Happy Birthday Mr Darwin

Today marks the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin and five weeks until the grand opening of our forthcoming exhibition Charles Darwin – Voyages and ideas that shook the world.

Around the world there are celebrations, exhibitions, seminars, book launches and other activities during the whole year – not only marking 200 years since Darwin was born but 150 years since he published On the Origin of Species.

Our exhibition will be in the North Gallery and Gallery One opening to the public on Friday 20 March with material from our own collection plus The British Museum, National Maritime Museum Greenwich, Oxford University, SLNSW, National Library, Queensland and Tasmania. Some material will be on show for the first time.

We are also holding a symposium on 20 and 21 March in conjunction with the Australian Research Council – In the wake of the Beagle – Science in the southern oceans from the age of Darwin.

Cheers and enjoy the year of Darwin

Lindsey Shaw
Senior Curator Maritime Technology Exploration & Navy

New library research guide – HMS Beagle

We all know about Charles Darwin but what about the Beagle we hear you ask..

Most people know the HMS Beagle as the ship on which Charles Darwin’s sailed on his world famous voyage that was a catalyst to developing his theory of evolution.  At the Vaughan Evans Library we thought it was time that the Beagle emerged from Darwin’s shadow.

HMS Beagle is a new library research guide for those who would like to find out more about this small survey vessel which played such an important part in Australian and world history. The guide covers printed and online sources and also includes information on crew,  logs  and accounts of voyages,  Darwin’s voyage  and recent archaeological expeditions to find it’s final resting place.

Find it and other research guides in the Library pages on the Museum’s website.

Making HMS Beagle – see the construction of a model for the Museum here on the Museum blog.

Week 16

Happy New Year to you all! This is the last update for this project, as HMS Beagle is now complete!

side view

The completed model of HMS Beagle: side view

front view

The completed model of HMS Beagle: front view

top view

The completed model of HMS Beagle: top view

The completed model of HMS Beagle showing the hull detail and plinth.

The completed model of HMS Beagle showing the hull detail and plinth.

The model making part of the project was finished just before Christmas, leaving only the base and the brass plinths to be completed.

The base is made of a piece of Dark Teak with an ornate edging which I routered in keeping with the design of the brass plinths. I used a teak oil finish, giving the wood a burnished look by using three layers of wax after the oil had dried. The plinths themselves were turned by a good friend of mine, as my poor lathe could not cope with 40mm brass rod! I decided against the traditional glossy brass, as the brushed metal blends better with the rest of the display.

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The model of the Beagle showing the teak base and brass plinths.

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The completed model of HMS Beagle: deck detail

Once it was all stuck and bolted together it was time to step back, critically examining the overall “look” of the model – how all pieces work together, how the shading fits in the with the rest of the ship, whether colours blend in, and whether there is anything that really stands out. Having a Christmas break allowed me to forget the model for a time and fresh eyes picked out many small problems which careful airbrushing helped to remove. I thought the main flag looked rather stiff and unnatural, so made a few alterations. The flag and the pennant are made out of shim brass sheet, a very thin brass ideal for the job, with a wire soldered to the edge for the rope. This was painted white, and transfers added for the art work. The metal was twisted to look like a flowing piece of material, and, using my trusty airbrush, I added shading to the folds,  allowing it texture and definition.

The main problem was cleaning the deck. Imagine the deck, carrying canons, rigging, winches and numerous other apparatus, as well as bits and pieces of materials left over from the production of the model! Firstly I thought I’d blow the pieces out. I blew….and all the bits went to the other side of the deck. I did it again… and they went back to the opposite side once more. I eventually spent a very long two hours picking out the bits using tweezers!

It certainly has been a journey, but as we draw to the end of the “making of the Beagle”, I hope it has been as enjoyable for you as it has for me. This has been my first model of a sailing ship, and I called upon many sources of information and excellent books in the making and understanding of such. In particular, I would like to credit Karl Heinz Marquardt’s work “HMS Beagle Survey Ship Extraordinaire”, from the ‘Anatomy of a Ship’ series. This book is designed for model makers and was a huge help in getting the project to completion. I have always said that the one of the major problems facing model makers is finding information, and was pleased to note that this was not the case at all in the making of the Beagle!

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The completed model of HMS Beagle: deck detail

All pictures of the model used in the updates were taken using my Nikon camera. I have been using black out roller blind from Spotlight, (available in both blue and white), and why I did not do this years ago I do not know, as I think the effect has been brilliant.

I would like to thank the following people for their help and support throughout this project:

Nigel Erskine – Curator, Richella King -Manager of Online Services, Myfanwy Appleton – Web Editing, Peter Webster – Artillerist, Tim Smith – Marine Archaeologist, Mike Rikard-Bell – Marine Archaeologist, Ben Joseph – Plinth Turner, RIchard Taylor – Advisor, Glen Andrews – Retailer, Rhonda Brewer – Retailer.

Finally, I am open to any questions you may have, please feel free to get in touch for a chat.  I gave an interview on ABC Radio on the 19th of January which you can listen to.

On the first of February I will be giving a talk on the Beagle and professional model making in general at the Australian National Maritime Museum. For further information  please visit  the museum’s website.

I look forward to seeing the ship on display as part of the Charles Darwin exhibition on the 20th of March 2009 in the ANMM Gallery One!

Contributed by model-maker Mike Bass.

About the project

Talking over the plans with curator Nigel Erskine

Talking over the plans of the Beagle with curator Nigel Erskine

2009 is the 150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s ground breaking book ‘On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection’ and the bicentenary of his birth.  The ANMM is going to celebrate by staging a Charles Darwin exhibition.

As part of the exhibition the museum asked me to build a model of the HMS Beagle, the ship that took Darwin on his voyage of discovery back in 1831.

When I take on a project like this, for me it’s not just another build. Museum work is definitely special as you are creating a bit of history and hopefully portray it in 3D to the public something interesting.

My initial impression when viewing the drawing for the Beagle was “the real thing was so small, how did they work and live on board”.  The other problem I discovered was the limited sources of information for the Beagle. Written descriptions and line drawings are all that I have to go on as well as help from allot of experts in the fields of Maritime Archeology and weaponry of the time.

What I do not want to produce is a nice shinny model with clean glossy wood finishes.
At the initial meeting to get a feel for the model I described wanting to give the model a finish “as if it has been at sea for a few weeks”. I will use subtle weathering and shading techniques to create not only a model but hopefully a snap shot of the past.

There are areas of the ship that are ‘grey areas’ such as would the Beagle continue to have the cannonade at the front of the ship, etc. I will be opening problems I encounter to the forum here hopefully for some educated answers.

I have 4 ½ Months to complete the model.

I aim to have the following done:
The hull and deck – Mid October
All components and Masts – End November.
Rigging, Base and Travel Case – End December.

I have been looking forward to this journey and as you watch me make the Beagle, I hope you enjoy it as well.

Mike Bass