium Congo and German East Africa.

The British wanted a part in this lake because strategically it was very important. So these launches were built on the River Thames. They were then shipped to East Africa and landed. Taken inland by rail along the river and then dragged through the Belgium Congo jungle, on specially constructed carriages, which were pulled by steam traction engines and bullocks, oxcarts. They then went along another river journey and then eventually arrived at the lake itself.

They were armed and they actually captured the German steamer and rammed it and sank it, eventually taking it over in the end, capturing the crew as well.

It’s an amazing story of getting a small craft like this from the UK all the way to central Africa to a lake, to actually guard the colonies abroad so to speak. You’ll notice the gun on the bow.

It’s also got a canvas canopy in the stone area to protect against the elements and the intense heat of the sun. There's a small machine gun mounted on the stern of the boat, as well.

Track 15: British State Barge (vessel built around 1700)
model made 1990

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Download: 1:13 min / 496 KB MP3


British State Barge (vessel built around 1700)
model made 1990, scale 1:96
Donald McNarry (born London, England, 1921)
wood, paper, metal, acrylic
model: 6.0 x 13.0 x 3.5 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: We’ve got a group of very interesting models here by a living model maker or artist, Donald McNarry.

It’s very difficult to work at this sort of scale and produce this accuracy and quality of craftsmanship, bearing in mind that some of these models are only several inches long. And that they are rigged as well. That in itself is a feat. There aren't many people alive today that can work to this scale and to this quality.

We’re very fortunate that McNarry has produced models of this quality and detail ranging from sailing yachts to ceremonial barges to even royal yachts.

These models illustrate a very interesting combination between model making as well as modeling as an artist would. McNarry combines the skill of model making with the skill of painting. They are mounted on carved wooden sea bases, which have then been painted.

He gives real life to these models. The sails are mounted in such a way that they are full of wind. It’s almost like a diorama and gives a realistic feel to the model, almost an artistic feel to the model.

I’m sure that’s probably what intrigued Ken Thomson to collect these models as a group.

Track 16: British or French Three-decker 100 Gun Warship with Admiral’s Barge alongside, 1795-1815

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Download: 2:19 min / 916 KB MP3


British or French Three-decker 100 Gun Warship with Admiral’s Barge alongside, 1795-1815
Prisoner of War Model
Great Britain, probably made by French sailors
bone, horn, paper, silk, brass
model: 27.0 x 37.0 x 8.5 cm
The Thomson Collection © Art Gallery of Ontario


Simon Stephens: Another interesting group or style of POW work is mounting these models in a waterline, what we call a waterline base. Now this example here in front of us is a full hull model, but it’s then been set into a waterline base, a wooden base, which has then been painted.

It’s almost in a way theatrical in some ways because it's actually illustrating an event. You’ve got a very high ranking officer coming alongside in a barge, being taken on board the ship. The sailors are standing up in the barge with their oars tossed, which is a form of salute. The officer would go up the companion way and come on board the ship.

Now if you look closely at this model, you’ll see it's absolutely bedecked in these small figures. You also get an idea of scale, which is interesting.

It basically represents a two decker, 74 gun warship. It could be French or British, which is typical prisoner of war style then incorporated by both the British and French features on these models.

This one is fully rigged and is shown at anchor as well. And there were a number of boats alongside, the long boats as well, which had been manned by sailors.

This model is also displayed in its original display case. Just as an example of the sort of cases that were made at the time in the 19th century to actually keep these models from being damaged more than anything as a furniture piece.

If you look closely at this model you can see how it’s been made. If you look along the hull you can see a series of pin lines. So these bone planks were pinned to a series of frames, wooden frames within the model, the carcass.

It’s also rigged with brass guns, but probably the most important feature about this model is the fact that it has its original sails. This is extremely rare to find a model of this age and also with this scale and detail with original sails.

Obviously making models at this scale and rigging them is extremely difficult. So they would use for the rigging single or separate strands of silk. Or the other material that they would use was human or horse hair.

All of those are extremely fragile and they get worse over time, as you can imagine. So it’s very difficult to repair, to install on these models, especially at this scale. So to have a model in this condition is extremely rare.