Portsmouth’s famous Historic Dockyard has just opened a brand new museum. At the time of writing it is so new the plastic wrapping had only just been taken off. I’m talking about the brand-spanking new, £35 million Mary Rose Museum. It’s not often one gets to look at a brand new museum, so with the infamous Tour Guide Girl I made the journey along the south coast to see what was making waves.
What’s in a name?
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
Juliet –Romeo and Juliet Act II, scene ii, 1-2
Although Shakespeare wrote this in 1595, fifty years after the Mary Rose sank in The Solent, Juliet’s question on the nature of names can apply to the wrecked warship. Thanks to a popular writer of historical romance -I’m looking at you Phillipa Gregory– there’s an increasingly common misconception that the Mary Rose was named for Mary Boleyn, Henry VIII’s sometime mistress and sometime sister-in-law.
This is something the museum is quick to clear up. In fact, it’s the very first thing they address. There are two contenders for the namesake of the Mary Rose and Mary Boleyn is not one of them. The first is Henry’s sister Mary. This would make sense as the rose was the symbol of the Tudor family. The second possibility is the Virgin Mary. Now we’ve got that cleared up, on with the adventure!
Boarding the Mary Rose
After checking that it’s OK to take photos (no flash, please) we’re greeted by an impressively cod-pieced Henry VIII. He stares towards the gallery, much as he stared out to sea as he watched the Mary Rose sink. From his vantage point on the ramparts of Southsea Castle, the King looked over the Solent in 1545 as his flag-ship sank in full view of the invading French fleet. Of the men on board the ill-fated vessel Henry said:
“They are drowned like rattens.”
Cold. There were 500 men on board, 35 of whom survived.
But what caused the ship to sink? We’re still not sure.
Contemporary sources suggest that a gust of wind caught the ship, tipping it so her open gun-ports filled with water.
No matter how it happened, the ship sank, leaving us with what historian David Starkey describes as “A British Pompeii.”
Meet Hatch. He was the dog on board the Mary Rose when it sank.
I’m not sure where the name ‘Hatch’ came from, the display didn’t mention it, but anyway, here he is. He used to catch the rats on the ship – cat’s weren’t be used because they were unlucky. I can’t help but feel that the cat who didn’t get the job on the Mary Rose was a very lucky kitty indeed… Although all that is left are the bones, the Science Gallery explains how we know what we know about him as well as the crewmen.
As you can see, Hatch is sitting in a way that you would expect a dog to do. Maybe the team at the museum felt that it gave the bones a sense of life? I’m not sure. Going back to Starkey’s comment about the ship being “a British Pompeii” consider the remains of the dog found there.
One of the more fascinating bits of the Mary Rose is the forensic reconstruction of the crewman. In the Science Gallery, the interpretation mentions how the process was like being a Crime Scene Investigator. Except it isn’t. I’m not usually that much of a pedant but we don’t have CSIs in the UK; we have Scene of Crime officers (or Socos). Although I can see why the American term was used (everyone knows what it means) I think it was a mis-step.
Anyway, on a more positive note, learning how they went from a skeleton to a model of what the man (in this case the Archer) looked like was really interesting.
With the others, we were treated to an artist’s interpretation of their face, but a few more of the models would have been nice.
But what about the ship itself? Surely that’s the whole point of visiting?
The ship itself was visible from porthole-like windows on each floor, there were plenty of windows at varying heights so even the vertically challenged could get a good view of the insides of the ship. You can see that the drying process is still going on, and they say it won’t be finished for another 4 or 5 years.
The ship is still a work-in-progress, and so is the museum as a whole. In terms of objects, 19,000 artefacts were raised with the ship but only a small proportion of these are on display at the moment it’ll be interesting to see if and how more are added.
They say 4-5 years until the work finishes, I’ll make a note to re-visit then. At the moment, it still very much feels like work-in-progress and with ticket prices being what they are it might be wiser to hold off a little while if you were thinking of going.