The 26 October marks the anniversary of one of Victorian Britain’s most shocking maritime disasters: the wreck of the Royal Charter.
In 2016, when I first began the project of updating the Brunel Institute’s Royal Charter exhibition, I was unfamiliar with the ship and her story. I quickly learned that the Royal Charter is most famous for having wrecked just a day away from arriving in Liverpool. It was carrying thousands of ounces of gold and almost five hundred passengers home from Australia. Whilst researching the objects in the Collection, I’ve learned that it’s more than just a tragic tale of lost life and treasure. The Royal Charter has many stories to tell from an age of danger, discovery and innovation.
My first responsibility was to catalogue the objects and select which ones to put on display. Although most of the objects chosen are the personal effects of unknown passengers, I also wanted to select objects from the ship which tell dramatic stories, such as this lamp fixture [pictured].
I can imagine the elegance and opulence of the nautically themed saloon where it hung. It was reportedly a room decorated with carved sea nymphs, mermaids, dolphins, and King Neptune. The fixture’s twisted metal arm shows how fiercely powerful the storm was. In fact, the storm was so strong it shattered the iron hull into pieces.
The Royal Charter wrecked on the rocky coast of Anglesey, North Wales. I sculpted the display platforms to convey the drama of the perilous shore where the ship was lost.
Staff and volunteers have been exploring new ways to share the history of the emigrant ship Royal Charter. You can discover these stories in the Brunel Institute.
Read more on the story of the Royal Charter here.
Author: Erika Smits, Placement Student from University of the West of England