Dartmouth Musuem Guidebook Launched
Of course, if you are able to climb the pole staircase, you can follow a real tour. But some cannot and for them we decided to write the guidebook in such a way that it is possible to sense the ambience of the museum and view some of its displays. This meant an abundance of pictures, but this was easier said than done. The precious artefacts had to be extracted from their cases and carried to the makeshift photographic ‘studio’. The curator, Brian Langworthy, did this with inexhaustible patience and good humour, as you can see. Although the picture demonstrates well the size of the shark’s jaw, it is not in the guidebook. We thought it just a bit too frivolous for a learned treatise! Perhaps you think otherwise? Actually, the words ‘learned treatise’ are an overstatement. The guidebook has to be authoritative but it is also written in an easy style with anecdote, mystery and a touch of humour. Here are some examples.
Anecdote. A large cracked bowl seems a poor exhibit in the Holdsworthy Collection, but one of the transfer prints is of the steam assisted sailing ship, the ‘Unfortunate London’. An old sailor seeing her pass Purfleet on the way to the Channel is said to have remarked, “It’ll be her last voyage… too low down in the water, she’ll never rise to a stiff sea.” A few weeks later she foundered in heavy weather with the loss of 220 souls. The public outrage gave support to Samuel Plimsoll’s campaign against the over-loading of ships with the eventual adoption of the Plimsoll Line markings.
Mystery. There is a watercolour by Miss Hunt labelled ‘Near to St Saviour’s Church’ and dated 1839. The precise location is a tantalising mystery. The view is of a short lane, on the level, terminating at a large thatched farm building with a farm cart in evidence. On either side of the lane are substantial town houses - although the one on the right has chickens coming out of one of its doors. The ground floor of the left-hand house has a sweep of windows, with a bystander looking in. Could it be a shop? The sun is coming in from high left, which suggests the view is NW to N. Plenty of clues but, as yet, unsolved.
A touch of humour. In the Henley Study reconstruction there is an example of the fabled Coco de Mer, also known, inter alia, as the Maldive Coconut. This first came to notice when washed up on the beaches of the Maldive Islands. Early supposition about its origin was that it came from a mythical tree in the depths of the ocean. But the palm from which this largest nut in the plant kingdom is derived exists as a small endangered community in the Seychelles Islands. The Coco de Mer has several unusual characteristics, not least its weight of 15-30 kilograms. Its bi-lobed form is particularly striking and early descriptions by sailors of these nuts referred, perhaps not surprisingly, to a similarity with a maiden’s posterior. The same anatomical interpretation can also be seen much closer to home in a rock just off the mouth of the Dart, awash at low water springs, and delicately re-named by the Victorians as the ‘Bear’s Tail’. There is an earlier, rather more Anglo-Saxon name, which can be seen on the Dartmouth Harbour Chart of 1680 in the King’s Room (and in the guidebook!).
The guidebook (36pp) was written by Angela White and Richard Danckwerts and edited by Brian Parker. It is sold at a grant-assisted low price of just £3.
First Published May/June 2012 By The Dart