Dry At Last

Dry At Last

Originally built in 1510 in Portsmouth, the Mary Rose was a carrack-type warship of the English Tudor navy built for King Henry VIII. Carrak-style ships featured high “castles” in the bow and stern with a low waist of open decking in the middle. The ship was substantially rebuilt in 1536, and it is on this version that most modern research had been conducted. Built during a period of naval combat transition, the Mary Rose saw a wide range of armament throughout its years of service and would have been crewed by about 400–450 men. It served for thirty-three years before it sank in the Solent (the straight separating the Isle of Wight from the mainland of England).

The wreck of the Mary Rose was rediscovered in 1971, and in 1982 it was salvaged and raised from the ocean floor. It has been under conservation since the mid 1980’s, and was recently put on display in a brand new museum designed around the wreckage. Efforts have been underway to remove the wreckage from the water which has preserved it for so many years. It is estimated that the ship’s conservation will be complete in 2015. The Mary Rose spent thirty-four years as a king’s ship, four hundred and thirty-seven years underwater, and thirty-five years in conservation. The new museum housing the wreckage was our next stop on our tour of the historic Portsmouth dockyards.


The museum has a spectacular design, with the remains of the historical ship at the center. As visitors walk past windowed viewing bays marking the different sections of the ship, the other side of the hallway depicts reproductions of each deck as it would have been before it sank. These reconstructions are based on artifacts recovered from the wreckage.


Each of these halls then opens into a more traditional exhibit including the myriad of artifacts recovered from the site and a detailed breakdown of which people and artifacts would have been found on that level.

(Markings like this were used by crew to identify their personal possessions.)

There’s an astounding amount of information in this museum. We spent a couple hours in it and I took over 100 pictures. Because half the ship rested in silt, its remarkably preserved.


Historians have a detailed picture of who was aboard the ship at the time it sank, what tools and personal affects the officers kept in their quarters. They even know how many women were on board. There’s a heartbreakingly-well preserved dog skeleton among the items recovered from the wreck.


When you reach the bottom floor of the museum, you can take a lift ride back to the top. The glass-walled lift is located so that you can overlook the preserved wreckage as you ride to the top, providing some of the most spectacular views in the entire museum.


We ended the day with a visit to the National Museum Royal Navy Portsmouth, a large portion of which is dedicated to Admiral Lord Nelson. Not being a history buff, it was that day I realized how beloved a figure Nelson was. To me, one of the most interesting details of Lord Nelson’s life is that he was wounded in the battle of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and lost his right arm. Despite his assertion “A left-handed Admiral will never again be considered as useful, therefore the sooner I get to a very humble cottage the better, and make room for a better man to serve the state”, he returned to the navy after his recovery to become one of the most distinguished naval officers in history. There are several monuments and museums erected in his honour. A statue of him stands atop a column in the heart of Trafalgar Square, naturally commemorating his victory in the battle. There’s also a tower and smaller museum in Edinburgh dedicated to his memory (more on that another day).

(A convenient miniature of Nelson’s Trafalgar statue located at the Portsmouth museum)

We spent some time in the museum talking to one of the employees. She saw us looking at the portrait of Nelson’s death and gave us a detailed breakdown of the details of the painting. Despite the artist having seen Nelson’s body, and thus knowing the exact details of his wound, he portrayed them inaccurately in order to serve the central theme of the painting. There also seems to have been some controversy over the years as to whether or not Nelson asked his friend, Thomas Hardy, to kiss him shortly before he passed.

(A Nautilus shell commemorating Nelson’s victories)

We passed through the part of the museum dedicated to the modern navy before we called it a day.

(The men of the HMS St. George took this epic tusk from the King of Benin in 1897)

Walking past the gunwarf, we located a nice pub on the ocean and shared a fabulous dinner. It was certainly one of the most memorable days of our trip.

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