National Maritime Museum review
I do like the National Maritime Museum, but given Britain's rich history of war on the waves, and the fact that we won just about every battle we ever fought, it always seems a bit sparse on content to me. Where's the rest of it? I suppose we must have sunk it. All you'll find downstairs are some ship's figureheads, a titchy model of Nelson's Column, a gilded barge from Georgian times, two old industrial engines, a few scale models and a silver speedboat. That is practically it. That is downstairs done... unless you like looking at old paintings of the River Thames. Luckily I do, but I'm not sure how interesting they will be to a tourist.
If you like your London history then check out that giant panorama of the city and see how much it's changed. Can you see Marble Arch, still standing in front of Buckingham Palace? It gives you a good insight into how many ships came into the Pool of London as well -- what a sight that must have been! That is the kind of sight I dream about.
Upstairs is where you'll find all the moralising lessons about the evil Empire (the British Empire). Apparently we were a bunch of whalers and slavers and money-grabbing capitalists who brought nothing but pain and misery to everyone we ever met. Obviously, I apologise wholeheartedly for my part in this. I may have been born 170 years after slavery was abolished, but in this touchy-feely world of ours every generation has to apologise for their ancestor's behaviour.
Walking through those rooms is like wearing a hairshirt. It's like slapping a cat n' nine tails down your back, and I think it gets a bit grating after a while. Yes we did some questionable things (even awful things), but Jesus Christ, come on! Everybody was at it in those days. And didn't we do some impressive things as well? Can't we hear about some of those, for a change? When they talk about the East India Company and the beginnings of global trade with the colonies, for example, they illustrate it with a whip and pair of rusty old leg-irons. Everything always comes back to that. The Romans never have this problem: you never hear the Italians apologising for throwing the Christians to the lions two thousand years ago. I've never once heard the Norwegians say sorry for sending the Vikings raping and pillaging and burning down Yorkshire. Maybe we should demand some compensation from them; then we can pass it on to the Americans for stealing their cotton crops. Then the Americans can pass it on to the native Americans for stealing their land. Then the native Americans can pass it back to the Norwegians for killing the original Viking settlers. (Did you know that the Vikings discovered America before the Brits?) Then maybe everyone will be happy.
After you have thoroughly depressed yourself with a stroll through that section, you are treated to an environmental lecture about how much rubbish gets thrown into the sea -- yawn. (What's that got to do with British naval history?)
Most of the other exhibits are timepieces, clocks and watches, with some guns and flintlock muskets. They've got a lot of maps and sacks and paintings of famous sailors as well. They also have Captain Bligh’s sword and coconut cup, from Mutiny on the Bounty fame, which he used to measure out the rations when he was stranded on a rowing boat.
At this point of the review you might be thinking that it’s not worth a visit... but you’d be wrong, because I have saved the best for last. There aren’t many museums in London that can sell themselves with a single display case, but the National Maritime Museum is definitely one of them, because they've got hold of the actual uniform that Nelson was wearing at the Battle of Trafalgar. It seems almost unbelievable to me, but this is the very uniform that he was sporting onboard HMS Victory the day that he was shot. You can even see the torn up fluff where the bullet entered his shoulder. A French marksman was supposedly stationed high up in the mast of the neighbouring boat, and shot down at Nelson as he was striding around the deck. When you remember that both boats were rolling around in the sea and covered in gunsmoke, it was probably the greatest shot in history (or the luckiest). In hindsight, he probably should have removed his Admiral's hat and medals before stepping out on deck -- the marksman would have seen him sparkling like a Christmas tree.
If I had to choose the most spine-tingling exhibit in the whole of London then this is probably it. When you stop and stare at the actual clothes he was wearing that fateful day, it gives you goosebumps. Well, it gave me goosebumps anyway.
I’ve been here more than once…
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