We've decided to replace our surgeon and patient mannequins in First Class; on the Promenade Deck due to damage.
We know quite a lot about one of the ship’s surgeons, Samuel Archer, as he wrote a diary whilst on board. Archer was in his early twenties when he became a surgeon on the ss Great Britain in 1857. He first sailed from Liverpool to Melbourne and back, and then to Bombay during the ship’s time as a troop carrier in 1858.
Aside from his usual duties of treating injuries, he was fascinated by natural history. Archer spent a lot of his time examining specimens of animals, plants, and especially sea shells which he collected whenever the ss Great Britain paused in a port – when she moored at Port Phillip, coaled at Porto Grande, or took on provisions at Cape Town. He even claimed to have had an aquarium in his cabin and would sleep on his surgery couch because his bed was too full of the things he’d collected.
In 1858, after leaving the ship, Samuel Archer signed up for military service and rose to the ranks of Surgeon-Colonel (this seems a strange decision considering his diary shows that he thought little of the soldiers he had met on board). Samuel’s grandson Philip Archer had contacted the Brunel Institute here some years ago and also worked with the Cheshire Military Museum on an exhibition, titled ‘A Soldier of Empire’, which detailed his ancestor’s illustrious military career. We already had a copy of a photograph of Samuel in old age, but fortunately Cheshire Military Museum were able to provide a contemporary image of our surgeon just after he left the ss Great Britain! To our delight he had a magnificent, well-groomed and majestic beard, which contrasted with his somewhat receding hairline. Naturally, this had to be a feature of the new mannequin.
(Image: Colonel (Retd) Samuel Archer, Phillip Archer Collection. Cheshire Military Museum)
The patient gave us an opportunity to look into sailor ‘tats’. We know that many sailors held strange superstitions and would get tattoos, often on board, as a manifestation of their beliefs. Our mannequin has the common ‘HOLD FAST’ over his knuckles, believed to help sailors cling to the rigging in rough weather. Sailors also used tattoos as badges of their experience. Our mannequin claims to have crossed the equator by displaying a shell backed turtle on his wrist.
Though there were many different injuries and even deaths on board, we thought this rough and tough sailor could be holding back tears because of a rather small injury - an animal bite. It’s hard to imagine but during the sixty-day Australia run the ss Great Britain’s Weather Deck would have been populated by hundreds of animals in order to provide food for hungry passengers. At one point the crew even brought a monkey on board.
So for us, it is goodbye to old Sam and the Sailor and hello to our new, more realistic and authentic mannequins.
Author: Luke Holmes, Interpretation Officer