Anthony Edwards - Man of War model

Podcast Transcript
Man of War model

My name is Anthony Edwards, I'm Museum Supervisor with the Galleries and Museums team.

I look after the front of house staff and the day to day running of the venues.

My favourite object in the museum is 'Man of War' which is an accurate model of a French man of war ship for the Napoleonic Wars made by French prisoner of war and presented to a famous Aberdonian named Sir James McGregor.

The model can be seen on display at Aberdeen Maritime Museum in the Provost Ross House part of the Museum on the second floor.

As I said it is a very accurate portrayal of a French war ship from its period. The detail of the ship is amazing considering the circumstances and environment in which it was made by French prisoners of war locked up for hours at a time.

The detail can be seen in the accuracy of the rigging and all the different types of rope work. The form of the running and the standing rigging have been faithfully reproduced, possibly by using pieces of cloth from their own clothing. Fine decorative carving can be seen on the figure head, the quarter gallery and the stern of the ship, and even on the railings of the fighting tops. All made from animal bone.

The story goes that while English prisoners of war spent their jail time playing cricket and billiards, French prisoners of war found a rather different hobby, building models of ships out of bones. Although it is recorded they were treated exceptionally well by the British government. because of the skirmishes between France and Britain at the time which dragged on for years, some prisoners were locked away for well over a decade. So, they needed something to pass the time.

Prisoners would keep pig, mud and bones from the food rations issued to them by the government, boil them and then bleach them in the sun, in order to make the different parts of the ships which were then glued together.

The passion and the knowledge put into this model can be seen from a story I heard from a similar bone ship which I saw on display in Dover Council. It says that the model was unfinished at the time of the short-lived piece of Arameans in 1802. Rather than be repatriated the prisoners would stay on at the castle to finish the model. By the time they had done so unfortunately, Britain and France had gone back to war, so he was a prisoner for a further decade. Which again just shows the passion these prisoners of war put into these models.

Our own particular Man of War was put together and presented to Sir James McGregor when he was head of prisoner of war camps in the south of England just before shipping out to join the British expeditionary force in the Peninsular.

It's not just the model itself I find fascinating, it's the history behind it. As the son of a soldier, I've spent many years as a child playing with toy soldiers, reading up on military history.

Sir James McGregor should be a hero to many people of Aberdeen, educated at Aberdeen Grammar School and Marischal College where he graduated as a Doctor. He moved from a regimental surgeon in 1793 to be the head of the British army medical core and remained in the modern army medical core until his death in 1851.

After leaving the prison of war camps and becoming head of the medical department in Portugal and Spain the latter years of the Peninsular, he formed a close relationship with the Duke of Wellington.

His achievements were many. He carefully maintained disease records for later use for statistics, to disprove many of the traditional theories of disease. This justified the introduction of crucial preventative measures, such as better diet, clothing and sanitation within the British army.